Three years after the death of her older brother Carlos Méndez, Eva Mendes is looking back on the experience through a seasoned lens.

PEOPLE joined the actress and fashion designer, 45, at a Coffee with Eva Mendes event for the launch of her upcoming New York ' Company collection in Los Angeles on Thursday, where she opened up about the tragedy of her brother's death — and how it preceded the birth of her second child, now-3½-year-old Amada Lee, by less than two weeks.

"It's so tough. Thank God I had my baby; it was a week after he passed. So there was something to move forward," said Mendes. "There was poetry to it all."

The mother of two lost her brother on April 17, 2016, after a battle with cancer. He was 53 years old. Amada was born to Mendes and longtime love Ryan Gosling just 12 days later.

"My favorite memories are when he used to, at Thanksgiving or a big dinner or Christmas dinner, roast everybody — but roast you hard," she recalled fondly of Carlos on Thursday. "Of course, I miss him incredibly, and that's an understatement, but I'm holding on to that tradition. I'm so happy that he gave me that. I don't think I could carry it on the way he did, but those are some fun memories because he would really get raw."

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The siblings' younger brother, Carlo Méndez, confirmed the sad news on his Instagram page, writing that Carlos "fought with all his might and power" and left behind two children, ages 5 and 13.

Two weeks before his death, the Lost River actress shared a black-and-white photo of herself with her older brother at the Hollywood Stands Up to Cancer event from January 2015, captioning the image with a heart emoji.

Mendes introduced Katie Couric at the event, and told the audience that "tonight I'm here with my family and my brother Carlos, who had [cancer] treatment today."

Eva Mendes Remembers the 'Poetry' of Having a Baby One Week After Her Brother's Death_1
Eva Mendes (L) and Ryan GoslingDave Allocca/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock

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Mendes and Gosling, 38, plan to bring Amada and her big sister Esmeralda Amada, 5, over to Mendes' older sister's house for Thanksgiving, since "she has the most room at her house to host all of us."

In the meantime, the New York ' Company collection designer is keeping her eyes peeled for "that special project" now that her daughters are getting older.

"They're starting school and so I'm feeling like I finally have a little time to myself. But also, I'm starting to find that ambition again that I lost a little bit," she told PEOPLE on Thursday. "I was fine with losing it, it was a natural thing, but it transferred — the ambition was in the home."

"I'm still in the home, but I'm getting more of that call to work again," Mendes shared. "That's exciting because it's happening naturally. It's exciting to feel that again."