People handle stress and personal problems in different ways. I’ll never forget when I dropped blog post #10, where I shared my struggles with body dysmorphia and my weight. In the post, I touch on an old relationship that was ridiculously toxic and was essentially the catalyst of my eating disorder in high school. I remember posting it that night, and seeing the huge response it was getting. I was sitting in my traditional spot on the couch in the livingroom while my older sister sat in hers. Everyone was reposting me, the likes were skyrocketing, WordPress was notifying me that I was getting a lot of traffic all at once.
My utter shock to the support I was receiving made my older sister read what I had just posted. At that point, my little sister was reposting me from her room, quoting me directly from the blog. I awkwardly laid there, knowing that she was reading something that I never really shared in depth with others. It’s ironic that I felt awkward that she was reading something so personal, yet I published it online for the whole world to see. Sometimes I forget that aspect – that literally anyone could be reading this right now – it’s a weird but cool concept. By the end of it, she expressed her approval of the post.
She stood up and walked over to me, “Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?!” she said in tears, halfway laughing and half way pissed. We awkwardly hugged, an uncommon act in my family dynamic. My eyed welled up with tears.
My sisters and I are fairly close. So it was somewhat of a shock for her to read what I went through and not knowing the severity of it all. I struggled with self-esteem and my body for as long as I could remember, but reading it all laid out on the table like that was probably overwhelming for a loved one to read. Her older sister instincts kicked in, and she clung onto certain parts of my story. She was so bothered to learn that I had experienced disrespect to the point where I questioned my own value. I don’t remember what I responded to her accusatory statement, Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?! But we didn’t go too in depth as to why.
But the real reason why I didn’t open up about my struggles at the time? Shame. Embarrassment. Fear of being judged. Not wanting to involve family in my personal matters. But I think everything boils down to the fact that personally, I don’t know how to ask for help. Or better yet, I don’t know when to ask for help. When I finally ask for help or admit that I need help, I’m already drowning in the mess that I have helped create. I carry the burden until I am at my absolute breaking point, then in a panic, I will let others know that I’m in need of help. And I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that opening up about certain things to those around you, whether big or small, can be really difficult.
For me, my inner circle of friends and family know the gist of what’s going on in my life. I may not go into detail each time or tell every single story, but they can give you a little synopsis of what’s happening in my life. I’ve noticed too that I vent to different people for different things. Some I go to for life advice and worries, relationship woes, vent about friendships, family matters, work drama, hopes and dreams, etc. Some of these people know all the above, while some may just know about some of the topics listed. We all have our go to people to vent to, and we confide in different people depending on the matter at hand.
I think back to my middle school days or high school days where every single problem, fight, or situation was shared with my best friends and those closest to me. I can’t count how many detailed petty arguments and stories my friends have been through and told me about. And I can only imagine what they remember from what I used to share. I’m sure plenty can relate – when we’re younger, we tend to overshare, vent about everything, and ask for advice – maybe even too much advice. So much so that everyone else’s opinions helped weigh out what you were going to do. It was a group decision, rather than your own.
Now a days, I find myself just generalizing how everything is going, and if I’m really feeling saucy, I might give a couple of stories to back up my reasoning. It’s not that I don’t have time to update those around me anymore, I just find that the older I get, the more private I’m becoming. The irony since I literally post weekly blogs about my personal life and my views, but whatever. And I don’t mean to say that in a secretive way. I’m not hiding anything, and I still overshare a lot with my close friends, but not all things need to be shared all the time. Nobody has the time to be updating everyone on everything. The important things will come out, as well as the funny and small things if it’s relevant.
I have a really bad habit of isolating myself when I’m going through something stressful. There is literally no in between for me – it’s either I’m telling detail for detail, every story, every step of the way, or I say absolutely nothing about the matter until much time has passed. Even in my writing, I realized I write about things after the fact, when everything is said and done and over with already. It’s exactly what happened with my older sister. She couldn’t believe everything I had bottled up inside and dealt with alone. I tend to isolate when I’m so stressed out that venting out to someone seems like more work than relief. I’m so lazy that if I don’t tell you the very first thing in the story, I probably won’t say anything until it’s relevant because I don’t want to start from the beginning when too many things have accumulated to the present day.
When I find myself in a pickle, I turn to those closest to me for advice. When I really thought about it though, I don’t go to people for help. Instead, I go to them to vent, to be heard, to say how I really feel in the moment. I’m not necessarily expecting to be given an answer on what to do, I just want to let it all out. For me, I realized that as I get older, I bottle everything inside until I’m pushed to the edge and need to go on a venting rage. Only then will every single detail be shared and every story be told. I literally wait for the situation to fall apart or boil over to some extent before I notify anyone. And even then, I’m not asking for help, I’m just saying how I feel out loud.
When you’re venting, you want to express everything you’re feeling in the moment, you want to feel validated in your emotions, and you want to hear opposing thoughts and opinions. Usually after a good venting session, I leave the conversation feeling more calm and like my thoughts are clearer. Saying what’s bothering me out loud helps me sort things out in my head. It also makes it more real when you vent out loud. Almost every time, the person I’m venting to offers their wisdom and advice. Sometimes you need to hear your friends’ points of view to see the bigger picture. They know you pretty well and can help steer you back in the direction you need to go. And there are times where you need to hear the truth, no matter how hard it is to take.
I find it difficult to ask for help sometimes because I have the stubborn notion in my head that I need to deal with things on my own. I never want my personal problems to be someone else’s burden to carry because I know that nobody is responsible for me or my personal issues. My way of reaching out for help is venting. And even then, I’m not asking for help. I’m simply keeping those closest to me in the loop of what’s happening in my life. The advice comes naturally, and even though help was not outwardly asked for, it’s what’s given through words of affirmation. Sometimes it’s the advice you get from others that will actually help you help yourself.
I may not outwardly ask for help, but I’ll ironically be lowkey offended when my loved ones struggle in silence. Naturally, I want to be there for those I care about that are going through it. I want to be of assistance when I can be, and don’t want anyone to feel alone. Yet, there are times when I do exactly the same thing and isolate when the going gets tough. Sometimes we need to see ourselves through our loved ones eyes – they don’t want you to feel alone. It’s okay to ask for help, whichever way you express wanting that help. You don’t have to do figure out everything on your own.
