Four-year-old Alexander Vazquez had seen the movie “Coco” twice in one week. It was all he could talk about, especially its adventurous exploration of Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition. Death was something that was also present in Alexander’s life, as he and his parents struggled with the death of his baby sister, Ava.
Over weeks, the songs from the movie had become Alexander’s favorite tunes, and he often sang them at top volume around the family home in San Antonio, said his mother, Stephanie Deais.
So on what would have been Ava’s first birthday, Dec. 30, Alexander knew what he’d do to honor the day. Without knowing his mother was watching, he grabbed his guitar he’d gotten for Christmas and sang a soulful rendition of “Remember Me” to the nook in the house where Ava’s pictures and mementos are displayed.
“I was in my room and I heard him singing,” Deais said. “I leaned over and saw he was playing for Ava, and I broke down and started crying.”
Facing Ava’s shrine, he strums his guitar and passionately sings: “Though I have to travel far, remember me. Don’t let it make you cry, Remember me.”
His mother took a video and put it on social media, where it has been widely watched. “Coco” fans have noted that the ‘Remember Me’ song was a tearjerker on the big screen and even more so in Alexander’s rendition.
Ava was 4 months old when she passed away in May from a kidney condition. Deais and her husband, Samir Deais, both 24, knew she had the condition before she was born. But it was not supposed to be fatal, and her death left the family stunned and heartbroken.
“It was really, really difficult for Alex,” Deais said. “It was hard for us to explain to him how she was here one day and not the next. We barely understood it, and so to have to break it down and answer his questions in a way he could understand, was really hard.”
Deais said Alexander would ask for Ava a lot, not understanding that she wasn’t coming back. They told him that while he can’t see her, if he speaks to her, she can hear him.
“We told him that she can see us, but we can’t see her,” Deais said.
Alexander has taken that to heart, she said, and includes Ava in their daily life. If his stepfather, a car salesman, makes a sale at work, Alexander will go over to Ava’s picture and excitedly tell her.
Deais said she thinks the movie “Coco” was helpful for Alexander as he processed losing his sister, and singing the songs is a continuation of his understanding of her death.
“He was asking a lot of questions when we had taken him to see the movie,” she said. “He was connecting it to Ava.”
She said whenever he goes to Ava’s altar, it is emotional for her. “It makes my heart hurt for him,” she said.
But soon he will have a new member of the family to sing for. Deais is pregnant with a baby girl, due in March.
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.