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.

The Masonry of Motherhood

I’m back to writing following a brief hiatus. Camping with my son on Friday night prevented me from writing and publishing a post that evening. Sharing in dinner, laughter, and community with dear friends (not to mention a couple of bottles of wine and some Scotch) precluded my writing routine last night. So now that I had “the weekend off”, I’m here to write the second to last post of the month, and perhaps the last routine post for a while (you’ll have to tune in to Monday night’s post for details).

You’ve seen me write about my kids and also about my wife Lee. My family means so much to me it’s hard to put it into words sometimes, and it’s definitely a challenge to come up with new ways to describe the feelings I get when I think about my wife and my kids. Given all that, I am very remiss in the fact that I don’t write nearly enough about someone so equally special to me and that is such an important part in my life.

My mom is my constant. She is, in a way, the architect of who I am today. Where my dad was more the designer of my persona, I would say my mom was always focused on the engineering aspect of who I was. On top of a deep foundation of family and Catholic fundamentals, my mom placed brick after brick of life lessons, each reinforced with the mortar that was her love, as well as the unwavering rebar that was her strict discipline.

My mom was nothing if not consistent. She never caved to any puppy-dog-eyed please for exception or mercy. She never faltered in ensuring the rules that applied to everyone else also applied to me. It’s as if she measured every brick precisely, none greater than the last, none diminished by any sense of complacency. What made my mom truly remarkable in her masonry of motherhood was her ability to be meticulous. Style was not really important. For my mom, the substance of what she was making would serve to be the measure of value, respect, and integrity.

I love my mom and I truly enjoy her company. I wish we did not live so far apart with her in Miami and me in Tampa. I wish we had the opportunity to interact more and for my kids to be with their grandmother more often. All that being said, no one sets me off or pushes my buttons quite the way my mom does. The last several years have been an exercise in me learning to be more patient with her so as to ensure the limited time we do share is that of quality time. This is especially true given the very recent reminders that mortality is an eventuality, and I don’t want to waste time being upset at or bothered by my mother.

I hate to admit how little I’ve been able to show my mom the love and appreciation she deserves. At the very least we speak weekly and every conversation ends with an exchange of ‘I love you’. Yet, I know that’s not enough. It’s not enough to bank on a phone call. It’s not enough to really on Hallmark cards on Mother’s Day and her birthday. All of that doesn’t even begin to come close to being enough when I consider how my mom has always been there for me. Unwavering. Unassuming. Unbelievably constant.

I don’t know what the solution is in the long run. My life is here in Tampa, and until my kids graduate from high school (2019), my life will remain here in Tampa. I’ve talked to my mom about moving up here to be closer to her grandchildren, and we discussed the many pros and cons to that idea. Still, we each remain resigned to the fact we’ll see each other a handful of times per year and maintain the formal and cordial relationship of mother and son. Until I can figure out a way to change and improve this, I guess the best I can do is to live a life of value, respect, and integrity, and always give her a reason to be proud of what she created.

May my actions as a husband, a father, and a human being serve as a monument to her legacy as a mother.