Ocotillo neighbors help ease a widow’s grief - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Ocotillo neighbors help ease a widow’s grief

December 25th, 2018 development
Ocotillo neighbors help ease a widow’s grief

By COLLEEN SPARKS, Managing Editor

An elaborate Christmas display with a Santa Claus riding his sleigh into the sky linked to two houses demonstrates the strong bond between neighbors and a woman grieving the loss of her husband around the holidays.
Bonnie Flores, a mother of two children and stepmother to one, organized an army of volunteers to set up numerous Christmas decorations at the house of her next-door neighbor and close friend, Cathy Noli on Raven Drive in the Carino Estates community.
Noli, a mother of three, lost her husband, Daniel Noli II, 49, in June. Daniel loved decorating the outside of their home for Christmas, and the two families had talked for years about hanging Santa in a sleigh between their two houses.
Flores and Noli are close friends, having hit it off as soon as they became neighbors nearly 18 years ago.
They have become like family members as they share life’s ups and downs, raising kids and spending much time in each other’s homes on holidays and other occasions.
They also share the pain of losing a spouse.
Flores’ 38-year-old husband Michael Grumski died of a heart attack about four years ago, leaving her to raise their two children – Joshua, now 15; and David, 13 – on her own. Flores has since remarried to John Flores and Noli helped throw her a bridal shower.
Flores, 41, who teaches high school geometry to gifted eighth-graders at Bogle Junior High School, said Cathy and Daniel were the first people she ran to in the middle of the night after her husband had collapsed. They offered comfort, love and practical guidance as she adjusted to being a single mother.
Flores is glad she can return that kindness as Cathy as deals with the sadness and strain of losing her husband to respiratory arrest due to asthma exacerbation.
Flores said Cathy, 47, told her she wanted to hang Christmas lights on her home, as Daniel had always done, but she was not sure how to do it.
Noli has a 16-year-old son, Danny Jr., an 11-year-old daughter, Cian, and a 20-year-old daughter, Cheyenne. Danny Jr. is a sophomore at Chandler High School, and Cian is a sixth-grader at Hancock Elementary, while Cheyenne is in college in California.
“I knew that the holidays were going to be tough,” Flores said. “It’s hard, but I knew what Cathy was feeling and I thought to myself, what does this family really need for the holidays? It was Dan’s lights, his Christmas.”
Though a private person, Flores posted a message on the Ocotillo Friends Facebook page asking people for help.
About 40 people answered her call.
Some donated gift cards and gift baskets and Sal’s Pizza contributed money for Cathy and her family to have a holiday meal.
Danny and Sue Creek, contractors, donated an inflatable Santa Claus on a sleigh being pulled by reindeer and put it up on strings linked to Noli’s and Flores’ homes.
An inflatable snowman, numerous colored lights, a Santa Claus, white glowing reindeer and other festive decorations brighten up Noli’s front yard, garage and roof.
“It’s touching,” Flores said. “It’s emotional and touching and kinda keeps Dan’s spirit alive. I did this because this is I thought family and they’re hurting, and I thought what can I do to actually lessen their pain a little bit? Grief is very personal. I had to think what do they really need?”
The outpouring of support from Flores and her family, as well as friends, neighbors and people she had not even met, also made a big impact on Noli.
“It’s just been so amazing, overwhelming,” Noli said. “I’m so thankful. It was just an amazing feeling to come home and see it. It’s beautiful.
“He (Dan) would be so happy and proud. I could not believe how many responses Bonnie said that she had received from friends and strangers alike that had come out and helped, especially this time of year.”
She said when she came home and saw the decorations for the first time:
“When we drove up, my youngest daughter looks out the window and said, ‘Look Mom, oh my God!” Noli said. “She was so in awe of everything that was up. She was smiling from ear to ear.”
Noli, who runs a daycare center out of her home, said every year she and Dan had assembled a big Christmas display. Dan would hang over the roof to put lights on top and “was always climbing somewhere” to create the Christmas magic.
“He did it for our kids and for myself,” Noli said. “He knew that it just made the spirit of the holiday that much better. He knew it made us happy.”
She said her husband was involved in many things in the community and once helped another friend who had lost her husband hang up Christmas lights.
Thomas Baldrick, of Chandler, a friend who helped publicize the decorating and aided in setting up the Christmas attractions, said the outreach was tremendous. His son, Julian, 12, goes to Bogle Junior High, where Flores teaches.
“It was very nice,” Baldrick said. “It was people without agendas other than coming together to help someone. In these times where it seems like so many people are divided, it was nice to see people coming together for one purpose, all from the heart.”
The friendship between Noli and Flores and their families blossomed naturally years ago.
“I remember looking at our house and then there was Dan and Cathy,” Flores said. “They had a little girl.”
Dan and Cathy were “so friendly” and having moved to the area from Florida, without relatives nearby, Flores said she was eager to make new friends.
“We got to be friends pretty quickly,” she said.
Flores used to teach private preschool out of her home, and children who spent part of their days in Cathy’s daycare center would walk next door to work on reading and writing with Flores.
David, Flores’ son, now a seventh-grader at Bogle Junior High, plays waffle ball with Noli’s daughter, Cian. The children have done Easter egg hunts together and celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah as families.
“We have each other’s keys to each other’s houses,” Flores said. “It’s family.”
Cathy’s son Danny is 6 months older than Flores’ son Joshua, and the two boys are good friends.
“I’m just so thankful that we’re a part of each other’s lives and have been able to help each other during tough situations,” Cathy said. “I’m just thankful she’s part of our family, their whole family is. It’s so special to be able to call your neighbor your family. I think everybody’s put in each other’s lives for a reason.”

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