Last month I lost a dear friend to cancer. This is a letter I wrote to her girls to give them a piece of their mother. I'm posting it here so it will last forever in cyberspace and one day I can find it again and send it to her girls.
Dear O, E and A,
Strawberries. That is the lesson I learned from your mother Carmen that I want to share with you. But first let me give you the background of our friendship. I first met your mother in the baby room one Sunday at New Hope South Bay in Torrance. I was there with my son R and she was there with O because O did not want to go in the service with the other kids. Your mother was pregnant with E at the time. She was one of those pregnant ladies that glowed, her cheeks plump and healthy. I remember that first Sunday very well because that's also when I met Jenny, M's mom. I don't know what happened but M hit my oldest son H (this is what made it memorable), which marked the start of that friendship. Over the next few months your mom and I became better friends and I was one of E's first visitors at the hospital. E cried when I held her. Pretty much E cried whenever anyone other than Carmen held her. I remember Carmen being very tired that first year because E didn't like to sleep.
Carmen, Jenny and I became good friends while we attended New Hope South Bay. O, H and M were all the same age. O and H were also in the same preschool class at La Primera. Your mom and Auntie Jenny seemed to know how to be great stay-at-home moms. Your houses were so nicely decorated and clean and you always had great snacks. My house was always a mess and I was very stressed out from this new world of mothering. Carmen and Jenny helped me a lot by encouraging me and supporting me when I felt so lacking in so many ways.
One day when we were at your house, your mom gave me strawberries to eat. It was winter so not the right season for them. Carmen told me that she ate strawberries year-round because she liked them. And she didn't just buy any old strawberries, they had to be sweet. So sometimes she would send your papi Jack to Whole Foods to get them, along with the premium whipped cream they only sell there. It wasn't the first time or the last time she would tell me in her own way that I should think more of myself. That while being a mom was a wonderful calling, it didn't mean that I had to deny my own desires and become completely selfless. I didn't really think about this too much at the time, but later when I was pregnant with my third child, I had a craving for strawberries. It was winter and ordinarily I would never buy strawberries during that time because of the cost, but it was encouragement from what Carmen had told me and her own example that gave me the push to listen to my own desires and buy the strawberries. I didn't even look at the price anymore, I just bought them. The lesson is not just about buying strawberries. I feel like that choice was a turning point for me in how I viewed myself. I'm not telling you that you should give in to every whim and fancy, but that if you want something, value yourself enough that you don't just ignore it. You are important. Later when you are moms and you might be getting lost in that role, I hope that you can remember that. You are always yourself first, then a mom and wife second.
Even now, whenever I buy strawberries I think of Carmen and how her words made a difference to my life. She was a wonderful friend. I know no one will ever say my name quite like she did, "you-niece." I will miss her. She gave me O's crib set because she knew I would never buy a girl one, but just use the boy one from H and R. I still have it and will save it for you, O. I know that all three of you will be fantastic moms, just like Carmen. I know you all have great and giving hearts, just like Carmen. Even if you also get from her the habit of being an hour late to everything, that is just fine.
Auntie Eunice (H's mom)