Remembering Cari

Remembering Cari

Is that my phone ringing? I think that’s my phone ringing.

Being awoken suddenly at 3:00 AM is disorienting, especially when you’re foggy mind is trying to make sense of who can possibly be calling at such a time.

I pressed one eye closed so I can better focus on the caller ID of my cell phone. It read, “Lenny.”

My stomach sank. My mind raced. My heart went into overdrive as my brain instinctively directed my hands to answer the phone.

“Hey, man. <deep pause> Listen ……..”

My brother didn’t have to say anything else. His somber tone and verbal hesitation told me everything I needed to know.

It was barely one week since Lee and I had returned from South Florida after having dropped my mother off at her house. She had visited with us for ten days, a trip that was preceded on the front end with a stop in Tampa so we can all celebrate my daughter’s graduation from the University of South Florida.

My mother fled Cuba in the early ’60s following Castro’s revolution on the island, and she was robbed of the opportunity to pursue a college education. Now, more than half a century later, she was watching her oldest grandchild receive recognition for completion of her Bachelor’s degree. The commencement was virtual as we congregated around a flat-screen at my ex-wife’s house, but the feeling of pride that swelled in her heart was very real. This was her legacy and she was witnessing it first hand.

Seven days following her visit, the Lord called her home.

The cliché is true: You’re never ready for the loss of a parent. It was true in 2004 when my father passed away, even after he battled cancer for two years. It was especially true on the morning of August 27 as I struggled to make sense of what my brother was telling me.

“Mom died. I’m sorry. I …. I ….. I don’t know what to say.”

We had just celebrated her seventy-seventh birthday on August 10th, and now I am struggling to come to grips with the reality of my mother no longer being with us.

I am not sure if hero is the right word. The relationship I shared with my mother can best be described as complicated. I left Miami in 1990 and although I spent twenty-two years in Tampa, a mere four-hour drive away, the moments with my mom were limited. I would try to make the most of every time we were together, but inevitably one of us would run out of patience with the other. As she became older, I knew it was my responsibility to bring as much grace as possible to our relationship, but if you know Cuban culture, you will understand it is not steeped in patience.

Like I said … complicated.

Still, I’ve never met anyone in my life who better personifies the idea of selflessness. I remember as a child my mom staying up late to help me finish poster board projects for school. I remember how she made frugality an art form as she was always able to feed a family of four on a budget, the financial savings always earmarked to provide my brother and me a Catholic school education. I remember how she would routinely go without – new clothes, meals at restaurants, comfortable living – so that I could have what she never had. With my mother, the life experience was never about her. It was always about providing for others. Even in her sixteen years as a widow, she never sought to splurge on herself. She had two sons who could always use some help. She had five grandchildren she was eager to dote on and spoil.

The Space Needle in Seattle is six hundred and five feet tall, and 5,600 tons of concrete were used for its foundation. As a result, the structure can withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour. If being heroic can be described as laying the foundation for what it means to be selfless, giving, meek, humble, and reflective of God’s love, then by every definition of the word my mother was my hero. My ability to be who I am today I owe to what my mother poured into me growing up. She continued to solidify the foundation of my life as a father and husband, and she did it all through her actions.

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.Luke 14:14 NLT

In today’s ‘look at me’ society, my mother was an anomaly. She quietly held to her faith and surrendered all her burdens to God. Through the death of her parents and siblings, in my father’s passing, with her breast cancer diagnoses, treatment, and successful recovery; my mother was steadfast in her devotion to our Heavenly Father.

“Si Dios quiere.”

For a woman who never met an anecdotal expression she didn’t like, I am pretty sure her favorite was, “If it’s God’s will.”

And in this time of sadness, as we prepare to honor and remember my mother next week, I surrender all the “what if’s” of my mind to the belief it was God’s will to call her home. Rather than focus on the pain, I choose to focus on all the blessings that have been revealed with my mother’s passing. Little details that only make sense in retrospect. Tiny God-winks that continue to serve as a reminder of His sovereignty over all things and His amazing love for all of us.

In the end, my mother’s heart gave out and she passed away. I like to think it was a heart so full of love, so willing to serve others, so focused on everyone but itself, that God wanted it back home with Him.

I like to think my mother was greeted in His presence with, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

How amazingly heroic is that?

Rest in Peace, Mom. I love you.

