Back in the summer of 2000 I got the opportunity to meet the Ontes family of Trabuco Canyon — Arnold, Martha and their 8-year-old daughter Analisa — to discover and later tell their remarkable story of love, hope, and enduring faith in a feature that was published in the January 2001 issue of Orange Coast magazine, thanks to my friend Nancy Cheever (who I met and worked with at the end of my days at the Pasadena Weekly) landing a gig as editor there.

You can read it here if you want… sorry that it’s only in PDF.

In the aftermath of the story — which Arnold and Martha were very pleased with — a friendship sprung up between us, born partially from how much I fell in love with their remarkable little girl and also from how much Arnold and I loyally loved the Oakland Raiders. In the years that passed we would get together on occasion. Maybe I would go down to their place for a Raiders game or they would come up and we’d go to the zoo or a Dodger game. In fact, it was during one of those visits up that they took me and Susan to meet our first monstrous Manuel’s Specials at the legendary El Tepeyac in Boyle Heights. The mammoth burritos there were almost as big as Analisa.

I’m pretty certain the last time the five of us saw each other was when they came up for our wedding reception a waaaaay too long three-and-a-half years ago.

In the time that passed  Arnold and I would drop the occasional email to each other to commiserate about the endless decline of our Raiders or cheer Analisa’s resilience, but those also tailed off and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been a couple years since we touched base.

As such I did a double take when his name showed up in my inbox, then my pleasant surprise turned to heartbreak when I opened the email to learn the worst. That his spunky, punky, spirited, tough, smart and adorable little girl passed away this past Saturday, succumbing I assume to complications from the enigmatic disease she’s suffered with all of her 16 years.

I’m pretty much sitting here dumbfounded between being subsumed by waves of grief and not a little guilt. I’d thought about them pretty regularly — always kept meaning to write or call just to say hey and see how Analisa was faring and wonder what the hell was so wrong with our beloved Silver and Black.

But I didn’t. And now instead of ever seeing her again or hearing her gleeful and slightly mischevious laugh I must say goodbye at her funeral Thursday. But if nothing else I will rise from Analisa’s passing to be a better friend to Arnold and Martha, whose strength and faith will doubtlessly be enduring the greatest test of their lives.