One thing that I’m constantly working on is my schedule. I’m always trying to carve out the right time to write, to do or watch things I enjoy, and to have some leisure time. It came to a point where I was so frustrated with myself because I would hold off all of my writing until the weekend. I would be left typing my ass off in the wee hours of Sunday night into early Monday morning. I would sleep like shit leading into Mondays because the start of the work week, but also because the stress of not being done with my post. It would keep me tossing and turning the whole night. I’d wake up early in the morning, about an hour before I had to get ready for work, and type my ass off until it was time to start my day. My coworkers know that once it hits 5 PM on Mondays, it’s time to dip. I switch from my work laptop to my personal laptop by 5:01 PM, trying to throw something low effort into the air fryer for dinner.
I was tired of that shit. Finishing everything entirely under pressure worked in high school and my college days, but this shit wasn’t sliding in my late 20’s anymore. I was tired. Tired in every possible fucking way – tired of stressing myself out, tired of scrambling for time, tired of being disappointed in myself that I didn’t put in my all, tired of not getting my shit together, and literally physically and mentally tired. I knew I had to make the change and effort to come up with a routine where I wouldn’t be in such a disarray time after time. I still procrastinate and still stress about it on Sunday and Monday, but it has gotten a lot better, and I give myself a head start throughout the week.
A switch went off in me earlier this year, I’ve made it a routine to write a couple of paragraphs daily Monday – Friday, Saturdays being my rest days, and Sundays were writing days as well. After reading a couple chapters of Atomic Habits by James Clear, I knew to make a new habit, I had to be consistent. So I didn’t want to break the momentum. I would think to myself “throw future Marinelle a bone.” Meaning, even if I’m not feeling like writing, writing one paragraph rather than nothing will still help me in the long run.
Doing something just twice is the start of a new habit, so I knew that breaking my good habit would be the start of a bad habit. So I tried my best to avoid that at all costs. “What would Marinelle with good habits want me to do?” “This will be the start of a bad habit.” “Future Monday Marinelle will thank you.” All these justifications would come up every time I even thought of skipping a day. I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to fail myself or put more added stress on future me. Why stress if I could work on a post little by little? Why stress myself out if I could avoid that feeling all together?
I have this way of thinking in other areas of my life. Since the pandemic, I found myself not as active as I once was. My role at work and the fact that my morning and night commute was 100% cut out, left me the least active I have ever been in my life. Especially since we stopped going to indoor gyms consistently since the pandemic hit. I wanted future Marinelle to be proud of the decisions that I was choosing to make in the present. I have these burst moments where I decide to take immediate action on things – being active is a consistent reoccurring one.
I decided to try to incorporate time for me to focus on my health daily to find that balance. Like I’ve said many times in many blog posts, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. I find it very difficult to balance out everything I want to do, and in the end, one or two things end up getting neglected, and I eventually drop the ball. But my goal was to find ways to avoid dropping the ball so often, or at the very least, know how to pick the ball up quicker once it falls.
I came up with many different routines to figure out the best time for me to write. I tried to fit it in during my break, after dinner and a shower, during early mornings, you name it. Every time I found something that “worked” I would realize there’s other things that need my attention as well, so I’d move it around. This particular instance though, it was me focusing on trying to be more active. So I thought I found the perfect equation to my day – wake up at 6 AM to write, start work at 8, walk for an hour on my break, and wind down after 5 PM. And for some time, it worked.
However, I’m a sleepy girl. I usually spend my 1 hour break sleeping, since I don’t drink coffee or tea for energy. I’m constantly running on my body’s natural energy, which is close to non-existent. With waking up so early in the morning and powering on through the rest of my day, I found myself struggling to keep my eyes open at 8 PM. Then what needed my attention was quality time and rest. For about 9 months plus, I was consistently writing Monday through Friday without fail, proud that I was building a new habit and actually keeping up with it. But switching my writing to the morning quickly had me feeling burnt out.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I took a trip to SoCal in October. I was so tired from the drive and traveling, that when Monday came around, I purposely turned off my writing alarm and went back to sleep. “It’s okay, it’s just one day.” But it happened the day after that, and then the day after that, and then the day after that, for 2 weeks. Oh no. A new habit. And this time, it wasn’t a good habit. I was disappointed in myself. For a little over 2 weeks, I went back to my old habit from almost a year ago – saving my writing for the last minute days before.
But the thing was, I knew I was disappointing myself, but I didn’t care. I thought I would care more that I was breaking a good habit and ending my “streak.” And for the record, I’m super anal about keeping streaks going and “throwing myself a bone.” I was bummed out that I ended my good habit, but at the same time, I was going easy on myself. What made this time different from the rest? It was the fact that I knew I was putting in hard work up until that point. It would’ve been a different story if I was half-assing it the whole time.
The idea of having to be productive at all times, even when you’re continuing to push yourself to your limit, knowing you’re about to hit a wall, has detrimental effects. Working yourself until you’re completely burnt out and out of gas is not sustainable. There’s a difference between being lazy and not pushing yourself versus working hard and knowing that you need a break. It’s okay to pause whatever task or dream that’s taking up a lot of your time. Pausing doesn’t mean you’ve given up, it just means you need time to recharge so you can work efficiently.
I was going hard for so long that I knew I was bound to feel burnt out eventually. I was completely ignoring the part of me that knew I needed a break. When I fell off my routine for a little over 2 weeks, I didn’t stop writing all together, I just found other ways to go easy on myself when I was mentally fatigued. I allowed myself to be lazy, to step away, and write last minute like I used to. Technically, I was still “getting it done” in the public’s eyes, just not how I would want it to be.
You’re not a failure if you’re not being productive 24/7. That’s a lie used to guilt trip us to work until we mentally crash. To avoid consistent burnout, I have to listen to that part of me that is asking for that break. Sometimes a pause is much needed, especially if you’re doing creative work. I knew to go easy on myself because the plan was never to just stop, it was to pause and get back on it when I was ready. I gave myself a timeline on when I was going to get back on a routine, that way I could enjoy my downtime without guilt. This time around, it took a little over 2 weeks. The goal is to take consistent pauses to avoid the mental burnout.
This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
Dez has many hobbies and creative outlets that include, but are not limited to: fashion, writing, cooking, interior design, gift giving, DIY projects, event planning, and more. During the interview process, Dez found it hard to focus on just one creative subject, so, she talked about all the things that brings her joy. Here is her story written in her own words:
“My hobbies have always included areas that allow me to be creative. Because I’ve struggled so much with figuring out what I wanted to do career-wise, I’ve found refuge in all my creative endeavors. I love creating in many different forms: fashion, cooking, interior design, event-planning, story-telling, gift-giving. I don’t believe I’ve mastered any of them but being able to tap into these different modes of creativity has really filled my soul. The idea of doing one thing as your career for the rest of your life truly bores me and I’ve found a lot of resistance to the exploitation of labor that this country expects from us, so exploring all the ways I am able to escape from that, especially through creation and art, reminds me of all the pleasures we human beings should be allowed to experience everyday.
