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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Aftermath of a Tragedy

A portrait of Cesar Tellez and Guadalupe Ramos-Tellez adorns the
altar during a memorial Mass on Monday at St. John the Evangelist Church in White Plains. They died in a fire Thursday in North White Plains. Cesar Tellez made it out of the burning house but went back for his wife. (Angela Gaul/The Journal News)

Update: I just found out that the fire was caused by faulty dishwasher wiring!!! This puts a whole new slant on this tragedy.

After my last blog post showing the photos of the fire I realized that pictures do speak louder than words. When I tried to explain the course of this tragic fire I didn't know exactly what had happened. We were driving around during the worst part of it. But the photos showed people the entire scene. The comments on that post showed me how many people are my friends and what friends will offer you in a crisis. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world because of how my friends rallied around me and gave me strength to face the next days.

Last night I attended the memorial service for my dear neighbor Cesar and his wife Guadalupe. The church was filled to the brim with people in the pews and there were about six or seven rows of people standing in the back. There were two large paintings of the couple on either side of the altar and wreaths of white flowers shaped in a heart with red roses laced through them also stood on either side of the altar. For a Jewish girl so many flowers were strange. Yes, we have flowers along the altar if there is a synagogue service. But usually we send money to charity in the deceased behalf. However, my family wanted to send our respects and so I ordered flowers to be delivered to the church. Seriously, I have no idea if they were there, because you can't go searching for your own flowers during the service. Then when people started taking communion there wasn't a chance either. But I hope they were there.:)

I wanted to see his family, because I wrote a poem a few nights after the tragedy in his and his wife's honor. Unlike the Jewish service, people didn't say a eulogy. So I handed the poem to his younger brother and hugged all of his family. I couldn't stop crying during the service so I looked worn and shell shocked when I got outside. But don't you know when you look the crappiest someone wants to interview you. There was Channel 12 again asking me how I felt. Also the Journal News interviewed me. You can learn more about it in this article rehashing what happened.

How did I feel? Nothing seems real anymore. In a few days my pretty settled life unraveled and nothing is the same anymore. We have been living in a hotel since the fire made us leave and now we found out on Sunday that our apartment is no longer habitable. We are looking for a new place, looking for a way to clean our possessions and looking for a way to make sense of this whole event.

Why should a lively, healthy 28 year old man and his young wife suddenly be gone? His heroic act raised him above the normal man and into a place reserved for superheroes. I had a superhero living next door to me and I didn't know. I wonder if he knew that the few minutes when he was outside with the rest of his family would be his last. Yet his act of bravery is why I can't get him out of my mind. At a time when he had to make a decision he chose to save his wife and perish with her. That sentence itself brings me to tears. This sad act overwhelms everything else that happened because of the fire.

Caesar and Guadelupe are going to be sent back to their native home town for burial in Mexico. Now they will be together and at peace for all eternity. They are loved by their friends and this was obvious last night when the whole community came together for support and love. As I shook the hands of strangers after the ceremony I felt welcomed by these warm and hard working people who tried valiantly to pay attention to the service as their children whimpered.

This tragedy brought home to me what so many mothers and fathers have suffered when they lose a son or daughter due to war. This was a house fire and not war, but in many respects it was the same. The devastation was the same and so was the emotion as a young life was senselessly destroyed.

As I mentioned I wrote a poem. I'm posting it in honor of this young couple and the heroism of my neighbor:

Sleep Well, My Friend – Sueno Bien, Mi Amigo
In Honor of Cesar and Guadalupe
by Barbara Ehrentreu

Sleep well, my friend. Though your journey has been short Your broad heart encompassed all who needed you
Tireless to the end you raced
for your love despite the flames licking at your heels
as you flew up the stairs

Sleep well, my friend
Your work is through
Others will wash and polish your cars
shine them to the gleam we all saw
Others will take over the yoke of the leader
you were.

Sleep well with your love
In one flash you and she were gone,
trapped by the furor of the raging flames’ unfolding petals
buried by the deluge of fire.
You are gone too young,
too soon.

Sleep well, my friend
Crowds of angels wait to lay laurel leaves upon your brow
for the hero you were
Though your beloved red car remains in the driveway
I picture you sailing through the gates of heaven
in the drivers’ seat

Sleep well my friends.

Copyright 2010 by Barbara Ehrentreu


  1. Barbara, A beautiful tribute to your friends. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Thank you, VR,
    Whenever something affects me I have to write a poem about it. I wrote this a day after the tragedy. I'm glad you liked the post.:) Thank you for visiting and leaving a commenting.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Barbara,

    I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your neighbor and his wife -- what a lovely poetic tribute to your heroic neighbor. Trite as it may be to say so, this poem brought tears to my eyes.


  5. Hi Peggy!
    Yes, it was definitely difficult at the time. Thank you for commenting.:) More later. I have to go.

  6. I just picture your neighbor running in to save his wife and I start tearing up. Your story makes me want to hug my family tighter. Very sad. I'm sorry.

    PS. You wrote a beautiful poem. I love the last few lines and the way you weave his beloved car into the story. I really get a picture in my head.

  7. The Guy's Perspective,
    Imagine how I feel since I saw it happen. You can never plan for such an emergency and it happened in a moment. One minute he was there on the porch and the next minute he was in the house and gone. The poem is my way of making sense of this experience and it did help me to understand what happened a little more. Thank you for letting me know that it affected you.

    When I write my feelings down as a poem it is almost always because something has touched me deeply! Then I thought of heroes in general and wrote the article for I hope you got to read it too:

  8. This is a hearbreaking story as the fire was totally unnecessary, but the one positive to be gleaned is that Cesar gave his life to save another - this is really the ultimate sacrifice we can perform in life.

    I not only have memories of my prior life, but had it confirmed by four others in this life. One was the woman I died holding in the prior life, as we were all burned by Nazis in their path of destruction in Russia. As a result, fires have always been very scary for me as most are caused by man.

    My heart goes out to all of the family, relatives, friends, and neighbors. Your poem is a lovely tribute and will be read by many others.

    Blessings to all those affected by this.

  9. Lawrence,
    Thank you so much for your wonderful words!

    Were you hypnotized when you learned that you had prior lives? I have heard that people do find that they had past lives. Sometimes you meet someone and have an instant connection. I don't rule out past lives.:)

  10. I just read your examiner piece. You've captured the essence of heroism so eloquently.

    Everyone of us may or may not be a hero. The only time you really know is when the moment happens. We all pray that we can remain "ordinary" citizens.

    Knock on wood.

    Take care of yourself Barbara.

  11. The Guy's Perspective,
    Thank you so much for letting me know how you felt about the article. Did you leave a comment there?

    You're right that the chance to be a hero can happen at any time. But there are many ways to be a hero.

    With the tragedy in Haiti I wonder how many people got that chance.

  12. This was the first time I found your Blog. I was really sad when I read the post. Well, I am really sorry for your loss.
    That was a wonderful tribute. I am sure, they would have overlooked you from Heaven and blessed you. I pray for your dear friends.
    Have a nice day...:)

  13. I know how you feel, I lost a friend of 48yrs to the Big C I think of her often.I know they are together in God's hands he will take care of them now..Sorry for your lost..

  14. Mr. Stupid,
    Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments. I appreciate your thoughts and I agree with you that they must be blessing us. Some wonderful things have happened and they don't seem to be random.

    I hope you will visit again and I will be visiting your blog too.

  15. Gigi,
    Thank you for visiting and so sorry about your friend. Losing a friend is a big loss and you can never get over it. We lost possessions and those can be replaced. If you read my blog today you will see how I feel about all of this.:)


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