She took daughter to see butterflies in Mexico. ‘Selfless’ mom died in Surfside collapse

·4 min read

When Karla Azen Harwich was in college, her mom took her on a trip to the central highlands of Mexico to see monarch butterflies. Harwich had dreamed of watching the spectacle since she was a little girl, and her mother was determined to make her wish come true.

From Miami, several flights and car rides were necessary to get to the remote fir forests of Michoacán in central Mexico, where monarchs migrate to every November. Mom and daughter would still have to hike for several hours to reach the spot where the butterflies huddle together by the millions on the branches of fir trees.

At the beginning of the trail, Marina hurt her ankle but insisted that her daughter continue along with the guide while she waited in the car.

After the hike Harwich took her mom to a clinic and discovered she had broken her ankle in several places.

“Imagine the pain she must have been in,” Harwich said during a Mass last month to celebrate her mom’s life at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church in Doral. “But that was my mom — she wanted me to see the butterflies.”

Harwich, who is an only child, said her mom gave her the best gift of all: unconditional love. “I knew that no matter what, no matter who I was or what I did, she’d always love me.”

Marina Restrepo Azen, 76, was identified on July 10 as one of the victims of the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, according to Miami-Dade Police. She had been living there in unit 401 of the building in a two-bedroom apartment for the past 22 years.

She moved to Miami from Colombia after finishing high school in the 1960s and studied at Miami-Dade Junior College, where she received a medical technician associate degree. The mounted degree from 1969 was among the mementos family members left at a memorial to the condo collapse victims just a couple of blocks from where the building once stood.

Harwich said her mom loved to play parqués, a Colombian version of parcheesi, and made a delicious pistachio cake. She had “an unlimited sense of optimism, which was contagious,” she said.

Until last year, Azen shared the beachfront apartment with her husband of more than four decades, Dr. Norman Azen, an internal medicine physician who had a practice in Miami Shores for many years. Azen’s medical technician background allowed her to assist her husband at the practice, according to her niece Luz Marina Peña, whose mother Flor was Azen’s youngest sister and best friend.

When Azen’s “compañero” died in August last year, her optimism was put to the test, Harwich said. But she tried hard to accept the loss for the sake of her family, knowing that they relied on her strength and generosity to keep them united.

“She was the most generous person I knew,” Peña said. When Peña’s mother divorced her husband and had to figure out how to raise her two young daughters, Azen helped by paying to send the girls to a catholic school for three years.

“She would take my sister and I on vacations, she treated us as if we were her daughters,” Peña said. “The loss of my aunt is especially difficult for my mom because they did everything together.”

Harwich said her mom showed her boundless love for her family by helping them organize gatherings and “numerous and thoughtfully planned parties.”

Her mother was very involved in Harwich’s wedding to Peter Harwich in a dazzling late-afternoon ceremony at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens in 1999.

According to a Martha Stewart Weddings magazine article that year, the black-tie ceremony at the museum’s garden was followed by a cocktail hour in which guests listened to a string quartet and munched on pears wrapped in prosciutto and miniature croque monsieur sandwiches. The menu for the dinner was vichyssoise, grilled veal chops and a cheese course, while a 10-man band played classics.

The female guests had fans with ribbons at their place settings, so that they could wear them while dancing.

And a Colombian touch was everywhere at the party: A gorgeous three-tiered white cake decorated with fondant cut-work lace and velvety red roses from Colombia, matching the bride’s bouquet and the elegant flower arrangements.

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