I absolutely felt pressured to pick a major going into college. It’s interesting how much your future relies on your 17/18-year-old choices, an age where I barely experienced my own autonomy yet nor had I explored my interests enough to even know what I wanted to do/be. Coming from a Filipino family, the expectation to be a nurse was set from a very young age. So once I finally got to the age to apply for college, my whole mindset is set on following the pressures I’ve received my whole life, but that was also taking away from me thinking about what I really wanted to do. My decision was automatic of what major I should be applying for, the only career I ever had an idea of doing, which was nursing.
I applied to about 6 colleges, and my number one school was San Diego State University for their highly favored nursing program. I ended up getting waitlisted, so I accepted at San Jose State as an undeclared major. A week later, I got an acceptance into the nursing program at SDSU, and it’s glorious news. I get to move to a completely new city when I’ve barely even traveled to new cities on my own before. As a freshman at SDSU, I got really caught up in the social aspects and trying to build community over my actual education. I also was super used to getting good grades naturally (because high school is a joke) so I thought the same would apply in my college courses. To my demise, I couldn’t have been more wrong or more unprepared for the load I was given.
I ended up failing my first class in my entire life in my first semester of college, and what a sobering reality that was. In just my prerequisites alone, I struggled and already fell behind my peers. As soon as my nursing courses started in my 2nd year, I struggled miserably. I was such a bad test taker, always in between two answers and picking the wrong one, and all my nursing courses depended on passing these rigorous tests. It was super discouraging to think I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to continue my nursing school successfully. I failed my second test in my clinical nursing class and that was an automatic failure for a 6 unit class. This led me to being dropped from the nursing program entirely because you could only fail 2 courses throughout the entire 4-year program. ABSOLUTELY INSANE.
So now I’m freaking out, scrambling about what tf I’m gonna do now. I actually didn’t tell my parents that I got dropped for my entire second semester of that school year because I was too afraid to let them down. I was too afraid they were going to pull me out of that school because it was the only reason I accepted there in the first place. I basically had to start from scratch when picking a major because all of my prerequisites I took were for nursing.
I went one semester undeclared, then in my 3rd year I chose Child & Family Development as my new major. This major was going to extend my time by 1.5 years over the original 4 years planned, and if I had all the money in the world I would’ve done it, but I felt pressured to be in school as little time as possible for financial purposes since I was only paying with loans. I found a nice program where you can emphasize in 3 majors and get your BA in Interdisciplinary Studies, it was meant for “indecisive” people. It allowed you to choose the classes you wanted to take as long as you reach a certain amount of units for each emphasis. This allowed me to graduate in 4.5 years total.
This was truly one of the most stressful experiences of my entire life, and I still get frustrated thinking about all the time and money I wasted doing that nursing program when I know now that I would have never succeeded in nursing. It’s not where my passion and heart lies, although I admire the profession so much. I know that everything happens for a reason, and of course I learned so much about myself, but it took away from a proper college education experience.
It was so terrifying to admit to my family that I got dropped. My dad wanted me to leave SDSU immediately, which I knew would be his reaction. My mom was pretty disappointed but she still supported me in my education, and understood why I didn’t want to leave my school in the middle of my college career. Eventually, she expressed that she just wants me to be happy and successful, however that looks for me. I know she worries about me financially, which I completely understand, since she grew up prioritizing labor in order to survive. My dad is no longer alive but he never really supported my dreams, nor did I feel comfortable sharing what my dreams even were because of how traditional he was. My mom is much more adaptable and knows that I have goals and dreams to be my own version of success, and I am comforted in knowing that she is always proud of me no matter what.
If I could change it, realistically I would have started off my college career as a Child & Family Development major from the get-go because I find so much interest in learning those courses. I love applying it to real-life situations that I witness. If I could change it to anything, without caring about the judgment from my family, I would probably do interior design. I feel like that knowledge would have allowed me to explore my creativity so much earlier instead of exploring it after college.
In college, I was more focused on creating experiences and making the most of my time away from home. I also don’t remember having much time to pursue many hobbies because I was always trying to be involved in organizations, struggling as a full-time student, working part-time jobs, and exploring/adventuring any time I had the chance to with friends. Thrifting was always something that existed in my life at the time but I didn’t consider it a hobby at the time. I practiced my creativity through the roles I had in my orgs. For example, I was the sisterhood chair in my sorority and we had to plan bonding activities. This was the perfect opportunity to get as creative as possible because I hated doing basic stuff lol, I was always looking to make a unique experience for any event that I was in charge of.
My journey with fashion has truly been a pillar in my evolution. It’s been the best and most obvious way I can express myself. Ever since I was younger, I loved buying clothes with my mom at the mall or finding cool shit at the thrift store, and I would take photos of my outfits and post them on MySpace or Tumblr. Even though my fashion taste was disgustingly 2000-2010s, it paved my love for dressing myself up. It was also the foundation for my love of the thrift store because finding something old or previously used and revamping it into my own style was always extremely gratifying, I would, and still do, feel so proud of myself when someone asks me where I got something and I respond ‘I thrifted it.’
I think I put my love for fashion on a back burner when I moved to college because I was trying to assimilate myself with friends/people. I very much cared what other people thought about me at the time and I focused more on having my personality liked over my clothes. It was also hot as hell in San Diego (like 108 degree weather in my first week of school walking 20 minutes to class raw dogging the sun) as opposed to what I was used to at my foggy home in SSF, so I was wearing super basic shorts and tanks all the time. In SSF, I was good at dressing for the cold; I loved layering and was obsessed with jackets. Moving to SD was a complete 180, I didn’t even own more than one pair of shorts. My closet was honestly funny to look at because I brought hella jackets from home and I think I only ended up wearing 3 of them. And I had to lug those jackets every year I was living in San Diego, stored away 95% of the time. That was so drastic so it definitely took me awhile to find my style again.
Thrifting is what inspires me the most when it comes to fashion. I’ve always been a broke hoe and brand clothing was never that enticing to me. Probably because I’ve always been a broke hoe and never had the money to even consider it. I just love finding a random piece on the rack and envisioning how I can experiment with it. It provided a low risk way of experimenting with my expression and taste. Through thrifting, I learned that I really love color, patterns, anything inspired by the 60s-90s, and anything bold. I also learned I am super passionate about upcycling old clothes and finding a way to give them new life. A lot of clothes that I think I’d never wear, I saw on the racks one day and was like “maybe I’ll try it” and ended up loving it. That’s exactly how my taste and style continue to evolve. It’s also a sustainable way to create a unique closet for yourself.
