Valerie Kreutzer Photo

The Compassionate Friends Newsletter, March/April, 2009

Remembering Maria

©2009 Valerie Kreutzer

She was found abandoned in the lavatory of a little downtown cafeteria in Bogota, Colombia, and the police who came to pick her up named her Maria Consuelo. From the stack of would-be parents, the welfare agency picked my folder and with a paper clip our lives were joined forever. When I took the toddler into my arms, I promised to love her until death do us part. Maria died in a car crash at 21, and I have since learned that love and longing extend beyond the grave.

Once the numbness over Maria’s sudden death had eased, remembering began. “Like with a fallen tree, we appreciate the full length of a life only after it has ended,” Anne Morrow said after the death of her husband Charles Lindbergh. And so I began recording my memories, the good and the bad, and the delicious ordinariness of our time together.

I remembered her love for puzzles, how her nimble fingers assembled petals to shape a colorful flower. “When I grow up, I’ll have a puzzle factory,” she said at three. Little did we know then that behind her genius for sequential thinking lurked a severe learning disability in reading and writing. At school she struggled mightily but also blossomed into an award-winning young artist.

And I remembered my teenager’s messy room, where she once started raising mice without permission. “Out,” I screamed as mice started to colonize the house. Maria simply collapsed into a heap of giggles, having anticipated my outrage. She knew how to push my buttons.

She pushed often and hard. “I hate you,” was followed by “you are not my mother.” She ran away, was arrested, and stood a few times before a judge in the juvenile court. Maria’s teenage rebellion camouflaged the pain she felt over the loss of her birth family and Hispanic identity. And I, her vigilant fix-it-mom, always scrambled to sooth her primal wound.

We screamed our hearts out watching a Colombian team compete in a soccer tournament in Washington, DC; we went to Costa Rica to learn Spanish, and to Guatemala to arrange an internship after high school graduation. During her senior year, Maria researched Colombia and her paper grew into a 40-page tome. She began to mellow. “Thank you for adopting me,” she wrote in her yearbook.

Maria was happy during the last months of her life. She had found David and a home with his extended family. They made plans for a future, and then it all ended in the curve of a rural road in Florida.

As I began to chronicle the roller-coaster of our relationship, Maria’s portrait leaned against my computer. “Tell it like it was,” she kept whispering. And so I recorded the love and hate, despair and delight, failure and forgiveness. Remembering Maria made me realize the privilege of reviewing my daughter’s completed life that left a legacy of love.

A Girl Named Maria, by Valerie Kreutzer, is available from iUniverse at 1-800-Authors, and at and other retailers. All royalties will benefit the Maria Consuelo Funds at Chelsea in Maryland and Solebury in Pennsylvania, the two private schools Maria attended.