Diego Arcenio Zaila

It had been more than a year since Diego Arcenio Zaila’s 27-year-old son died. A stroke took Diego Alexander Zaila’s life on Aug. 27, 2013.

“He was my friend,” the 65-year-old Zaila said. “He was my brother.”

They were partners, Zaila said, inseparable. They played baseball and fished together — helped one another out. They cooked meals side-by-side. His son often made pancakes for them in the morning.

Around the bodega, Zaila’s son was known as Diegito. He studied to become a computer technician and later worked as a plumber. Together they looked after Diegito’s blind mother, who Zaila split from a long time ago.

Zaila said he often brings flowers to his son’s grave.

“I bring him flowers out of habit, but I know his spirit is with God,” he said. “That’s where his body was left, but his soul and spirit are in the world of spirits.”

Zaila recalled the day he found his son dead. He had just returned from work and figured his son was asleep. He called to Diegito — no response.

When emergency personnel arrived, they told Zaila that it was too late.

Zaila’s hazel eyes became glossy.

“God has given me a blessing,” he said. “We all die — the problem is knowing how we will die.”

(LISTEN: Zaila speaks in Spanish about his deceased son in the below audio clip)

Zaila, who was a political prisoner as a young man in Cuba, said he and his son would talk about his native country a lot.

“We’d talk about the misery there and, whenever he could, he’d send some money to his uncles,” Zaila said. “He was more Cuban than me. He wanted to get to know where I grew up, he wanted to get to know our family there.”

Father and son had planned on traveling to Cuba one day together. It’s difficult for Zaila to talk about.

“When a loved one leaves this world, they’ll always be at your side,” he said. “My son is very important to me. I will never forget him… God has given me solace.”

Someday, Zaila said he would return to Cuba in honor of Diegito.

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