Surside, Florida. Michael Noriega said he is still grieving. Hilda Noriega, who left Cuba in 1960, has two children, one of her three grandchildren.
The 92-year-old has lived in the Champlain Towers South in Surfside for two decades. He remembers drinking Cuban coffee with her on the balcony and their conversations.
His grandmother was a fervent Catholic and enjoyed an active social life.
She truly lived for her faith, her family, and her friends. “She was so full of love,” he said, adding, “It still hurts her. Hard to believe it was even a year old.”
On June 24, 2021, the Noriega family arrives to find a part of the building they live in has been reduced to piles of concrete and the property of the residents.
“One of the first things we saw was her patio furniture above the rubble because she was living on the sixth floor… It hit me so hard… Just memories in all the conversations we had after lunch,” Michael Noriega said.
The family was also able to get back things that made them feel like she was sending them a message in the spirit.
“We found a birthday card that her friends in the prayer group gave my grandmother that first night. My dad found it out of all people,” Michael Noriega said.
The family also found some family photos and a written prayer. The investigators also gave him a brown bag containing six swimming pools.
It was like, ‘Oh my God! This is an almost perfect moment. This is the conclusion “that’s all my grandmother lived for.”
Michael Noriega said the same values his grandmother taught him are the ones that help him navigate grief.
“My three weapons were prayer, it was praise, and they were people, and what I mean by that is prayer is not something that should be a last resort. That should be my first response and so I went to God every day with my grief.”
Michael Noriega said he is looking for ways to honor her memory.
“My grandmother changed my life’s mission. I couldn’t live life as usual. My mission in life was to carry forward her legacy… We will go through a broken heart but it shouldn’t break your soul.”
Graphic: fallout from the collapse
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