Gloria Ramirez, who lived in relative obscurity but in death became the focus of a sensational medical mystery that catapulted her to the front page and the top of the evening news, was finally laid to rest Wednesday.
The comforting prayers, the cathartic tears and the symbolic release of balloons into the gray morning sky came two months after her death. Since Feb. 19, her family’s grief has been interwoven with anger and frustration. For weeks, they have been unable to gain information about the cause of death of the 31-year-old mother of two. For weeks, they listened to explanations that blamed Ramirez for the mystery fumes that felled six emergency room attendants who tended to her the night she died at Riverside General Hospital.
But at the funeral Wednesday and a memorial Tuesday night, the time had finally come for family and friends to say goodby.
The Rev. Brian Taylor read from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians to those gathered for the memorial Tuesday. He read from the 23rd Psalm and reflected on John’s Gospel. He talked of how Gloria Ramirez was a friend to all, quick to smile, a carefree joker who brought comfort and joy to others.
And, even though medical authorities have not concluded how Ramirez died or whether she was the source of the mystery fumes, Taylor referred to “that bizarre, tragic incident in the hospital emergency room that took her life.” The hospital, he maintained, “is likely to blame for the toxic fumes that took her life.”
He scolded the county for not sharing results of its investigation into her death with the family and for the handling of her body--which Riverside County officials did not release for burial until last weekend.
County officials have called Ramirez’s death the most baffling in local history and have said they will disclose their findings by the end of the month. A county spokesman has said the hospital is not believed to be the source of the fumes.
Ramirez, who had been found to have cervical cancer six weeks earlier, was rushed to the hospital Feb. 19 complaining of breathing difficulties and nausea. As one doctor tried unsuccessfully to keep her alive as her body went into cardiac distress, six other emergency room attendants grew dizzy or collapsed after several complained that blood drawn from Ramirez into a syringe smelled foul.
For an extraordinary autopsy a week later, pathologists wore protective suits and worked in a specially built room. Until last week, county officials had said her casket could not be opened unless similar precautions were taken.
“Gloria has not been treated right, her death was unjust and the treatment of her body has been unjust,” Taylor said at the memorial service. “The people responsible need to be held accountable for that.”
With that, the minister returned the service to more traditional lines. “We can finally give Gloria the dignity of a proper funeral,” he said.
Ramirez’s two children from a previous marriage, 12-year-old Evelyn Arciniega and 9-year-old Angel Arciniega Jr., approached the podium with Ramirez’s sister, Maggie Ramirez-Garcia, who read a poem written by Evelyn. “Roses are red, violets are blue. . . . The next time I find a red rose, it will be just for you,” she recited. “When the stars shine, it will remind me of you.”
Sprays of flowers flanked the ivory-colored casket; a small crucifix was placed atop it and a portrait of Ramirez positioned to the left of it.
About 100 people, most of them relatives, attended Tuesday night’s service. The family asked television news crews to keep their cameras outside.
On Wednesday, a 10-minute graveside service at Olive Wood Cemetery in Riverside completed what Taylor said was a necessary closure in the family’s grieving process. As Taylor sang “Amazing Grace,” as many as 10 television news crews and other reporters and photographers kept their distance at the family’s request.
“It’s a song that Gloria would hum around the house a lot,” he said later.