I’m going to try to keep this short and sweet (by my standards anyways). Because as we know, Carmencita was short….. and of course very sweet.
I first met Carmencita Catli in 2002 when I started dating her eldest daughter. I remember how easy she made it to feel comfortable in their home. I remember how welcoming and accommodating she always was. I remember being totally and completely fascinated with the concept of a rice cooker, and how you could have warm rice available to you 24 hours a day. I had heard that culturally it was typical to walk into a Filipino home and immediately be offered food. I’d also heard that the polite response was to sit down and eat. Carmen loved to cook, and when I would come over, there always seemed to be multiple meat options available which is right up my alley. We had an interesting dynamic right away, because if you love to cook, it’s always nice to have someone around who loves to eat. If you love to eat, it’s always preferable to have someone around who loves to cook. She spoiled me ROTTEN. She took note of all my favourite dishes, and just about every time I went over there, we were having one of my favourites. The beefsteak, the Adobo chicken wings, the barbecued Kalbi, She set the standard for how I feel all Filipino cuisine should taste. I think the reason there aren’t that many Filipino restaurants out there is because everybody thinks that their mom makes everything best. Well she became my Filipino mom, and she finally had a white son who had a stomach like a bottomless pit. Nothing was getting thrown out. I tried to help with the dishes a few times, but she wouldn’t let me. She’d say ‘Leave it… You go relax’…… Then I would insist. ‘Hey, you cooked, let me just help’, and then she’d say ‘LEAVE IT!!!!’ ‘Ok, I’ll go relax’.
Soon I found out that she was an avid golfer. It wasn’t long before we were golf buddies, and opportunities to play with her kept cropping up whether it was a little par 3 course, a top-notch course, or even a tournament that she was able to get me into. She was a tiny woman, so she didn’t have prodigious power on her golf swing, but I NEVER saw her hit the ball anywhere but straight down the middle of the fairway. I could hit the ball a lot harder, but not straight. So while I was in the forest having tantrums and looking for my balls, she would methodically work her way to the green 100 yards at a time. Golfing with her wasn’t so much about her golf game as it was about her snacks. She always had enough food with her, so that if Zombies attacked, our four-some could survive for at least three days. She made sure everyone was hydrated, using sunscreen, and had the proper equipment to play with. If you made a great shot, she was the perfect cheerleader, and made probably an inappropriate amount of noise while dancing around the green after a good putt. It was the type of excitement, that I’m sure only the pros have seen. We had great fun on the golf course.
In 2008, Carmen was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. When I do the math, it was like half the time I knew her. I remember being told at the time that she would be limited to approximately 2 to 4 years. We all felt an incredible sadness upon hearing this news. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because I feel like what followed was nothing short of incredible. Carmen didn’t slow down at all. She seemed to react well to chemotherapy, which I’m told is one of the worst things in the world, but you wouldn’t know she was going through that based on her attitude and her demeanor. She had her bad days, but when she had good days, she got up and did something, whether it was golf, shop or travel. She lived 6 more years and saw both of her daughters get married, and not only witnessed the birth of 3 grandchildren, but became a huge part of their every day lives. We were fortunate enough to be able to travel with her on 4 separate occasions during this time, from Maui to Orlando to Vegas. She didn’t slow anybody down. Now in a celebration of life, I didn’t want to bring up cancer necessarily, but during her epic battle in which she defied all odds, the positivity, the grace, the strength and perseverance, the positive attitude, the way she never let it get her down, or if she did, she wouldn’t let it show, and refused to let it bring others down…. to me this is a big part of her story.
Last year we had an opportunity to take her golfing at Taboo up in Bracebridge which she had indicated was her favourite golf course. I sort of felt like it would be the last time we would end up doing something like that together, so I wanted to go there specifically. I’ll be honest now and say that there were a few times when I thought we’d be doing something for the last time, and it wasn’t the case. I don’t want to cheapen her memory by comparing her to the Energizer Bunny, but she did keep going and going and going…….So we were somewhere on the back 9, and Dave and Mayur were off somewhere looking for a ball or something….. not one of mine this time. Carmen said something to me which I’ll never forget. She didn’t always open up with this kind of stuff, but maybe it was the sunshine or the beauty of the golf course that led to the moment, but she said ‘Ryan, you know what?? I’m so happy. I really love my life. I love having grandchildren and spending time with them.’ In light of all that has happened, it made me feel really good to hear her say that. She was loving life right up until the point where she was physically unable to anymore.
Carmencita left us with many great gifts. She was probably the most thoughtful person I’d ever known. Her selflessness, and giving nature made everyone around her feel like a million dollars, in some cases falling all over ourselves to try to make it up to her or do something nice for her. She was a giver, and when it came time to reciprocate, she just wanted us to ‘Leave it’, because it made her happy to be of service to all of us. When she came over to babysit her grandson, he’d already be asleep, and all she had to do was sit on the couch and watch TV. The minute we walked out, she would run into the kitchen and start doing the dishes or whatever. I was kind of embarrassed, I’d tell her to please leave everything, but she wouldn’t listen. Every time. To the point where I felt like if she was going to babysit, I had to go clean up the kitchen first.
While this is still short and sweet. I just wanted to leave you with the following thoughts. While I’m happy that she’s no longer in the pain that she’d been recently experiencing, her absence has left a void in our lives that we will feel for the rest of our lives. To have known her is to have experienced love, fun, strength, positivity, generosity, and a great sense of belonging that can only happen when you are welcomed into friendship by someone like her. She is a bright light that continues to shine in the lives of all who have been fortunate enough to be a part of her life. Carmencita Catli, I’m glad I knew you.