Please click here for my mother’s obituary and for information regarding her funeral arrangements.

It Is Fleeting

Inertia can be a powerful thing. As we learned in school, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Life has its parallels to inertia. Once we get busy or lost in the routine of day to day, we tend to keep on moving with the same ‘ol, same ‘ol.

Until something makes it all stop.

The Tampa Bay community lost a remarkable and talented person last Friday. Susie Steiner was CEO of ExecuTran Services Inc., as well as co-founder of StartUp Weekend Tampa Bay. Not only was she an influential and dynamic business leader, she was also a warm, fun loving woman who had the ability to light up a room. I had the pleasure of working with Susie in the past, but more importantly, I have the honor of being able to have called her a friend.

As with most things in life, however, the opportunities for us to interact became fewer and fewer as time passed by.

The news of her passing was like a ton of bricks. Instantly, shockingly, and inexplicably she was gone. That next time for us to get together will never be. The reality that I won’t see her again still hasn’t set in. The surreal feeling about her no longer being with us is like a fog in my brain.

Susie loved enjoying life. Be it her business, her entrepreneurial endeavors, or game night at her house, there was a vivacious spirit about everything she did. She was electrifying and beautiful both inside and out. Interacting with her on Twitter and Facebook always brought a smile to my face, and I will forever cherish the fun memories we shared on Rock Boat XI. Susie’s work and determination will always be an inspiration to me. Her spirit will live on in the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who had the pleasure of knowing her. Her passing is saddening, but there’s no doubt her life will be celebrated and remembered for years to come.

Still, I can’t help but wish there was one more opportunity to hang out with Susie. One more evening of telling stories, sharing laughs, and just watching her enjoy life to the fullest. How I wish this past weekend was not a reminder of how fleeting life can be, and how we all must make the time to create the moments that really matter.

As we remember Susie and say goodbye to radiant person she was, I can’t help but think of the lyrics from a Billy Joel song. “So many faces in and out of my life, some will last, some will just be now and then. Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes, I’m afraid it’s time for goodbye again.”


Image via FB/KimRandall
Image via FB/KimRandall


Rest in Peace, Susie. May your beauty remain forever emblazoned in our memories, and your brilliance shine forever in our hearts.

A Year Later

Time flies. Tonight is one of those nights where I’m reminded of how brief our time is here on Earth. And for those we’ve known and lost, it’s sad to think at how they were called home to Heaven too soon.

[REPOSTED FROM 01/23/13]

After running some errands and grabbing a bite for dinner with Lee, I was poised to sit down and tackle some personal project work and check off an item on my ever growing to-do list. I checked my phone and saw I had a missed call from several hours earlier. Familiar area code but not someone in my contacts list.

I checked the message. It was from a high school friend of mine named Bethany. Two grade levels behind me, I graduated with her brother Paul. Through the background noise and what I then came to realize was her voice burdened by angst, the message was about my classmate. Her brother, at the age of forty, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

Bethany’s call was out of courtesy. She didn’t want me to find out through Facebook. She wanted to tell me herself. Mind you, I haven’t seen either of them in over twenty years and, ironically, if not for Facebook, we’d most likely not have kept in touch at all. Yet through her pain and through her tears, she felt compelled to reach out to those with whom she knew her brother stayed in touch. A selfless act at a time when it’s completely allowed and understandable to be selfish.

My night was done. I was done. There was no getting anything productive done this evening.

At the news of his passing, I was instantly transported to the days when Paul and I would run six miles together for cross country practice, and he’d have me cracking up the whole way. Paul was larger than life, with a shit-eating grin and a natural wit and sense of humor most stand-up comedians would kill for. I can’t look back at the fun and great moments in high school without thinking of him. I’d usually get in trouble when we hung out, but it was always so much fun getting into trouble with Paul. He was one of the good guys. He was second to none. He was magnificently unique.

…and Paul will be missed terribly.

I ask you all keep Paul’s wife Dana and her two kids in your prayers. I also pray God send His Holy Spirit to the Ehrman family to provide strength and comfort in this time of tragic loss.

Tonight was a heartfelt reminder of how preciously short life truly is, about how we must embrace every moment, and how we must try to live so that we’re giving every moment back to God and His will for us here on Earth.

Rest in Peace, Paul. I know your smile it illuminating Heaven right now.

Paul Ehrman