My name is Cindy and I am Robert and Ana-Maria’s sister-in-law. The other speakers have shared some about each member of the family individually. I want to talk about the Howard-Dias family.
I can’t remember when I met Robert. It was sometime when we were all in school together, John, Robert, David, and I. There were several years in there when there was at least one Howard and sometimes two at every Stanford graduation. What I do remember about meeting Robert is that you never met just Robert. You always met Robert AND Robert’s friends. And, surrounded by these friends, Robert loved to entertain, but often in a bachelor-esque kind of way. There were several Easter egg hunts, at which the menu consisted of: oreos, M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, chocolate eggs, and ham.
I do remember meeting Ana-Maria. John and I were going to an event at the Exploratorium and in one of those chance encounters that made living near Robert so delightful, we saw him in the crowd by the front door. Robert started to lift his hand to greet us but couldn’t because he was holding so tightly to Ana-Maria’s hand. And that’s the way they were, from the very beginning of their relationship: tightly linked, intensely supportive of one another, complementary to each other. Robert provided a stable base for Ana-Maria’s creativity to flourish and grow. Ana-Maria taught Robert important things – like to serve vegetables at Easter brunch.
Ana Maria broadened Robert’s horizons in other ways, too. As a member of a close-knit family and as someone who knew about being part of a broader community, she taught him how to engage more fully in both of those places himself.
For me, personally, I loved that Ana-Maria was someone else who knew what it meant to have married into the Howard family. In Spanish, there is a specific word for the relationship we had: “concuñada,” which literally means “with sister-in-law.” She had a gift that helped me further integrate into the family where she was the newcomer. I know that Robert enjoyed a similar relationship with his brother-in-law Eric. Once they sat down before plates piled high with some Portuguese delicacy and gave each other a knowing look. Robert said, “You are right: it does look like Klingon food.”
As parents, Robert and Ana-Maria were capable and confident. After Sam was born I ran into someone who had seen Ana-Maria with her new baby at Blossom Birth and we agreed that the two of them were communicating so well, so early on. Ana-Maria poured herself out to be in love in this baby and this baby was so in tune with her mother.
Not to say that parenting was always easy, but somehow Ana-Maria made it look that way. When Sam was a bit older I completed a written observation of her at home with her mother. She was very active, running, jumping and spinning, nearly constantly. At the end I wrote, “After completing the observation, I sat on the couch for about fifteen minutes before I could even contemplate standing up. I was exhausted after just 30 minutes. I asked Ana-Maria if Sam’s activity level was typical and she told me that this had been an easy day…I am amazed at Ana-Maria’s ability to respond to Sam calmly and positively in many challenging situations.”
During those first early weeks of motherhood, Ana-Maria called me or I called her every couple of days. Finally she said, “I don’t know why it took me so long to do this, but you teach this all the time, so I am going to be part of your class.” That choice was pivotal in their family’s life. Two of the girls who spoke earlier were members of that original newborn class at PreSchool Family and the other three met Ana-Maria and Sam in the 3’s and 4’s classes there. I have seen other classes develop this kind of tight bond over the years, but there is always one family at the core, positive and engaging, who draws the community together. Ana-Maria and Robert and their girls were that for this class.
Nica was born two years after Sam. She, too, was very connected to her mother. In an observation I wrote: “Veronica is a well-attached infant. …When she began to get tired she was comforted just by the sound of her mother’s voice. As she began to get more tired, she was back in equilibrium as soon as her mother picked her up. Her mother responded quickly to Veronica’s cries.
Robert and Ana-Maria become better people because of each other, and when they had children they took advantage of that to become more invested in their families and their communities.
Ana-Maria never missed an event with my children. One year my nephew Andrew was graduating from high school, Amanda from middle school, Laurel from fifth grade, and Gwen from kindergarten. After the Laurel’s graduation I sat right over there and introduced Ana-Maria to El Carmelo’s principal. I said, “Lupe this is Ana-Maria. She is going to be here next year and she will be an amazing help.” And she was. Robert and Ana-Maria gave all that they had to make their community a better place.
Sometime this past February — it was one of those days where I had a huge to-do list so I wasn’t paying attention — Ana-Maria called me. She said she and Robert had been talking about the people who had had a positive influence on them and that my name came up. She said, “We just wanted to say how grateful we are to you.” I was so busy and so stunned that I just said Thank you. What I wanted to say, what I should have said, is you’ve given me so much more than I have ever given to you.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of their lives. I am grateful for what we were able to learn from them. I am grateful that with all that she did, she took the time to say thank you.
Janet spoke earlier about how we can’t make sense of this. The tragedy is simply unspeakable. But we can learn from these wonderful people and follow their example. Being a teacher I get to give assignments, so I am putting on my teacher hat and giving each of you an assignment.
First assignment. There is someone in your life who you need to thank. Today, find that person and share your gratitude.
Second assignment. There is someone in your life who is new to the community, or is alone, or is in need of help. This week: reach out to that person.
Third assignment. There is a need in your community that you are uniquely suited to address. This month: do what you can to fill that need.
Robert, Ana-Maria, Sam, and Nica. We love you and we will miss you.