"Babe, I leave this for you"

Seven years after her police-officer husband died in the line of duty, Lydia Galvan clings to his memory -- any way she can

David Galvan always told his wife that if anything ever happened to him, someone would come to their home to tell her.

She opened the door.

"It was David, wasn't it?" she asked frantically. "Take me to him. I want to see him."

Mark Graham
After more than six years, the weather-beaten cross, left, once erected in David Galvan's honor comes down, replaced by the new one his son Isaac Galvan built.
Mark Graham
After more than six years, the weather-beaten cross, left, once erected in David Galvan's honor comes down, replaced by the new one his son Isaac Galvan built.

"You can't do that," the chaplain said. "Because David's dead."

Lydia Galvan cried day and night. The home that her husband had worked so hard to fix up became a wretched place to live. It was filled with too many memories: Sunday-morning breakfasts of eggs, fried potatoes, gravy, and sausage that he would make for the family, or the times after a long day's work when he would lounge in his brown recliner, watching Star Trek with his 3-year-old grandson and 7-year-old son by his side.

Now, every time her youngest son heard noises in the night, he would wake up and tell her, "Daddy's home, Mom." She heard noises too. Every creak, every sound, kept her up until three or four in the morning, until only the aid of a sleeping pill knocked her out.

What would she do, she often asked herself, now that her biggest support was gone?

He always looked after her every need. If, on occasion, she was curious enough to ask him how he managed to pay the bills, he wouldn't elaborate. "What for, honey?" he would say. "It's already taken care of."

Now that he was dead, she secretly expected, secretly hoped that he would walk through the door some evening at 6:30, his usual time. Or call on his way home from work to see whether he could pick up something at the grocery store.

The routine was gone. And her evenings became unbearable. She would do anything to escape the house. Visit her in-laws. Go to Wal-Mart. Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer. She had to leave for good. Within the year, she sold the house to her sister-in-law and moved blocks away to the home in which she now lives.

A year after her husband's death, though, the pain was just as acute. She was going every week or so to the site where he died. There, she would talk to him. Tell him how sorry she was that the accident happened. She found no comfort.

If family and friends even mentioned her husband's name, the tears would stream down her face. Her friend Ray saw her grief. He advised her to see a religious figure of Santería, a spiritual elder known as a godfather, a padrino. Santería is a mixture of Catholicism and the mystical rites of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. A godfather, he said, could help ease her pain by praying for her.

The idea wasn't too far-fetched for Mrs. Galvan. A year before her husband died, she had heard of Santería when a friend of Ray's, a woman, had hired the same godfather to perform a ritual, the sole purpose of which was to finger the culprit of a drive-by shooting. Out of mere curiosity, Mrs. Galvan attended the ritual at the woman's home, where the godfather used a coconut to divine a god's will. Breaking the hard shell with a hammer, the godfather removed the fruit's meat and divided it into four equal parts. When he threw the pieces on the floor, they fell into one of five separate patterns, all of which have a specific meaning and are interpreted by the godfather as the god's answer. That day, the godfather predicted both the approximate court date for the drive-by case and who actually did the crime.

When, weeks later, his predictions came true, Mrs. Galvan was no longer skeptical. She told her husband what had happened.

"He started making fun of me," she now recalls, chuckling. "He would ask me, 'Are you going to turn into one of those witch doctors?'

"This one," she says, pointing to the house next door, where her son Isaac lives, "does the same thing to me."

It wasn't until after her husband died, though, that she felt a need to reach out to Santería. Nothing, it seemed, would heal the pain of "Big David"'s death. She had lost the most solid, dependable presence in her life, the man who had been not only the father of her children, but, with her parents' deaths, the only real family she had.

A grasping faith was born.

On the advice of her friend Ray, she recruited a Cuban godfather all the way from California. Along with paying his way here with the money she had in savings, she put him up in a motel by the freeway for four days. She didn't care about the money. Like so many other practitioners of Santería, she was willing to part with however many thousands of dollars it would take to find peace. That first time, she gave him $5,000.

The godfather prayed for her; he told her that "Big David" wouldn't want her to be so sad. And he gave her two books to read on Santería. For her part, she told him about her husband's grave, how only his plot was covered with dead grass. David, he told her, was not resting in peace. There was something, the godfather explained, that her husband never had the chance to tell her that last morning. He didn't have the time to say "I love you."

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