An estimated 400 mourners came with full hearts Tuesday evening (Sept. 10) to DeVargas Funeral Home to express their love for, and poignant memories of, a young …
An estimated 400 mourners came with full hearts Tuesday evening (Sept. 10) to DeVargas Funeral Home to express their love for, and poignant memories of, a young woman who had touched many with her great heart, vibrant spirit and selfless service to those around her.
Maria Elena Cruz of San Cristóbal will live on in many of those hearts, after the 16-year-old died in a Sept. 4 auto accident that investigators believe was caused by another driver who may have been drunk and who also died in the head-on collision.
Maria was a junior at Taos High School and had attended Taos public schools since kindergarten. She worked at the southside Guadalajara Grill.
The service at DeVargas followed a Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Taos, where the Cruz family were parishioners and where Maria had been confirmed in May, according to Father Daniel J. Gutierrez. Her friends at the church "are hurting bad," he said.
The memorial service opened with a formal recitation of the Holy Rosary, spoken in both Spanish and English by a dozen women elders. The Rosary is intended to provide solace and peace to those who are stricken with an incomprehensible sense of loss. Many attendees recited the prayers along with the elders:
"Santa Maria, Madre de Dios,
Ruega por nosotros los pecadores
Ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death."
A young member of the extended Cruz family then offered words of comfort and gratitude on behalf of the family:
"Losing someone is a painful situation that unfortunately we will all have to live at some point in our lives. The pain may seem unbearable, but the secret to comfort us is not to think of us but of the beautiful soul that had a great impact on many of our lives. Although now we know she is at her eternal peace, she will continue to be our guardian angel. It is good to think of the person not with pain, but with peace, to firmly believe that she will take care of us from wherever she is, and to continue with our lives because she would have wanted us to."
In a letter read at the memorial, one of Maria's former middle school teachers wrote:
"I consider myself so fortunate to have been her teacher for three wonderful years. As teachers, we nurture our students' gifts so they can blossom and flourish in this garden of life. But Maria had so many gifts: an excellent student, always cheerful, never afraid to try new things such as acting and performing; a natural leader, a hard worker, a caring and compassionate friend; an open and loving heart and an artistic, visual spirit.
"Because we both came from immigrant parents, we had a common bond," the letter continued. "Over the years, I could count on her to play guitar for all our performances at school and the Night of a Thousand Stars, and I depended on her to be the student council president through all the fundraising activities for prom and even asked her to help me with the yearbook."
"I started calling her 'Mini-Me' because I felt like she was a miniature version of myself. It was the very first time I'd ever used that phrase to describe a student. That's how much I loved her, and still love her … and will always love her."
As the service concluded, funeral director Joaquin Gonzales distributed 100 star-shaped, helium-filled balloons. He invited attendees to write a note to Maria and "send it to her in her new home" by attaching it to their balloon.
They then gathered outside the building just as the sun was dropping into the west and, in unison, released their balloons. The attendees broke into spontaneous applause as the balloons floated heavenward.
A piece of art created by one of Maria's close friends displayed at the memorial characterized her as follows: "You taught me how to live, how to laugh, how to love, how to be happy. You are sunshine. You are love."
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