Losing a loved one is never easy. It's even harder when you can't say goodbye.
In her case, it was the law that prevented Maria Newman of Taylor from giving her dying grandmother in Cuba a proper farewell.
“The only thing worse was watching how that affected my mother,” Newman said. “She was distraught.”
With the trade embargo, travel restrictions and uneasy relations between Cuba and the United States, Newman's Ohio-based mother couldn't offer emotional support to her immediate family members in Cuba or attend her mother's funeral.
“It was out of the question,” Newman said. “It wasn't legal to travel there at the time, and she was told by the U.S. State Department that if she were to travel to a third world country, she wouldn't be allowed to re-enter America.”
She had to stay to protect her U.S. Citizenship and her livelihood, no matter the guilt and sadness she felt.
“That blockade (between Cuba and the United States) tore our family apart,” Newman said, clearly remembering when the tension began in 1959. “Our annual visits to the family stopped abruptly. Gifts stopped. It all stopped.”
At that time, Newman lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her parents and three siblings.
“My parents were proud, naturalized citizens of the United States,” she said. “And I was the first of four children born in America.”
All of her extended family lived in Cuba, so the ability to stay connected was of the utmost importance.
It still is. That's why she cried tears of joy when President Obama announced his intent to normalize relations with Cuba last December.
“I'll never forget watching the TV that day,” Newman said. “It was Dec. 17, 2014, and Obama and Castro were both on the split screen. Both presidents were speaking to their people, about how removing the blockade would impact our life, how we'd be able to be together again.”
Ada Acosta is Newman's first cousin and matriarch to the clan. She was at home alone when the announcement was made. Everyone else was at their regular place of business, living their daily routines.
“No one expected the announcement,” Newman said.
In an email sent through her son's university account, Acosta said the news brought her excitement, joy and happiness.
The change will allow for mail service, telephone service and easy travel.
“During the blockade, you could only fly out of New York or Miami, it was expensive, and you had to have a special visa,” said Newman. “At one point you could only go if you had an immediate family member living in Cuba and then another rule was that you could go only if you were affiliated with a church.”
It was her husband's affiliation with the First Presbyterian Church of Taylor that afforded her the opportunity to travel to Cuba in 2009.
“It was a mission trip,” said the retired Rev. Jim Newman of Taylor. “The churches and synagogues in Cuba provide many of the kinds of services we take for granted here, like wellness clinics, yoga, food services and mental health.”
The next time the couple goes to Cuba, it will be more affordable, for pleasure and without special documentation.
“Major steps have been taken to reunite families and open a sovereign nation,” Newman said. “My hope is that this lifts the stigma that you're a communist just because of your place of birth. And that we respect the Cuban families' freedom as we do our own.”