When I first drove into our road over four years ago to meet the real estate agent for the viewing appointment at our would-be house, I fell in love with the road. It's a totally normal London street at first appearance, with lots of terraced houses connected to one another and running up and down both sides of the street. There isn't much front yard/garden in front of the houses to speak about - so in that sense it barely resembles the house in which I grew up - but for whatever reason on that August day in 2009, the quiet midday street felt like the most neighborly place I'd ever been to in the UK.
After falling in love with the road, and managing to convince Matt that we should buy the house despite its imperfections, the reality of the impression I'd had about the "neighborhood feel" turned out to be actually true - our street has hosted some wonderful events, from annual Big Lunch gatherings where we get the road closed so that all the residents with our potluck dishes can enjoy lunch outside together on all our various picnic tables and chairs; to Olympic parties; to birthday celebrations; to Christmas drop-ins where the whole street was welcome. We celebrated the Queen's Jubilee together and have hosted street bazaars to raise money for local charities. We recently became a "Play Street", which allows us to close the road for several hours to traffic once a month in order for the kids to get their bikes, scooters and games out and play outdoors. The sense of community has always been incredible, and the neighbors are fun, generous, caring, supportive, and loving. I didn't think there could be anything bad that could come out of having amazing neighbors.
Turns out, there is something...and that something happened yesterday when I found out that one of our dearest residents of the road, the life and soul of the street, a caring and generous wife, mother, educator and friend, passed away suddenly on Friday. She was only a few years older than me. I have been fortunate in my life, I know, to have not had to deal with too much loss, and certainly not in a long time and not of people who were taken well before their time. In that sense, her death is so difficult to fathom, not only because it is so sudden and unexpected, but also because of the gaping hole that her loss will leave - in the lives of her husband and two daughters, in the communities in which she lived and worked, and in our hearts.
Three weeks ago she and her husband were sitting at the very table where I am writing this, at the end of the "Mo'town" party Matt and I hosted for Movember. We were just chatting about work and life - she was hopeful about a forthcoming good review by Ofsted of her older daughter's school. She was a caring professional, a deputy head teacher at a primary school in east London. She was generous with her time despite the demanding obligations of her job, and she shared freely her affection for life and other people. I can so easily picture the warm smile she wore when she'd greet the boys in the street, and she offered us the use of their house while they went away on a week's break when we were having our renovations done last year. She just walked over with a spare set of keys and told me to make ourselves at home; many people's own blood relatives might struggle to make that offer. Her sense of humor and fun was a constant, along with her dedication to her friends and her family.
Her fervor for living came out when she hosted parties and got to bring her Spanish background into the fare - making massive paellas for the street events, or Spanish omelets, or homemade quince jelly to go with Spanish cheese as she did three weeks ago. Everything could be washed down with her trademark sangria (if she was hosting), or champagne (her offering to a party if she was a guest). She kind of was "champagne" - sparkling, glamorous, a celebration. And now she's gone.
The timing feels particularly cruel, as it would for anyone who has to deal with loss so close to holidays. While most people gear up for that "most magical" time of the year, her family is now going to have to deal with losing the most important person in their lives. I can only imagine their sadness.
As I figured out how to break the news to the boys, doing a bit of research on hearing what a 6-year-old might be worried about upon hearing of the death of someone they know (I figured Noah was still a bit too young to understand much), I stayed strong and didn't well up while I was talking to them about it. I mentioned that the girls and their dad might need our support and help. Blake thought for a minute, and then he got an idea: "Maybe we could get them a robot Mum!" He was clearly trying to think practically about all the things that mothers do, bless his heart, but there will be nothing that can replace Marga. Of course much of my sadness is no doubt fueled by my contemplation about how unpredictably and suddenly life can be taken. I look at the boys and wonder how Matt or I would cope if something was to happen to either of us. Hopefully it won't, but this is the thing: it could. And that's just scary as hell.
And so, I continue to cry, to feel sadness and shock, to wonder if somehow, it might all turn out to be a big mistake, and not really true. I looked back at pictures tonight of some of our street events, and it's impossible to contemplate any of them in the future without her. Our street's champagne celebrations have lost their bubbles, the sparkle.
Rest in peace, Margarita, though somehow I bet you'll not rest if there are friends to be made, a community to build and surround yourself in, and sangria to be shared. We love you and miss you so much already.