Nowadays, having a good outfit for any occasion makes me feel good. My closet is actually mostly comfy chic clothes but when you color coordinate or accessorize, your outfit can be amplified by 10x. During the pandemic, I started experimenting and elevating my looks a lot more because I had so much time and I had literally nothing better to do in quarantine. I also was incredibly inspired after watching Euphoria when it first came out. All the makeup and looks in Euphoria made me feel so much joy, and I thought to myself ‘I can do that. Ever since, I’ve been unafraid to really play around with makeup, accessories, jewelry. I started spreading that encouragement I felt to experiment to all my friends around me, and now I’ve become an unofficial thrift advisor and fashion stylist for some of my friends.
I love how much freedom and fluidity that exists in fashion as long as you’re willing to try it. I also learned that just because I see something I like on someone else doesn’t mean it will always work out for me, so trying things out on my own has been the most beneficial. Individuality is of the utmost importance to me, so I will always be finding ways to share that. I don’t believe there should be any rules to how someone chooses to dress and express themselves. Fashion allows me to express my personality, and it will always be for my joy and not for anyone else’s.
Cooking was never my forte growing up. I didn’t cook much of anything my first 18 years of life, nor did me or my family really explore many different cultures of food. My family only ate Filipino food and fast food. When I got to college, I realized my experience in food was super limited, to the point where I thought it was pretty embarrassing. I think I learned how to cook an egg my freshman year of college. My first 2 years, my ‘home-made’ meals were really just college struggle meals – something quick, cheap, and filling.
I began cooking a lot more on my own probably my 4th year in college when I was living with only one friend in our own apartment. I enjoyed trying new recipes with friends and realized that cooking with people you love is one of the sweetest and now my most favorite pastimes. As I began cooking more, I then realized that it is one of my favorite pastimes to do with just myself too. Back then I would pretty much follow a recipe to the T, exact measurements and ingredients. But with more experience and a more reliable flavor palette, I am able to use my creativity and create a more free flow in my cooking.
I began a healing journey once I moved out of San Diego to San Jose to live with my partner at the time and some best friends, mostly so I could be somewhat closer to my family back in the Bay. I felt very out of my body because the entire life I spent the 5 years in SD creating was suddenly over, and I was put into this brand new environment that really put me into shock. During this healing journey, I found refuge in meditation and learning how to stay present with myself. Cooking became a form of meditation for me because it was a set time where I only had to focus on the food I was preparing and cooking. I didn’t have to think of anything else in the moment other than creating a yummy and beautiful dish for me to eat.
I found every single part of the cooking process comforting and relaxing (even washing the dishes sometimes). The more comfortable I got with cooking, the more confident I felt to experiment with flavor and presentation. I always wanted my meals to look pretty and taste even better. Then after all that hard labor, you’re able to sit with yourself and enjoy what you made. I started to understand the importance of food and nourishment through cooking, that there was more to connect with it. Cooking gives me a blank canvas where I am able to use spices and sauces to amplify a basic dish. It allows me to use all 5 of my senses; I can see what I’m making, hear the sounds of chopping and sizzling, smell the fragrant aromas, feel the different textures of the ingredients I’m using, and most importantly taste through the process and the final product.
Interior design is a fairly new practice for me but I’ve watched interior design shows and YouTubers since I was young. It’s so fun to see the big and small ways you can completely change a living space. There are so many elements that can elevate a room, whether it be the colors, the furniture, the feng shui, the accents, the lighting. I wouldn’t even say I’m good at interior designing yet, I think what I’m good at is styling a room, but I’ve been able to practice in my own rooms since I moved away from San Diego. I think creating a safe space for me was vital in order to feel comfortable after moving. I created a color palette and tried to design my room as cohesive and as cheap as possible. I think I’m just a budget-friendly girl in any aspect because similar to thrifting, you can elevate the look and feel of a room without buying expensive ass stuff.
In my own space currently, I wanted it to be both whimsical and serene, colorful but also calm. I create a color palette, I’m super into lavender and pastels at the moment, so I try to include little accents of those colors in my room but make sure it’s not overpowering so that I can still feel that sense of serenity. I am a collector (borderline hoarder) of random things that I think are pretty, so I try to put those on display in an intentional way to sort of deflect all the clutter I’ve hoarded over the years.
This year was my first time trying to paint a mural for my wall and it was such a fun and inspiring process. I visualized, picked the colors, drew out a sketch, and put the vision to life on my wall. It was so rewarding. I make sure to add little details everywhere in my space because I think life is all about the little details. I can’t wait to own my own space because everything I do currently in my spaces are renter-friendly, but as soon as I have full reigns, I am making it the most magical space to be in. As of now, I will continue to find small, thrifty ways to elevate my space. I’ve also been offering my services or have been asked for advice for room design from friends, so eventually I would love to create income from this passion of mine. I am excited to see how much I will be able to accomplish the more I dive into this passion of mine.
Event planning has been something I’ve done since high school, usually for the organizations I was a part of. I helped plan my junior prom and senior ball when I was in ASB, along with the many other events I’ve had to plan. I’ve planned my own cotillion. I created bonding events in both the Filipino org and sorority I was in at SDSU. I also had a big themed birthday party every year since I turned 21. I think what I love about event planning is that it’s an opportunity to create a unique experience that brings people together. Now that I am not in any orgs that require me to create events, I mostly plan parties for special events with my friends. I am for sure one of the main party planners in my friend groups.
My birthday usually gives me the most control so I really go all out for my birthdays. For my 21st birthday, I had a huge birthday bash that had over like 70 people come through in which I managed a Facebook event for, provided drinks, created a huge banner, and got absolutely shit faced. For my 22nd, I wanted something more wholesome so I did a paint & sip at my house – I provided a bunch of card stock paper, paints, brushes, alcohol, good music, and it was a freakin vibe. For my 23rd, I created games, bought my own piñata, had a copious amount of alcohol (as always), and watched the sunset. For my 24th, my first birthday in quarantine, I wanted to go camping but didn’t have the chance, so I made a camping theme at home where I make shifted am aesthetic tent, created a nature scavenger hunt around my apartment complex, had the bombest food, painted, danced with bubbles. For my 25th, I did a Met Gala theme at the most luxurious Airbnb I’ve stayed at so far; I encouraged all my friends to come with the fits and we dressed up, hyped each other up, made a beautiful dinner as if we were really at the Met Gala. And this year for my 26th, I did a groovy day in Golden Gate Park.
