After hanging out in Big Bend for almost two weeks over the holidays, driving back into Austin last night resulted in a bit of sensory overload. From all directions – there were so many cars, so many people, so many lights. But having heard while out of town that my (and seemingly everybody’s) friend Emma Barrientos had unexpectedly passed away while I was gone, I was acutely aware that there was one light in Austin too few.
One would be foolish to characterize Emma Barrientos merely as “Gonzalo Barrientos’ wife.” While true that she was admirably and very effectively a solid rock behind, and beside, Senator Barrientos, her individual accomplishments are many, varied, and made this a better place to live. And while it can’t possibily be easy to be married to a Texas Senator, because you have to share your spouse with about three-quarters of a million people, you never would have guessed it by talking to Emma. She knew her husband was just doing what needed doing, and she stayed busy doing the same.
One would see her everywhere, attending events, lending her support, and rolling up her sleeves and doing the real work. It might have been easy for some to take Emma’s tireless work for granted, because whatever needed doing, she seemed to be constantly doing it, as if it were no big deal to do. Her passing no doubt leaves a big hole in the Barrientos family, but it also leaves a big hole in Austin, and in our hearts.
I come from a family in which it seems almost everybody has lingered and suffered much too long in their passing, so to me, there is something almost magic about one who passes away quickly and unexpectedly, as Emma did. It is certainly more jarring and painful for those they leave behind, but it’s almost as if a supreme being decided to spare Emma from the painful details of a drawn-out and painful process. Emma earned and deserved every break such a being has to offer. I just wish she’d stuck around a lot longer, for our sake.
Sometimes, we just don’t know when we’ve already had our last kiss, our last hug, or our last goodbye. That’s why a sudden passing can sometimes bring extra regret to those left behind. It always brings extra sorrow. But in Emma’s case, knowing her family, and knowing many of those around Austin and the rest of Texas who cherished their relationship with her, I bet she always felt the love from all corners.
Rest in peace, Emma. You were a peach.