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ICYMI: Scott Stringer remembers his mother, Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, on Mother’s Day

Stringer: “Growing up, I thought there was nothing cooler than one day serving this city. People poke fun at me for it. But if your mom was Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, you’d probably live and breathe New York politics the same way.”

READ THE MEDIUM POST HERE

New York, NY – Comptroller and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer shared a poignant reflection of his late mother, Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, who passed away nearly a year ago from COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic. 

The Medium post, titled “The Eulogy I Never Gave: Some Thoughts on Mother’s Day Without My Mom,”  honors Arlene, her trailblazing work, and her profound impact on Scott’s life and career. 

Read the full Medium post here and below.

The Eulogy I Never Gave: Some Thoughts on Mother’s Day Without My Mom

A little over a year ago, I lost my mom to COVID-19. And this city lost a New York original — in every sense of the word.

Born in the Bronx, my mom raised my brother and me as a single mom in Washington Heights. She started her career as a public school teacher and taught ESL courses at the local Y. Later, she got involved in politics, eventually running for City Council in 1976 and becoming the first woman to represent the Heights. She only lasted a little over a year in office, before losing in a nasty primary that was truly difficult for me to watch.

But in the sixteen months she served, she blazed a trail for so many women who followed. And she blazed a trail for me, too.

Growing up, I thought there was nothing cooler than one day serving this city. People poke fun at me for it. But if your mom was Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, you’d probably live and breathe New York politics the same way.

I used to follow her around to all her meetings. More than once, she was asked by some man in the room why she wasn’t home with her husband. In signature fashion, she’d respond, “I don’t have a husband.” And then she’d outsmart, out-humor, and simply outdo all of them — no matter what they were doing.

But that was only one side of her. My mom was also a fiercely loyal and fiercely loving wife, mother, and grandmother. She taught me early on that nothing was more important than family. But when she married my step-dad, Carlos, she also taught me that family can and should always expand. That the more people in your life to lean on, learn from, and love, the better.

For over 86 years, my mom was leaned on, learned from, and loved. By her family by birth and by choice. By her friends, her neighbors, her community at the Y and the housing authority. By everyone who was lucky enough to cross paths with her — whether it was my own wife and kids during our ritual Saturday night dinners with her and Carlos in the Bronx, or the strangers on the street she’d always stop and talk to.

Like a New York original.

Then, last April, she contracted the coronavirus and died the way too many New York originals did: alone in a hospital, without any family or loved ones by her side.

We didn’t get to say goodbye. We couldn’t have a funeral. We couldn’t sit shiva. And if this reads a bit like a eulogy for her, well, that’s because I wasn’t able to give one then, either.

In the year since, I’ve thought a lot about grief. But if I’m being honest, I haven’t really done much of it yet. And not for lack of trying. Instead, I’ve been living in a sort of limbo — unable to mourn the way I know I need to, unable to begin moving on a result.

I’m not alone. Over 32,000 people in New York City have lost their lives to COVID-19. That means 32,000 families just like mine who are struggling to mourn and move on, too. In different ways, all of us were robbed of the rituals that normally make loss feel real. All of us had to compromise on the community that normally makes loss feel manageable.

Today, there’s a 32,000-person-sized hole in the heart of this city. And all of us feel it — not just those of us who lost immediate family members over the past year.

After all, New York City has been called Ground Zero of this pandemic for a reason: like 9/11, it’s touched everyone here. Some more than others, for sure. But to an extent, everyone.

It’s changed the way we walk down the street, the way we interact with our neighbors, the way we look at our first responders. It’s changed where we feel safe, how we travel, what we’ll never again take for granted.

And for so many of us, these changes will outlast the pandemic.

What used to be an ordinary street corner will be, at least for some time, the place where a morgue truck stood in the city’s darkest days. What used to be your favorite cafe might be lost to the pandemic permanently. So might the barista who knew your order by heart, or the friend you used to meet there every Sunday for coffee and a bagel.

You might never hear ambulance sirens the same way again. I know I won’t.

Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. As we continue getting vaccinated, opening up our economy, and trying to piece our lives back together, we’ll have more distractions from the darkness of this year. And as time passes, we’ll have more distance from it, too.

But it won’t be easy for those of us who will be leaving this pandemic without all the people we entered it with.

This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of all the New Yorkers like me who will be sending one less card, making one less phone call, giving one less (vaccine-approved) hug. For a while, every holiday and birthday and special occasion will likely be bittersweet.

But I’m also thinking of the people we still have, the ones who carried us through an otherwise unbearable year. In this city, it’s the frontline workers, so many of them women. They deserve to be celebrated always — but especially this weekend, after a year from hell. And in my family, it’s my wife, Elyse. During a time of distance and separation, she’s held us together, enveloping me and our sons Max and Miles with love and keeping us close. This Mother’s Day, and every other day, is for her, too.

Look, there are no silver linings to this pandemic. But if there’s a lesson we can learn from it — and I know the teacher in my mom would insist that I find one — it’s this: A city is only as strong as its people are connected.

That connection is what makes our lives full. And missing it this past year is what made things so hard. Why so many of us couldn’t grieve or mourn, why we’ve been unable to move on.

So as we begin to leave this pandemic behind, we can honor people like my mom — who died alone — by coming together. By remembering how desperate we’ve been for companionship, for community, for crowds of people who simply called themselves New Yorkers, too. And by committing to make this place a city that is close, instead of closed off.

If we do, a better, brighter New York is on the horizon.

When my mom died, what helped when nothing else could were the people who checked in on me. Thousands of them, on Twitter and by phone and over email, who reached out to share a kind word. Who made sure I knew I wasn’t alone, even if I physically was. Who lived a definition of neighbor, of family, of friend that would make my mom so proud.

And in those moments, I knew things would be OK, even if I wasn’t yet. Because in the worst of times, I had a front-row seat to the best of New York. And if we can come together when the world is falling apart, we can come together now. It’s what my mom would demand.

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