Florentina J. Gonzalez lived for her grandchildren.
The 72-year-old Silver Spring resident obtained her beautician certification when she came to the United States from Ecuador but spent much of her life raising her daughters, Nicole and Rosa Benlizar, and their four children.
“One thing she knew how to do was raise kids,” Nicole Benlizar said. “The only thing that kept her alive was her grandchildren.”
Gonzalez was a fighter. She was diagnosed in 2002 with polymyositis, a muscle disease, that left her in a wheelchair, Nicole Benlizar said. For five years, she was in and out of the hospital, and she needed a lot of help, so her grandchildren — specifically Rosa Benlizar’s son, Antony — took care of her.
“From day one, there was always a bond between him and my mother,” Rosa Benlizar said. “... Antony was her life.”
Gonzalez and Antony Benlizar died from injuries sustained in a Dec. 24, 2012, accident on Interstate 495. A family friend, Jasmine Fajemisin, also died in the crash. Antony’s mom was driving.
At family reunions, Rosa Benlizar said, it was as if Antony and his grandmother were “in their own space” by cracking jokes and having their own conversations.
Gonzalez’s daughters were teenagers when they had their children. To make sure they could go to college, Gonzalez cared for her grandchildren.
After the Christmas Eve car accident, Gonzalez and Nicole Benlizar were rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va. They were placed in the same room. Gonzalez died Jan. 1.
Gonzalez and Antony had a joint funeral service Jan. 7 at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Silver Spring.
Nicole described her mother as very outgoing and fondly remembers how much she loved to dance.
“I know my mom is dancing in heaven right now,” Nicole Benlizar said.