I think with the society we’re living in, especially being in poverty to the lower-middle class in the US, we are literally programmed to be exploited for our labor, mindless machines who spend their days worrying about paying their bills on time and achieving the ‘American Dream’ of success. They make it very easy to fall into a mundane state of life, an endless cycle of working until you can retire. I think exploring your creativity and passions is revenge against this system. Art in all forms molds the human experience. It allows us to connect with one another, express our individuality, and explore the humanness that we should all be given the space to find for ourselves.
Above all, feeding into my creativity invokes inspiration, sparks my joy, makes me feel whole. It’s refreshing that lately, I’ve been reminded of how creativity can exist in so many different forms. It’s an ever-evolving learning and experimental process. I feel so much more inclined to continue creating just about anything because I wasn’t encouraged to focus on that growing up; I’ve only been encouraged to do everything in my power to find a good career that will make me enough money to live comfortably. The same way our country believes in the freedom of speech, I wish it would encourage freedom of expression. For an individualistic country, the majority of the US sure hates it when you express your individuality. They don’t want us to open our minds because they’re afraid we’re gonna realize that we’re being used as puppets, to be lifeless cogs in their machine. Those who have been able to open their minds understand the flaws in the system, and we fight against it by truly being our whole, free selves.
So to that I say: dye your hair any color you want, get tattoos whether they have meaning or not, write a poem that doesn’t rhyme, color outside of the lines, learn how to do something even if you’re not ‘good’ at it, step out of the boxes we’ve been forced into since we were brought into this world. I love creativity because it says FUCK THE RULES. Do what makes you happy in this one life. Keep the fire in your soul ignited and continue discovering what you’re capable of. Cultivate your human experience without guilt or shame as long as you’re doing it in love.
I enjoy living an unconventional life. I have trouble envisioning what or where I will be in 5-10 years because I feel like my soul can truly take me anywhere. I am constantly trying to understand the meaning of existence, trying to find every way I can to live a life of purpose. The idea of being tied to one expectation or timeline of life makes me want to rebel against anyone who tries to place that sort of control on my own life choices. My plan is to keep elevating myself every year, picking myself back up faster every time I encounter obstacles. Even though there are always going to be vicious cycles and limiting beliefs that are lurking in the shadows, I believe it’s all about embracing all that life has to teach you.
For me personally, it’s important to be creative in different areas because discovering my interests and passions will only come from exploring what my options are. I also get bored easily, so having all these different areas that I can dabble in makes me feel like there’s always something new I can try, or maybe something I can revisit if I haven’t practiced in a certain area in awhile. I am a complex, multi-faceted being and I find pleasure in having my interests mirror that. I’m also learning how empowering it is. I always said that I wish I was a dancer or a singer or an artist so that I could master one realm of creativity, but I’m understanding that I may not be a master at one thing, but I am good at a plethora of things. And that makes me feel proud of myself, as opposed to how I used to feel ashamed of it. Plus life is SHORT! Do whatever tf you feel like, as long as it’s safe and done with love. We seriously only have one life to live and I am not about to die living with any regrets.
I feel like there’s so much pressure to be ‘good’ at something and if you’re not ‘good’ at it, then people wonder why you’re even doing it. Fuck all of that noise. What’s considered ‘good’ is so subjective, what we should really be focused on doing is being authentic. I’ve spent so long thinking that I was talentless, that my hobbies are small and meaningless. Now as I rediscover my love for those ‘little hobbies,’ I am being reminded that they are actually little fires of passion that ignite my soul. They encourage me to tap into my authenticity, vulnerability, and humanity. And if you can figure out a way to intertwine your passions with your success, then that’s a win in my book.” -Dez
One thing I have always prided myself on is the fact that I’m a very loyal person. If I fuck with you, I got you, no question about it. And if I don’t fuck with you, well, I won’t act like I do to your face to just show face. Loyalty has always been something that I take very seriously, even as a kid. I took that betrayal, small or big, to heart. And unfortunately, disloyalty doesn’t just stop at a certain age. That’s something you have to be aware of for the rest of your life, disguising itself in different forms.
I realized the hard way that not everyone has the same views as me when it comes to loyalty and having pure intentions. I would get my feelings hurt because I couldn’t relate to some people’s lack of ethics in different scenarios. And not to toot my own horn, but seeing that not everyone is a real one was a hard pill to swallow. So to all my real, loyal, genuine ones – this is for you. This is for all the people out there that choose to keep their circles small, distance themselves from iffy energy, and have no problem being a loser by choice. It is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it’s something that I prefer.
We have all dealt with our fair share of gossip and being gossiped about. It can be frustrating knowing that what’s being circled around about you is so far from the truth. You may feel the need to defend yourself or set the record straight, and it’s hard as hell taking the higher road and just letting people think what they want. Back in the day to play devil’s advocate, I’d argue that I’m just saying my truth to counter act the bullshit and lies that’s going around. I don’t know which came first, my age or me getting to a point where I realized trying to get people who are easily swayed and feed the gossip to continue to circulate will only do more damage than good.
It takes a lot to gain my trust in friendships and relationships. I get along perfectly fine with most people, and making new friends is not something I struggle with. I’m very social for an anti-social homebody. I can chop it up, make small talk, make surface level friendships, and be friendly. However, I am very selective when it comes to who has access to me. I’m very guarded with who I trust, who I tell my personal shit to, who I tell my next move to. Because I know from experience that not everyone that enters my life will stick around or have the best intentions for me. You know the typical joke, “who hurt you?!” to have all these trust issues, but it’s just fact. You can’t trust everybody and not everyone should have access to your friendship, time, or energy.
Because let’s be honest, the relationship is never really the same after you know that someone is being fake, betrayed your trust, or gossiped about you. I’ve been there and I’ve done that, I’ve tried to let bygones be bygones. Depending on what was done, sometimes it’s possible. But most of the time, and especially in this season of my life, 1 strike and you’re out. I simply do not have time to surround myself around so so wishy washy people. I for one can not fake friendship. I don’t have the care, the time, or the desire to put in effort where the loyalty is questionable.
People play both sides, and if you are not the one actually gossiping or being shady, but you play messenger and feel comfortable listening to others speak on my name, then the same goes. It amazes me to know how many grown ass people still put in effort and time to play both sides to just keep the peace or simply because they want to be liked by everyone. I have reached a point in my life where I don’t give a fuck if people like me anymore. As long as I know my heart is good, my intentions are pure, and I’m a good person who sticks to my morals and values, that’s all that really matters. If you don’t agree with how I go about things, keep it pushing and I will do the same.
