Rhonda Saldana (Mama Rhonda)

Rhonda Saldana (Mama Rhonda)

Loyal, caring, compassionate, funny, quick-witted

Rhonda was a unique, witty, and outspoken woman. She told stories with dramatic emphasis, was funny, and was loyal to the people she loved. Rhonda was passionate about caring for others, especially animals. Frequently, Rhonda would put the needs of others in front of her own. When she was younger, she moved in with her mother and cared for her until her mother passed away. Later, Rhonda moved in with her grandmother to care for her while she was in hospice.

Unfortunately, not long before Rhonda’s passing, she was hit by a car and broke her legs. Her legs never healed correctly and caused severe pain and discomfort when walking. Rhonda had been living with her disabled cousin, taking care of her daily needs, but truly they both needed and depended on each other. Living in poverty was a monumental challenge for Rhonda, and it meant she could not think about the future. Her goal in life was just to get through another day.

Rhonda always took care of the stray cats in her neighborhood because she hated the idea of them not having a home and being unloved. While Rhonda was living with her mother, she found a pregnant cat and raised all the kittens. She took it upon herself to re-home them — a perfect example of her kind heart. Rhonda had a little chihuahua named Nala that went everywhere with her, even if that meant having to sneak her into places that did not allow animals. One of Rhonda’s sister-in-law Maria’s fondest memories with Rhonda is of the day they went to the Narcotics Anonymous Convention and had to sneak Nala into the condo they were staying in. Nala had gotten loose, and Rhonda and her niece and nephew had to chase Nala across the golf course to get her back. They laughed hysterically while 12-year-old Nala outran them.

Rhonda was raised with her sister Rena, with whom she was very close. They grew up in a small, middle-class, family community surrounded by cousins. Rhonda’s addiction spiraled her into poverty, which she experienced throughout the rest of her life. When Rhonda was younger, she had three children: Angela, Anita, and Robert. She was a stay-at-home mom, wife, and an excellent cook. People still talk fondly about the food that Rhonda prepared for them. While Rhonda was in and out of prison, other family members cared for her children. In 2006, Rhonda was released from prison for the final time. She was able to rebuild a relationship with all of her children, but Robert visited her most often.

On Sundays, Rhonda’s sister, Rena, and Maria would visit Rhonda and sit for hours sharing stories while she smoked cigarettes and enjoyed her favorite candy bar, Snickers. They relished these Sunday afternoons and the laughter that came with them. Maria and Rena were Rhonda’s best friends and spent all their holidays and birthdays together. Rena would make Rhonda her favorite chocolate cake for every birthday.

As a worker in the mental health field, Maria says that her goal in life is to help women that are still struggling with addiction, poverty, and abuse. She loves Rhonda and shares her story so that families affected by addiction may not feel so alone.

Rhonda’s sister-in-law, Maria Cantu, provided the Information for this narrative.

January 31, 1964–February 25, 2019

Age 55-Lived with the disease of addiction for 36 years.

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