Havana and Emma


I travelled to Havana this past March, the first real vacation since 2011.  My intention was to get away and perhaps visit two friends, Amado and Emma.  I finally did have supper with Amado but I did not see Emma on this trip.  I stupidly declined to see her and her granddaughter, Heidi, because my Spanish is so pitiful.

I first met Emma during my 2011 trip.  Amado had invited me to his family’s apartment in La Lisa for dinner and there was a knock at the door.  Emma, his neighbour, had dropped in to give me a book that she had written knowing that I was a librarian.  We exchanged very few words when I visited her flat and when I offered her 20 Cucs (about $24 Cdn), she refused it outright.  We exchanged email addresses and she promised to write to me from the computer she used at the hospital where she worked.

We started an exchange of emails… 2-3 per month (thank God for Google translate).  When Emma retired in 2012 and informed me that she could no longer write novels nor send me emails, I bought a computer here in Montreal and arranged to have it delivered to her for her birthday.  Laptops seem to grow like mushrooms in our wealthy world.  A computer was simply unattainable for a Cuban and this way, I knew we could continue to exchange emails.


Emma (third from left) with co-workers and the new computer.

I was more than happy to send her money on occasion.  And I was always delighted to hear what she had bought with the money… food for the family, an automatic washing machine, a camera to take photos of her great granddaughter, a floor fan for the hot Havana summers.  What I got in return was priceless… a confidante, whose advice to me was always measured and thoughtful.  She was with me throughout my parents’ demise.

My trip to Havana this year was uneventful.  I saw many of the museums, churches and tourist sites that I had seen before. I returned to Montreal on March 30th thinking I might never return.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Heidi.  Emma had suffered a stroke and had passed away 24 hours later.  Even now, several days later, the emptiness is palpable.



Leave a comment


  1. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  April 25, 2019

    Normand, condolences on the loss of your dear friend, Emma. In the photo, she looks lovely. The photos of Havana are also beautiful.

    • It was such an odd friendship in that we never spent much time together… just that one time in 2011 and it might have lasted 5 minutes. But the email exchange was very enriching. Thanks for adding your comment.


  2. Cher Normand, c’ est très beau post.

  3. Andrea

     /  April 25, 2019

    What a truly special friendship you and Emma shared. I have lost two special friends over the past few years and know how it feels when they are gone. At the same time I’m so grateful for having had them. I am so sorry for your great loss….. Take good care.

    • Thanks Andrea!

      It was truly a friendship from nowhere and it grew organically. There was no pressure to keep it up. But, it was so nice and comforting.

  4. Brigitte

     /  April 25, 2019

    What a beautiful story with a heart breaking ending. My condolences on the loss of your friend. How blessed you both were to have such an extraordinary friendship

  5. Tara C

     /  April 25, 2019

    Oh how sad that you didn’t see her again before she passed away. I’m so sorry. I’m hoping you can enjoy corresponding with Heidi and treasure your memories of Emma.

  6. Beautiful tribute to your friend Emma. I’m sorry you lost a friend. They must have really appreciated you and everything you did for them.

    • From Emma’s emails, they were extremely appreciative. What is $ 60 to us? For Emma’s family, it meant a world of difference… chicken instead of beans and rice… and a real Christmas celebration. And, toys for the great granddaughter. Now, I am linked to Heidi. Strange, new world.

  7. I’m sorry for your loss and for the lost opportunity. But it’s great that you were (are) in life of this family, and I’m glad that you made it a little easier for them. In my opinion, a targeted good deed is much more valuable than generic charity (though, both have its place).

    • Such a strange situation. Now, the granddaughter and I communicate every few days. I’m planning a trip to Cuba in 2020.

  1. Emma, the book and the computer | The Perfume Chronicles

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