Her memory cup runneth over and she rests
This is a difficult column to write. Any time someone passes away writing about it is both a difficult and a cleansing ritual.
Rafaela "Mama O" Flores died at home on Friday, Oct. 24, 2009.
She would have celebrated her 91st birthday on Saturday. The flowers that arrived for her birthday celebration were used for her funeral instead. She actually would have liked that, never wanting anything to go to waste.
Her life was a celebration. Her daughter Helen Flores said that her mother's favorite saying was, "Wake up in love with today."
The matriarch of the Flores family, who lived through the depression and her husband's untimely death of a heart attack in 1963, raised nine children as a single parent. She was a working mother during a time when there was no label for what she did.
After Macario Flores Senior's death, she and her family packed a pickup truck and headed to west Texas to pick cotton in order to make ends meet. She also washed dishes at Andy's Cafe before she found her calling as a nurse's assistant at Richard's Memorial Hospital. Working at the hospital for 27 years, she helped deliver a majority of Rockdalians.
Helen recalled that whenever she or her younger brother, Randy took their mother shopping they would be stopped by someone she had helped deliver, or someone who remembered Mrs. Flores kindness in the hospital.
Helen said, "More than once people came up to us and said, 'Your mom saved my life'."
Helping people at the hospital wasn't just her job it was her calling.
Mrs. Flores wouldn't miss weekend dances at the American Legion. And because she didn't drive, one of her children would take her to and from the dance hall.
The oldest of the Flores children, Rudolfo, recalled picking her up at midnight when the dance ended, with the fresh gardenia or rose in her hair saying, "Drop me off at the hospital, I promised to sit with a lady," or "I promised to sit with so-andso."
She devoted her life to others. Mrs. Flores managed to keep food on the table for her nine children. There were always "three meals a day, seven days a week."
In an often crowded home, with her children, friends, inlaws and a few out-laws, Mama O was known for making everyone feel special. In a family of nine, the task seems impossible.
Mrs. Flores received her nickname when her first grandchild Julian Flores, son of Mac and Rosie Flores was just a baby and tried to say Old Grandma but failed and said Mama O instead.
It wasn't until recently that the family figured out Mama O's secret to making everyone feel special. Adela Flores, wife of Rudolfo, confessed to the family that Mama O told her, "You are my favorite daughter-in-law."
Adela Flores said siblings, in-laws, grandchildren, everyone said simultaneously, "She told me that too." She added, "I believed it. We all did."
She made me feel special too. Whenever I walked into the Flores household the first thing she offered me was a hug, and the second thing was food. It was how she raised her family and what she believed.
While there are countless stories about Mrs. Flores I have just one. It embodies who I believe Rafaela Flores was and how she lived her life. She was someone who gave nourishment spiritual, emotional and physical.
My one memory (among countless) is how I'll forever remember her.
When I had my first son I went straight away to visit Mrs. Flores because during my pregnancy when I would see her at the store she would tell me to drop by the house so she could get a look at the boy I was carrying. She was the first one who told me I was carrying a boy.
I brought Esten with me to visit with Mrs. Flores in 2000 and she oohed and aahed over him. Touched him the way I've seen his doctors and nurses do to make sure his bones were solid and caressed and checked the soft spot on his head.
Then she looked over at me from her seat. I was sitting right next to her, a first-time mother hovering and afraid Mrs. Flores would drop him. I shouldn't have worried.
She, like my lactation consultant who called every morning, asked about my milk production. And, like my lactation consultant, she touched my chest to be sure I was healthy.
She was concerned with my son's food supply. Then as naturally as she gave me her hug when I walked in, she showed me her chest and told me that she had fed nine children with them and could have fed more, had her late husband not left so soon.
Mrs. Rafaela Flores who worked her entire life to feed her family and others continues to nourish us all even in her death.