I don’t think that I’m better than everyone else, so don’t get it twisted. But I am a firm believer of sticking to your gut feeling. So when my gut feeling is telling me that somebody’s vibe is off, if they don’t seem like good company to surround myself with, if I don’t agree with their morals and principals, I will distance myself. Protecting myself and my peace of mind is #1 always. I can “not fuck with you” but still be cordial, there is a difference. And it was not always so apparent to me in the past. Especially in our adolescent years, when shit goes sour with people, it can be beef on sight. But I’ve learned that you can cut off people but still feel neutral, not everything has to leave a sour taste in your mouth. It takes some time to process whatever transpired, but also a level of maturity.
If you’re still feeling salty and some type of way after distancing yourself from someone or a friend group, what it really boils down to is the fact that it still bothers you because you still care to some degree. I have been in this position many times where I realize a friendship no longer serves me and decide to cut someone off. When I would vent to people closest to me, I would say my truth, voice my concerns, but almost always end it with, “But whatever, I don’t even care.” But is it not caring if it’s still a topic up for discussion? It takes time to genuinely “not care,” especially when you are letting go of a friendship that meant something to you. Especially if you felt betrayed, and you’re trying your best to work through that betrayal.
It can be even harder when you’re cutting off a specific person, but you still run in similar groups. That’s definitely getting yourself into a pickle. In those scenarios, I think it really depends on the other people in that circle – if they can keep the drama genuinely out of it. I’ve come across some people that genuinely do not want to know the details, don’t want to get in the middle, and want to avoid any conflict between both parties. If the friends of friends can remain uninvolved, it can work out. If mutual respect and boundaries are present, handling the situation like adults isn’t too far fetched.
Being the careful person that I am, I definitely distance myself from others if I feel like their loyalty and intentions are questionable. I literally do not have the time to wonder who has my back, who is defending my name when I’m not around, and who is a real friend. I’ll make the decision easier and remove myself from the situation entirely. I have no desire to entertain fake friendships and iffy personalities. At this point in my life, I feel like a professional at keeping my circle small and my friendships choosy. I’d rather be a loser by choice than surround myself with fake people. It will always be quality over quantity for me.
One thing I can’t stand is fake friendships. In my life, I have shamefully played the dumb card way too many times – when you know someone or some people have gossiped about you, feel some type of way about you, and have so much to say to others about you behind your back, but won’t dare say it to your face. And then you’re put in a social setting where to your face, they’re chopping it up and acting like your bestie, and you sit there and show face and try to act like you don’t know all the things that has transpired up until that point. Fuck that. And I’ve allowed that many times in the past.
I used to think the antidote to dealing with scenarios like that was to confront them. If I don’t confront them, I’m being a pussy bitch. If I don’t confront them, I’m being weak. If I don’t confront them, they win and make me look stupid. I think in certain situations, confrontation is appropriate. But there are other scenarios where you realize that somebody else is so wrapped up in their own ideas that confrontation isn’t going to solve anything. There are times where you just know that it will be like talking to a brick wall. And if I’m being completely honest, sometimes it really depends on my mood.
If I feel very strongly about putting someone in their place when they have wronged me, I will confront them. But there are times when I get really worked up and want to confront someone but realize it would be pointless because I don’t want a relationship to continue after anyways, so I drop it. Also when I realize that my only motive to confront someone is to make them feel stupid or shitty, I’ll do my best to bite my tongue. Sometimes knowing where you stand is enough closure you need, and you just hope karma acts accordingly.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that being selective doesn’t have it’s lonely moments. You know, when you see those that you have purposely distanced yourself from be with the very same people you kicked it with. Knowing that in the past, you would’ve been there, but now, you’re looking in as an outsider. The feelings of FOMO get really real sometimes. And I feel like that’s what keeps people in toxic friendships and relationships – they’d rather ignore and avoid all the negative things, because at least they’ll still be a part of something. Everyone, whether they like to admit it or not, want to belong and feel like they are a part of the group. And it takes a lot of reflecting and realizations to be comfortable with the fact that you will feel left out sometimes. But don’t let that cloud your judgment. Don’t let feeling bored or lonely be the reason why you surround yourself with emotion vultures, fake friendships, and weird competition. It ain’t worth it.
The other truth about FOMO is the fact that you want others to see exactly how that individual / group of people truly are. “If only they knew,” you think. But in reality, only you will know your own truth. You can’t force anyone to see your side, no one is obligated to side with you, and at the end of the day people will do whatever the fuck they want and hang with whoever the fuck they want. It can be frustrating to see friends of yours chopping it up with someone / people that you don’t think are trustworthy. You may feel the need to be in their ear to warn them out with the best intentions at heart. But then…
That’s gossiping. We have all been there. It’s a vicious cycle. And no matter what, you will always believe that your gossiping is not as severe, because it wasn’t done out of malice, it was to vent, or you simply don’t see it as gossiping. There’s a very thin line between venting and talking shit. If something or someone is bothering us, it makes sense to talk it through with people we trust. They offer us some advice on how to handle it, and it gives us an outlet to express ourselves. But it can easily turn to gossip and talking shit, when there is no desire to vent, but just to mutually hate and talk shit about someone else. We have all been on both sides of the coin – being gossiped about and being the gossiper.
One thing I know for sure – I no longer have the desire to keep friendships and relationships with people who are not loyal to me. I’m too old to be wondering if my friends are talking about me, defending my name to others who have heard otherwise, and being around fake people. My circle may be small, but I’m surrounded by individuals who undoubtedly have my back no matter what. Individuals that have the same respect, morals, and loyalty as I do.
I’d rather be a loser by choice than a fool involuntarily. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your circle small. When you are choosy about who has access to you, you’ll never have to doubt those you surround yourself with. I’d rather have a handful of people that know me inside and out, than a bunch of people who only stick around when it’s beneficial for them.
Describe something you’re grateful that you learned from your parents
I’m grateful for some of the beliefs and morals my parents have instilled in me since a young age. Some of the advice I have easily taken in, but other pieces of advice were hard pills to swallow. You know, the kind of advice that you learn to be true as you get older and go through life. One of the many lessons I’ve learned from my parents is: Don’t trust everybody.
You’re probably thinking, “Damn, that’s harsh.” But it’s true! A lot of my parents’ advice and lectures to me as a kid – and even to this fuckin’ day – basically boils down to the fact that they want us to be smart and use our heads when it comes to dealing with other people. They never want my sisters and I to ever be in a position where we are naïve, gullible, or easily swayed by others. We were taught to question everything, but most importantly, always question the motives of others. We were prepared for the fact that people will use you when it’s convenient for them, whether that be financially, for their own gain, emotionally, or for material things. Because of this, we were taught to always be careful and trust with caution.
