ALISO VIEJO — When her sons were little, Linda Burnett used to scavenge around the neighborhood for empty soda bottles, which she would then exchange for money to buy milk.
On one such occasion, Burnett, the mother of Chris and Michael De La Cruz, panicked when she dropped a milk bottle on the way home, Michael recalled.
“All she cared about was making sure we had enough to eat; she just wanted us to be happy,” he told more than 150 mourners who gathered Tuesday morning at the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Aliso Viejo for a memorial service for his mother and brother. “We had no money. She struggled to feed us. But I can never remember being unhappy.”
Burnett, 69, of Santa Ana, and Chris De La Cruz, 49, of Laguna Niguel, were killed in a 10-car crash in Newport Beach on Jan. 15. De La Cruz’s Toyota Tacoma was struck on West Coast Highway by an oncoming Ford Taurus that had allegedly veered onto the wrong side of the road. The Ford’s driver, former high school track star Julie Allen, 27, of Newport Beach, also died.
Michael De La Cruz choked with emotion as he paid homage to his older brother. He recounted Chris’ love for motorcycles and how his brother’s classic good looks competed with his own.
“All my girlfriends would look at him and say, ‘God, he’s handsome,’” Michael chuckled, adding, “I know he loved me unconditionally, and I loved him.”
And, in spite of whatever stress or worry would hang over her head, Burnett’s two sons always knew she loved them, her surviving son said during the service.
In Michael De La Cruz’s circle of friends, his mom was like a communal mother, the one who would host the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for everyone, the one whom his friends didn’t call Ms. Burnett or even Linda.
They simply knew her as Mom, said family friend Michael Chase.
For the last 15 years, he would call her that whenever he would attend De La Cruz’s Thanksgiving dinners in Huntington Beach, Chase said outside the church after the service.
Another mourner, Kent Peters, said he shared Christmas dinner with Burnett every year because he is friends with Michael De La Cruz. Peters described her as kind, gentle and hardworking.
Her relationship with her sons paid dividends when they got older. The family stayed close and remained in Orange County, where she’d split her time on weekends between the two. Every Saturday she and Christopher would grab lunch in Newport Beach off West Coast Highway, maybe before catching a movie together, the Los Angeles Times reported.
On Sundays, she would head over to Huntington Beach to spend time with Michael, 48. They would have coffee together and go shopping at Trader Joe’s. She loved arts and crafts and organic food, The Times reported.
“Chris and Linda are as alive as they’ve always been, in your heart,” Father Fred Bailey told the family at the memorial. “Just because you can’t see someone doesn’t mean love ceases.”