Jeff Jardine

Devotion to late wife daily ritual for south Ceres man

As his wife neared death in July 2008, Ramón Obando made her a promise.

“I told her she’d never be alone,” the 82-year-old Ceres man said.

He’s kept it. Every day, rain or shine, he drives from his south Modesto home to Ceres Memorial Park. He parks next to the grave where Austreberta Obando – wife of 59 years, mother to their seven children, grandmother to 25 and great-grandmother to 32 children – rests in peace.

Ramón unfolds a camp chair that has a canopy for shade or shelter. He places it at an angle so he faces her half of their monument, which also bears his name, though the etchings in his case remain incomplete.

The stone includes her dates of birth and death. Toward the base, two wedding rings link.

“You know what that is?” Ramón asks, pointing to the date “April 14, 1949” below the rings. “That is the day we were married.”

Both were born in Michoacan, Mexico, and knew each other as children. He came to the United States in 1955 and began working during the canning season at Stanislaus Food Products in Modesto, returning to Mexico when the last tomato can rolled off the line. Eventually, he was hired on year-round and retired as a foreman in the early 1990s. Austreberta worked there, as well, after bringing their family to Modesto in 1964. Their daughter, Gina, works at the cannery today.

A liver ailment claimed Austraberta in 2008, and the same disease took their 59-year-old son, Ben, 10 months later. He is buried next to his mother.

Beginning with her funeral on the first day of August 2008, Ramón made the trip to the cemetery part of his day. He’s never wavered.

Loyal Bee reader Bob McCullough passes by the cemetery a few times each day. About 18 months ago, McCullough began to notice how often he’d see Ramón there and found it touching. Last week, McCullough decided to call to tell me about him.

“I thought there had to be a good story there,” McCullough said.

Indeed, Ramón spends an hour or more sitting quietly in his camp chair, gazing at the monument and Austreberta’s photo. His face bears the look of a man who will grieve until the day he joins her, but also of the joy from connecting with her spiritually each day.

“I felt like I’d died when my wife died,” he said. “I felt like I was dead, too.”

The time he spent with her there became therapeutic.

“Every day, I come here,” Obando said. “When I go home, I feel OK. I feel good. I feel alive.”

He generally arrives around noon. He doesn’t mind the rain, nor the heat, nor the wind, though he might wait until evening to visit.

If there’s a funeral in the cemetery nearby “and I can’t find a parking place, I go back home. Then I come back later,” he said.

He’ll talk to her sometimes: about their children, their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren. He’ll tell her what’s going on in their lives.

Clay Guzman, the cemetery’s manager, said there are others who visit graves nearly every day, including parents whose son died in an automobile accident earlier in the year. But none has done this as long as Ramón Obando, if only because their losses were more recent. Sometimes, one or more of his six surviving children will join him. All live in the Modesto area. A grandkid or great-grandkid might come along every so often as well.

“It’s hard for some of them to let go,” Guzman said. “They don’t bother anyone. They don’t picnic on the cemetery grounds. They just sit there. We see him (Ramón) here all the time. He’s very devoted to her.”

Monday will mark seven years since Austreberta Obando passed. Indeed, death has not done them part.

“I love her,” Ramón said, and in present tense. “That’s it. I can’t explain it any other way.”