Monday, March 21, 2011

In Loving Memory of Rosa Garcia-Viteri

My Family before UCLA vs Cal football game, 2004
Robert and Rosa Viteri are some of my parent’s oldest and dearest friends.  After years of unwavering friendship, they would become my older sister's God parents.  About 24 years ago,  we were all sitting around the pool behind the Viteri home when they decided to find a nickname for the newest born, little Erica Mari.  They came up with the phrase “Qui, Qui, Qui! Erica Mari!”  Today, you may not know me by "Qui," my original nickname.  For obvious reasons, the attempt at shortening my already short name failed.  Four years later, my parents successfully tried again with my little sister, Elizabeth.  She still uses my old nickname with pride and it suits her better than it ever could have suited me.  I tell this story because last weekend, I attended the funeral of my aunt, Rosa Garcia-Viteri.  It is my deepest sentiment that when someone good passes away, we should honor that person by telling her stories and celebrating her life.

Robert Viteri and my father had competing bicycle routes when they were kids growing up in Los Angeles and often fought over the $0.35 a month clients.  They later attended the same high school and eventually reinforced their relationship while attending Pomona College.  Robert Viteri went on one blind date with Rosa Garcia and they hit it off instantly.  After four hours of conversing at a local pub, it was a given that there would be a second date.  The friend that had set them up called Rosa at work a few days later to ask when she and Robert were going out again, but apparently Robert never called her to make plans.  When speaking about that phone call, Rosa always said, “[My friend] couldn’t get off the phone fast enough!”  Robert got an upset ring minutes later asking why he never asked Rosa out again.  Robert explained that his plan was to call her on Thursday to invite her out on Friday.  It's a good thing his friend had encouraged him to call her as soon as possible, because everyone who knows Robert knows he is late to everything!  The second date only solidified what everyone believed to be love at first sight.  After that they became inseparable. 

A few months into their relationship, the unthinkable happened: Rosa found a lump in her left breast.  She was dumfounded because she was in the best shape of her life, and cancer had not run in her family at all.  She remembered the moment she realized how bad the cancer really was when her doctor’s eyes got three sizes bigger during her exam.  This fledgling relationship seemed like it would end before it even had a chance to mature.  Most cancer diagnosis like Rosa's result in less than two years of life, but this did not stop the soul mates from loving each other.  A mutual friend stated at the funeral that after she had gotten her test results, Robert had talked to him in confidence about Rosa’s diagnosis and possible grim future.  Robert never once asked if he should stay with her or even if marry her, but rather asked, “Will I be good enough for her?”  Two years later they got married and began battling the disease together.
Rosa Viteri fought off the cancer five separate times over the next 27 years.  I will always remember her for her fighting spirit, love of UCLA, and her ability to see the light in any dark situation.  She had the happiness and enthusiasm for life that many completely healthy individuals lack.  She won the prestigious Susan G. Komen Survivor of the Month Award and gave hope to hundreds of young women who faced similar bleak medical diagnosis by speaking at a myriad of fundraisers over the years.  After giving an inspiring speech at one particular fundraiser, one woman ran through the crowd to speak to her.  Rosa had given this young woman hope, because like Rosa, she had been diagnosed with cancer at such a young age.  Rosa was a beacon of hope and managed to touch every individual she ever came in contact with.    

Robert and Rosa were only one short month away from celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and cherished every minute of their time together.  If Rosa was put on this Earth to give hope to friends and strangers alike, Robert was put on this Earth to be her rock and support her every step of the way.  I am still in awe and proud of the loving and supportive relationship they had, for surely without each other, Rosa would not have lived long enough to touch the lives of so many people.  At the funeral service, it was apparent the effect she had on all those in her life.  There were so many people that most of the chapel was standing room only.  This is because for Rosa, regardless of how well you knew her, you were her sister or her best friend.  There was no in between.  She loved everyone to her fullest capacity, and it showed.  I only hope that someday, people will say about me half of the amazing things that were said at my Tia Rosa’s funeral.  My new goal in life is to keep my aunt's memory alive by embodying her selfless and compassionate ideals. 

I know you are looking down on us and smiling, Tia.  We all love you and will never forget the impact you had on all of us. 

See you later, alligator.  In a while, crocodile.     

In Loving Memory of Rosa Garcia-Viteri

Article about my Tia Rosa: Ford Selects Three Latina Breast Cancer Survivors for National Education Awareness Campaign

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that's how you got your nickname. I miss Tia Rosa so much, I wish I could have been there more towards the end. I thought she would live forever...