As a little kid, this shit didn’t make sense to me. Honestly, there were many times I believed my parents were just being haters. I thought my parents were giving paranoid advice – always thinking that people were going to do us dirty or do something shady. We were taught to not give our trust so easily. We were spoken to like adults at a young age – there was no age appropriate way to spell it out: Don’t trust everyone, people will use you if you let them. When it came to friends, acquaintances, or anyone that we had any relation to, we were always met with commentary like:
“Make sure that they’re not trying to just use you!”
“Watch your back, you never know.”
“Be careful (with what I share with those around me), they might try to use that against you later!”
Being cautious of others was always drilled into my head. But of course, as a young child, you hear the advice given to you, but don’t really see the significance of it until you’re much older. My parents were serving us that 100% blunt reality at a young age. They wanted to stress the fact that most of the time, people just look out for themselves and have no problem stepping on others, using others, stealing, lying, or backstabbing anyone to get what they want in life, a person, or situation. We had to be aware that people’s moves were always calculated.
Because of this way of thinking, I was always questioning people’s intentions with me. I was always taught to put people under a microscope – see if their intentions are true, if they are genuine, and if they may have any other motives. Like many other children / teens / young adults, I maneuvered my way through life, learning and understanding what my parents meant by not being so easy to give your trust to others. These are lessons you learn throughout your life and start to see the significance of previous advice.
I have had my fair share of betrayal, lies, being used, and being manipulated for someone’s else’s personal gain. I’m talking about everything in-between – from childhood friendship drama, high school gossip, adults just being plain petty, and unfortunately the list goes on. I had to learn the hard way what my mom and dad meant by not trusting everyone you meet. Because not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to be genuine to your face, and not everyone deserves your trust and time. I used to think that my parents were overly suspicious of everyone, but now I understand that it’s just the truth of our reality. Not everyone is your friend.
For this reason, I feel like my intuitions are on point. When I meet people, I can kind of get a sense of what kind of person they are right off the bat. I’m not saying that I have a special gift or some shit, but just that I’m very good at reading people. Of course, I’m never 100% right all the time, but for the most part I do a damn good job of feeling out a person’s intentions. I can just feel when someone’s vibe is off, or if they are not a person I want to associate with. I’m a pro at respectfully distancing myself and making it known where I stand.
I appreciate that my parents taught me to be choosy with my circle from a young age. Being more closed off and selective with who I choose to bring into my space has helped me protect myself, but also see people for who they really are. You don’t always see other people’s motives, or the “real” them right off the bat. It has not only taught me to be cautious with who I let in and trust, but it has also taught me to be a trustworthy person. Loyalty is such an important thing to me – in friendships, relationships, and life in general.
My parents stressed the importance of not easily trusting everyone and anyone around you to my sisters and I. But on the flip side, they also emphasized the importance of being loyal and acknowledging those who you can trust. These 2 pieces of advice are so opposite, but 2 sides of the same coin. It wasn’t just pessimistic negative advice to never trust anyone because people are generally just looking out for themselves, but more so, to just be aware. Be aware of those who have ulterior motives. Be aware of what people do and say behind your back. But also, being aware of those who are down for you and have proved that they are genuine.
Because of this advice, I know how to weed out the true, genuine, and ride or die people in my life. Not everyone is going to have your back, have your best intentions at heart, or be trustworthy. That’s just life. But there are a selected few who will be just that. Best piece of advice: Trust with caution, but recognize the real ones on your team.
If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).
In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.
I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.
Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.
Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”
Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.
My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.
I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.
I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”
Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.
Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.
Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.
Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.
Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.
Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.
A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.
When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.
When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.
Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”
She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.
Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.
I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.
I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.
Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.
“This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Chrystina’s story, written in her own words:
“There were so many emotions when I found out Justin was in a new relationship. Sierra is from the south and when speaking with her, her southern accent was soothing. However, I of course went through the typical jealousy (why can you get it right with her and not me), fear my daughter would replace me, and awe that someone could grow to love my sassy princess as her own. At first, I was hesitant, but I’m now very comfortable co-parenting our daughter, Marlowe.
I found out about Sierra right when Justin met her. Justin was always upfront about any women he was dating. He told me about their first date. I was always informed about how their relationship was progressing. He has always been an amazing father, very protective and loving. We were both on the same page about how anyone we were in a relationship with had to accept Marlowe as well. It would be a package deal.
It was hard for me to accept that my ex had a new partner. At first, I buried my jealousy deep inside me. I wasn’t in love with him any more and hadn’t been in a very long time. My jealousy was mainly centered around the fact that he got to find his life partner before me. I have not been in a serious relationship since we separated and eventually divorced. I dated some but it always ended. That was hard for me. Seeing Justin get married and move into a family was hard for me, but I focused on how it benefited Marlowe and I tucked my pain aside.
Being a single mom was so hard on me emotionally, and I had no one to share it with. I was also limited in my ability to date because I was a single parent. My life revolved around a child. I gave up myself to parent her the best way I knew how. I couldn’t go out and make new friends, so dating was not even really possible. They say as a single mom, you have no life until your child is grown, and I was finding that to be very true. My mom was a single mom, and I swore to myself I would never have kids so that I wouldn’t be in that situation. Life had other plans for me.
I was pressured to remain single. People close to me warned of the dangers of bringing men around my daughter, so it was advised I don’t enter a relationship until she is all grown up. That wasn’t what I wanted for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing serious developed with anyone.
Moving past being hurt took some time. While I had nothing but platonic feelings for Justin, I felt like it was unfair that I had practically nothing and he had moved on to build a family that had everything. The moment I remember most vividly that I had stopped being hurt was when Sierra’s parents sent Marlowe a gift in the mail that had clothes in her size and shoes that she wore until they had holes in them. They were all items that Marlowe loved. To know that there were people out there who knew and loved my daughter made me feel not so alone.
Justin and I both didn’t grow up with our biological fathers. Justin and I always said that even if we didn’t work out, Marlowe would always know her dad. While he has always been a great father, his relationship with Sierra has made him better. She completes him in such a way that he shines better as a person, and that in turn, makes him a better man to be a father. I’m so happy Marlowe gets to experience what we never had. After long, it just stopped bothering me. Marlowe has me and she has the ideal family she has always wanted. And since I just want to see her happy, I let it go and praised his relationship instead of bashing it.
