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Farewell, Maria

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Maria was only 54, and half a century is never enough but she was nonetheless a warrior. photograph courtesy of Gabrielle R. Borromeo

My dad’s first cousin, Maria Carla Mercader, who I knew as my Auntie Noni, passed away on 29 March 2020 from COVID-19 in a New York hospital.

“People will never truly understand something until it happens to them” was my exact sentiment when I heard the saddening news.

I knew COVID-19 was evil, but I never really felt the extent of it until it hit my family. This disease is real and it is evil.

Not only does it take away lives, it leaves people in a state of isolation — feeling all alone until their last breath.

The world does not deserve this, nobody does. This is why I plead, stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to step out because viruses depend on a host and infect to reproduce. Do not be the next host because, simply put, life is already short.

But life can also be beautiful if one directs it in the right path. Maria, my aunt, lived an amazing life.

She was born on 28 November 1965 in New York City. She studied in an all-girls Dominican Academy in Manhattan and went on to graduate from the College of New Rochelle in 1987. In the same year, she got her start at CBS News in the CBS Page Program, also in New York.

In her years working in the CBS News foreign and national desks, Maria helped produce many of the biggest stories, including the death of Princess Diana and the 9/11 attacks.

She won a Business Emmy in 2004 for her work on a “CBS Sunday Morning” report on computer spam. She definitely helped shape strategy for the CBS’ correspondents and reporters.

She was a brilliant writer that contributed widely to the world and I am proud to call her my aunt.

Not only was she a network veteran who covered breaking news for more or less three decades, she had a magnificent spirit that embodied who she was as a person — beautiful inside and out.

“Maria was an amazing human being. No wonder she was deeply loved by her peers, highly respected in her community and adored as a journalist in CBS News for 30 years,” my dad Vincent tells me.

“She was an institution built on a foundation, her family. Family is a very important factor in the growth of a person. It is not something even taught; it is like osmosis.”

Indeed, my aunt loved people deeply and she celebrated them, even actively coordinating CBS News participation in the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the National Association of Black Journalists.

Maria was a devout Catholic who had a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux, the saint who said, “One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul.”
Maria, following the footsteps of St. Therese, lived her life by always putting a smile on someone’s face, simply by smiling at them.

Her joy was contagious, especially since she loved music and was a big supporter of ballet. Art just flowed in her. She was inspired by her mother, Gladys, who predeceased her and was the pianist for the American Ballet Theatre. She truly lived life vibrantly.

Her dad was also one to greatly regard her with pride and honor, even saying “Maria is a New Yorker as a New Yorker can be!” encouraging his daughter to reach for the stars.

My dad says, “I have come to believe that a person’s life can be determined by the influence of their family and community, and truly, Maria was raised well — all thanks to her beloved parents Manuel and Gladys.

“Her dad, who also lived in New York, would visit the Philippines with luggage of gigantic and special chocolates. He was my real-life Santa Claus and everyone was just as excited as I was to see him and his gifts.

“I’m sure Maria picked this up and did her part in being a light to anyone and everyone. She always enlightened people,” he recalls.

My dad’s sister, Malil Borromeo-Requilman, with a smile remembers Maria: “She loved good food and good company that she could laugh with. She definitely looked forward to family gatherings. She loved her family fiercely and was such a daddy’s girl. ‘Til the end, when she spoke to her dad, she would revert to being like a child in her manner of speech and would take every opportunity to sit on his lap.”

Maria was only 54, and half a century is never enough but she was nonetheless a warrior.

Before her passing, she fought cancer several times for more than 20 years and won every time through her deep faith and source of happiness from her family. No matter what the struggle, she chose to live life positively.

Malil continued, “Maria cared deeply for others. She showed much concern when any relative was sick and would go out of her way to help them out and comfort the family. She also sought out people with a similar cancer to hers. She gave all the information she could give including the best doctors and hospitals and treatments available.”

She was truly an inspiration each time she returned to work after a setback threatened to end her life.

But recently, she had been on medical leave for an unrelated matter since the last week of February 2020 and she was forced to stay in the hospital where she was later infected by the deadly virus and like all cases, perished alone.

With a heavy heart, I say my goodbyes with this tribute, the least that I can do.

As a young journalist, I can’t help but look up to her for all the work she had done and now I can’t even ask her for advice. Aunt, you will be remembered as a champion and not just a number in the toll. I am heartbroken but I am also comforted knowing you are now with our Heavenly Father, free to soar above and join the angels in Heaven in triumph.

Maria Carla Mercader Maria is survived by her father and brother — both of whom are named Manuel, and her brother’s wife, Serina.

New York is currently holding the highest rate of affected persons due to the coronavirus in the United States. According to worldometers.com, as of today, New York has a whopping number of 67,325 total number of affected persons while a death count of 1,342. The active cases are 61,674.

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