I was a ridiculously young and naive bride. I had barely ventured beyond the borders of my neighborhood when I decided to marry my husband, Mike. My life had been quite narrowly defined and the role models that I had were limited mostly to members of my family, teachers, and the ladies who lived on the street where I lived. When I was introduced to Mike’s female relatives I felt mostly overwhelmed because they appeared to me to be almost uniformly sophisticated, beautiful, and worldly in a way with which I was unfamiliar. They even wore stylish hats to Christmas dinner!
While I was certain that Mike was my one true love I felt awkward and quite different from the rest of his family. I suppose that I was all too much like Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur who married into the wealth and prestige of the Grantham family in Downton Abbey. Mike’s kin were very kind to me, but I was self-conscious and sensed that I didn’t quite fit in. It would be years before I matured enough to build up my confidence and feel quite equal even to those who appeared to be my betters. Along the way I found the one person who would inspire me and demonstrate to me exactly how to be a woman of distinction and great strength. Her name was Rosemary and she was married to Mike’s father’s first cousin. We called her Aunt Rosemary.
Rosemary stood out even among the lovely ladies who populated Mike’s family. Her Irish features pegged her as a descendant of the Emerald Isle even before I knew her story. She had grown up in Chicago, the daughter of a plumber as she often liked to note. She possessed a strong Catholic faith and the firm resolve to help the underdogs of this world when she set out from home to work as a nurse. Along the way she met a very handsome Puerto Rican doctor and the two of them fell in love and began a partnership that would define both romance and enduring commitment. They settled in Houston where he became a noted cardiologist and she devoted her time and talents to supporting his career and raising five lovely daughters. From the time that I first met Rosemary she instantly impressed me as one of the most genuinely loving people that I had ever known. In spite of the awe that I felt for her, she made me feel comfortable and safe. I would silently observe her over the years and vow to pattern myself after her as best I might.
It’s difficult to explain the essence of Rosemary. She was down to earth and refined at one and the same time. She never forgot her own humble beginnings but she was also able to entertain kings and potentates with ease. Perhaps it was because, even with the trappings of success, she never attempted to be anything more than herself, an incredibly giving and sympathetic individual. Rosemary was the kind of person who lived completely outside of herself. She was as kind to the downtrodden as to an influential kingmaker. She read and contemplated the gospels and then lived them as fully as anyone that I have ever known. She was the consummate mother, a devoted wife, an ever faithful friend, and a lifelong learner. She read with a voracious appetite and enjoyed contemplating and discussing new ideas. She was a natural beauty whose inner goodness radiated from her angelic face. She loved and is still loved by all who have had the good fortune to know her.
Rosemary was my mother-in-law Mary’s best friend. The two of them seemed destined to be together. They shared the same birthday, February 4. They married cousins who are more like brothers. They were highly intelligent women in their own right who were capable of holding their own in even the most esoteric discussions. They both understood how to love deeply and unconditionally and their bond with one another was strong. When my mother-in-law died it was a great loss to everyone. Undoubtedly it was devastating to Rosemary who no longer had her beloved confidante. In characteristic fashion Rosemary quietly assumed the role of guardian over her friend’s family. She watched over my mother just as Mary had. She helped my father-in-law to deal with his grief and celebrated his joy when he found a new bride. She kept in contact with Mike so that he would be certain of her love. She was the guardian angel that I had always known her to be.
Rosemary had a more difficult time spreading her joy in her final days on earth. She had an accident that left her with broken bones and limited mobility. Her healing process was long and tedious due to her age but she was determined to continue to lead her life with as much gusto as she was able to muster. Eventually her health deteriorated even more and she spent her final years bedridden and under the care of nurses.
Rosemary faced down challenges and tragedies for most of her lifetime and she did so done so with wisdom and grace. She was continually surrounded by many people who loved and respected her. In many ways she epitomized the well lived life and was the ultimate feminist. She followed her heart and chose the path that best suited her. Hers was a lifetime of service, a lofty goal which she achieved with humility and little fanfare. She raised five warm hearted and accomplished daughters who like their mother have been a gift to all who know them. Even after all of these years I can’t think of anyone that I would rather emulate than Rosemary.
As a young girl I used to read stories of saints and biographies of women as I searched for a life that I felt I might attempt to follow. Most of the saints appeared to be too perfect to me except perhaps St. Theresa. Few of the famous women about whom I read captured my fancy other than Eleanor Roosevelt. There was no way that I might have known that I would one day meet the woman who most closely resembled the kind of person that I wanted to be. I knew that Rosemary was my icon almost from the first time that I saw her tending her brood of excited little girls. Nothing about her ever disappointed me. She had the imperfections and fears that are normal for all humans, but she transcended them with her unselfish and giving heart. She taught me that the key to a good life lies in the simple everyday things that we do for those who need our love.
I continued to learn how to be an amazing woman from Rosemary. Of late I have marveled at her courage and her ability to set her own pain aside. I still hope that I might slowly but surely become more and more like her. It is a lofty goal, but one that has been my holy grail for decades. Rosemary was a true warrior among women and I am most grateful that I have been a recipient of her love.
Rosemary K. Garcia died on Easter Sunday, a fitting day for someone like her. I have no doubt that she went immediately to heaven. I still thank her for being the woman who inspired me most. She was a living Irish blessing among us and now she is a saint. “May the roads rise to meet you, may the winds be always at your back, may the sunshine warm your face, the rains fall soft on your fields, and until we meet again may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.” I love you, Rosemary!