Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Maria battled cancer for several years. All her neighbors knew she was dying and yet it took us by surprise. Since her diagnosis we encouraged her to fight and she did. Neighbors fought with her, sharing their own cancer survival stories. We prayed often. Friends babysat her boys and others drove her to appointments. Others cleaned her house. Maria’s spirits were high despite her fatigue. She lost her hair and didn’t get out much and then it grew back and she was better. Then the cancer came back raging. This time was more scary. We kept praying and also suggested she prepare her boys for the worst. This time we brought over meals, hoping our nourishment would overcome the disease. We lingered longer on our visits. One night she went to the hospital and never came home.
Now Maria is dead. You probably do not remember her, as her network was not wide. She was not well known or prominent in our community, however, her death has sucked the life out of her two young boys and husband. The California heat seems to accentuate the loss they feel- smothered, unmoving, gasping for relief.
I know that a lot of people die every day. Maria’s death affects a very small portion of our community. Perhaps that is why it is important for me to write about her. She was here. She was our friend. Her life mattered. Maria had the best laugh. She would throw back her head and deep dimples would appear. She was a kind friend who loved her neighbors well. Even during her illness, Maria participated in neighborhood prayer meetings and action planning. She cared for others. Her greatest sorrow was having to leave her boys.
Since we met right before her diagnosis I never got to know all of Maria’s story. I don’t know if she went to school or what she studied. I never heard stories of her childhood or migration to the US. There are many things I would still like to know about Maria. Mostly, I would like to pray with her again. She had a calming presence and a solid faith. And I would like to laugh with her again. I would like to laugh with her without the aura of tragedy hanging in the room. I would love to laugh about something truly funny and not just to make ourselves feel better. I would like to laugh with her again. I would love to see her dimples.
During Maria’s illness I saw a service and care different from other activities we did together in our community. Caring for her was about our presence with each other. Beyond the meals and cleaning, often neighbors sat on the couch, reminding her she wasn’t alone. When I took a meal I was rushing through my day, trying to squeeze in something nice. I would arrive flustered and unsure of what to say or how to comfort. Maria would graciously receive me, inviting me into the slow rhythm of her life, comfortable to simply sit together. What we did for each other was not about having a lot to give but about giving of our friendship and presence.
I would love to introduce her to you. For you to have known her and recognized her as an important person in our community would give me hope that we are not all just rushing around thinking about ourselves. There are immigrant women, far from their extended families, suffering quietly among us. Maria was one of them. She was a courageous woman. And she was our sister.
Check out Mika Community Development Corporation's video about Maria and her neighbors' care for one another.