A bedridden grandmother was overcome with tears when her grandson surprised her by singing her favorite song for her 98th birthday.
Ash Ruiz, of Boulder, Colorado, is a former member of the popular Puerto Rican boy band Menudo. He continues to perform with members during reunion tours in Central and South America, which keeps him from visiting his beloved grandmother, Gina Rosa Offord DiSanto Evangelista Ciasco, who lives in Palm Beach County, Florida.
“Every part of her life, from the way she spoke to the way she listened, demonstrated her love, strength, and compassion for her family,” Ruiz, 41, tells PEOPLE.
Grandma Jean, as Ruiz calls her, helped to fine-tune his singing talents when he was a boy. She taught him to sing “Unforgettable” when he was just 8 years old, and since then, Ruiz has sung the classic song to her every year for her birthday, singing to her by phone or over video chat when he couldn’t be by her side.
But just before her 98th birthday on August 2, Ruiz was in Florida to attend rehearsals with Menudo, which meant he had his first opportunity in years to be with Grandma Jean in person for the occasion. On July 27, Ruiz walked into his sleeping grandmother’s bedroom and awakened her by singing the famous Italian song, “Surriento.”
A video posted to Ruiz’s Facebook page begins right after he finishes the song, and shows Grandma Jean — who lost her singing voice a decade ago and continues to have trouble speaking — struggling to ask Ruiz for one more performance. Ruiz then goes into a sweet rendition of “Unforgettable,” as Grandma Jean wipes away tears.
“I could feel right away that there was a giant lump in my throat and my heart,” Ruiz says. “That just broke my heart wide open. I told myself that I would hold it together and finish the whole song. My voice broke on the last note and the tears started coming out of my eyes.”
The tender video has garnered more than 137,000 views since it was posted on August 2. Ruiz says he looks back at the moment, which he had no idea was being filmed, as an enormous blessing.
“I feel grateful that I got to be there to honor and celebrate her, and let her know over and over again how much she is loved and how much she is appreciated,” he says.
Ruiz recognizes that there may not be many birthdays left to celebrate with Grandma Jean, and he hopes that the video will remind others of the importance of spending time with the elderly, who are often forgotten.
“Never forget how powerful it is to be with someone in their golden years,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful thing, to just put yourself in their shoes, to put yourself in their skin, even if it is scary. Have a little bit of courage to go there, because their beauty will be revealed.”