'Ellie died," the unfamiliar voice on the phone said.
At first I thought someone had hurt her; I'd previously written about her struggles to keep her three sons safe.
But no, the woman said, it was during a procedure she'd had for a chronic lung condition.
"She just never woke up."
Just a week earlier, I'd spoken to Eleanore Davila. She was in the hospital, and in a hurry to get out.
"It worries me when my boys are out there on their own," she'd said.
And now all I could think, as this woman's voice faded into the background, was that's exactly where her death had left them. Alone.
It was tough enough when Ellie was alive, and she was a fierce protective force on a maternal mission to keep her three sons safe. She'd lost her eldest, Omari, when he was 18, and each time we talked she made one thing clear: She wasn't going to lose another.
I rooted for her, despite meeting lots of other mothers just like her whose children still managed to slip away. I wasn't sure if her sons would make it with her. Without her, I fear for their chances.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope that Reuben, 22, Grayan, 17, and Keenan, 11, honor their mother, and her memory. And clearly I'm not the only one. One by one, friends, family and co-workers stood during her funeral at a packed St. James Episcopal Church in Hartford Tuesday and spoke to her sons.
Remember how hard she fought to protect you. Remember her lessons, and advice. Make her proud.
That message could have easily been directed at the other children inside the church. But for Ellie, it was always about those three young men sitting in the front, handsomely dressed in white suits, with purple (Ellie's favorite color) ties and scarves.
As I watched them walk out of the church, I wondered if maybe the matching outfits were a sign of unity; Ellie would have liked that.
But mostly, I was overcome with a sense of injustice. This woman fought so hard — for her sons, for herself, when she realized her lungs were failing her. And in the end, what? She dies — without anyone ever answering for murdering her first born and her biggest fear realized: her sons left on their own to navigate a city that seems to fill its pot holes with lost children.
Her sons graciously accepted hugs and handshakes from people who clearly had heard so much about them from a mother who had no bigger joy. But they were shaken.
Keenan twirled his hat nervously. Reuben lingered by his mother's casket as mourners headed for their cars, gently tapping it twice before the door of the hearse closed.
She was tough, Reuben told me later when I went by the house. There were fathers around — sometimes. But mostly, it was Ellie.
Ellie, who taught her boys that the word "no" was just another obstacle to be overcome, to whom they came with any and all questions, and who tirelessly fought on their behalf, in the schools, the streets, the courtrooms.
Ellie had spoken often of him, the son she called Benny. She worried about him, now expecting his first child. She wanted to be sure he was ready for the responsibility. And he was, with a one-bedroom apartment and a job at Trinity College.
But now, suddenly, he not only had to find his own way, but take care of his brothers, too.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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