“It didn’t take much to make him happy,” said Jennifer Sousa. Her grandfather, Gilberto Couto, enjoyed “the simple things.”
Fishing made Gilberto happy, and he would often go out — off a boat or a pier — with Jennifer’s father. They usually just caught scup, but that wasn’t the point. “He loved fishing, that was one of his pastimes.” Having grown up in a fishing community in the Azores, he lived with the sea his whole life.
Gilberto Couto came to New Bedford in the 1970s with his wife, Angelina, and their five children. The family would later grow to include seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too. He often made things for his grandchildren out of fishing rope, like “these really beautiful and comfortable hammocks that we used to hang in the backyard and just lay in.”
Cooking also made Gilberto happy. A linguica cook at Gaspar’s, he loved the sausage, but lobster was his favorite meal. With Angelina and his grandkids, he often collected periwinkles off rocks at the beach and then brought them home to cook. “I loved them when I was a kid,” Jennifer remembers. Her grandfather also had a grapevine in his backyard and made his own wine. Jennifer was always too young to taste this delicacy for herself, but “he’d have wine with every meal.”
And rhymes made Gilberto happy: “He would just come up with these rhymes — we dubbed him the Portuguese rapper. … He only spoke Portuguese, and he would make up these rhymes right off the top of his head.”
When Gilberto moved into a nursing home just after Angelina died eight years ago, he found happiness elsewhere. “He’d sit by the window if he was at the nursing home … just watch the world go by, and he loved it. Even at home he’d do the same thing: just sit by a window and watch.” And when the pandemic hit, that window provided his only contact with his loved ones.
Due to restrictions in the nursing home, Gilberto’s family had to gather on the other side of his room’s window in order to see him – the glass slightly cracked so that they could hear each other speak. But when the nursing home had a COVID-19 outbreak and Gilberto was among the sick, his loved ones would “go to the window, and we’d see him, and he’d look like he was crying in pain. … It was heartbreaking to see.”
After battling COVID-19 for three weeks at St. Luke’s Hospital and then back at the nursing home, Gilberto died on May 4, 2020. Jennifer had been on her way to his window when she got the call.
Due to pandemic restrictions in place in May 2020, only 10 of his loved ones could attend the service at Aubertine-Lopes Funeral Home. “We had to pick and choose who could go … so it was very tough,” said Jennifer.
Next month, Gilberto’s family will hold a large gathering to honor him in a way that COVID-19 had previously prevented. “A year later when we can finally do it.”
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