In the beginning, Marlowe tested Sierra I’m sure. She was used to having her daddy’s complete and total attention. Marlowe has a strong personality and doesn’t hold out about being herself. Soon after spending time with them, she would come home with stories of all the things they did together, such as getting nails done and going shopping. Soon, Marlowe warmed up to her.
They had been together almost a year before I met her. To me, they seemed really interested in each other from the start. I wasn’t so much hesitant as I was curious to finally meet Sierra. We had conversed through text and messaging on Facebook only. We weren’t very close but we were friendly. I really wanted to know the woman who had charmed my daughter into loving her so much. In the beginning, I wanted to meet her so I could make sure she was someone I wanted around my daughter. Marlowe was a handful so I was looking for any help I could get!
I don’t know exactly when we first met, but my very first memory of really talking with her was when I was meeting them to pick up Marlowe. Sierra was pregnant with their son, Sean. I remember asking Justin if it would be ok if Sierra got out of the car so I can see the belly. My favorite part of being pregnant was my belly, and pregnant bellies have always been special to me. Sierra was carrying someone who our daughter would be connected to, and I wanted to be a part of it too. And she looked absolutely adorable.
I think I surprised them that I was interested to see her pregnant belly. Sierra got out of the car shyly and I squealed so enthusiastically. Her face broke into a gorgeous smile and I remember Marlowe just dancing around happily. This meeting set the tone for mine and Sierra’s friendship. I wasn’t a jealous ex-wife, even though we were still legally married at the time. I was someone willing to make this work because I truly cared about everyone involved. I tried to make it very clear I had no romantic feelings for Justin at all whatsoever.
It did take me a long time to trust another person to be in Marlowe’s life. Marlowe is my life. Sunup to sundown – and I was so used to doing it alone. I knew Marlowe and understood her best. I didn’t want anyone to come along and hurt her. I was trying to protect her from my hurt. But I’m very glad I let my guard down. I finally did when I saw pictures of them together. My daughter was very slow to warm up to people when she was younger. Seeing her smile bright and wide let me know that she felt ok with Sierra, and I began to trust her.
Sierra began to address Marlowe as “our daughter.” She was consistently there for Marlowe, ready with love and advice. Marlowe is very feminine and I am not, so having a feline bonus mom was such a plus for Marlowe. We do not talk often, but when we do it’s always centered on Marlowe and it’s very respectful and loving. I would like to think we are friends. She contacts me when Marlowe reaches a milestone in her life and we share input on how to deal with it. We recently had a FaceTime time chat to talk to Marlowe about starting her period. She makes sure I get Mother’s Day gifts and I sent her a Christmas present. I’m sure we would be closer if I didn’t live so far away.
Justin lived in Las Vegas. The Bay Area priced us out, so we decided to move where she could still see him easily. We checked out Reno and loved it so we moved here. It was originally just summers and school breaks when Marlowe got to see Justin. Marlowe would typically fly unaccompanied minors to Vegas. It was a 40 minute flight and she had a cellphone. It made it easier because someone had to be at the gate to pick her up so I knew she was safe.
Almost two years ago, Marlowe went to live with her dad full-time. When Marlowe first moved in with her dad, it was supposed to be just for a year, and at that time they lived in Vegas. I lived in Reno so it worked out. Like I said, we used to just have her fly on school breaks to see her dad and Sierra. But Marlowe then formed a strong bond with Sierra and her baby brother, Sean, that she didn’t want to keep leaving them. She always seemed to start back up at school before his birthday and she hated missing his birthday parties.
When COVID happened and jobs dried up, they received an offer to move back to Sierra’s home in North Carolina. At the time, Marlowe was living with them in Vegas. Marlowe called me and begged me to let her go. Her eyes were full of tears, afraid I would say no. She begged me to ‘not bring up the custody thing.’ She spoke of the experiences she would have and how she didn’t want to leave her baby brother. I died inside. Vegas was far enough away. The other side of the country was too much. I felt if I let her go, I would lose her, she would never come home.
However the Lord had other plans. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to it. My heart shattered but I let her go. I knew she was being given an opportunity to have the family she dreamed of. One that I couldn’t provide. Saying yes was the hardest, most hurtful thing I’ve done to myself. Yet it was the most beneficial thing I could have ever done for her. She now attends the same school her grandmother and bonus mom attended and made friends with so many people.
Justin explained to me their situation (having a house in North Carolina). Having already spoken to Marlowe and knowing how much this meant to her, I agreed. The ultimate deciding factor was the tears in her eyes. I could never say no to that face. I had days to decide if she could move with them to North Carolina. It was not long at all. It was probably a good thing because if I had a lot more time, I probably would have changed my mind.
Marlowe living in North Carolina is very long term. They own their own home and Sierra has her own business. Also all of Sierra’s family lives there so they have a huge support system. There is no reason for them to move back out here. She has adjusted very well. She loves living there with all of them. She misses my cooking but that’s about it.
I want to move out to North Carolina, but I am afraid. I love Marlowe more than life, but I fear that we have been apart for too long and it won’t be the same as when she was my mini-me and we did everything together. She is older and angry that I haven’t been able to move out there yet. I was supposed to move out there by her birthday in October. Financially it hasn’t been possible. If I just moved out there I would be on the street, literally. My bills here prevented me from saving like I want to to be able to move to North Carolina.
I couldn’t be there by the time I said I would be there, and that has caused the rift between us. She has mentioned that she feels I have lied to her about moving out there and that now it’s ok if I don’t. She doesn’t expect it anymore. She blames me for the fact we aren’t as close anymore. That hurts a lot because all I did was what she asked for. I still want to move out there but moving across the country is not as easy as it seems.
I feel like I am missing out on so much of her life. I’m heartbroken. We were very close. She is an amazing gymnast and I have been to one of her competitions. I have missed others. I miss her incredibly. She is still too young to understand that she asked for this, not knowing the ramifications it would have. It leaves me feeling very hurt and confused. I try to talk to her as much as I can as both our schedules allow, but I know that isn’t the same as me being there.
Marlowe has her own iPhone and I got her an Apple Watch. We text and FaceTime. She is a very active gymnast, so we don’t talk as much as we did when she first moved. Since she has moved to North Carolina, I have seen her twice. I stayed a few days each time. I sobbed until I was on the plane. She cried as well. When we are together it’s so loving and fun. She’s my mini best friend again. We talk, laugh, and hang out. It’s so hard going back to FaceTime after I’ve had her arms and basked in that sweet Marlowe glow. But the only peace I have is that she is very well taken care of. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and she’s growing up to be a fantastic and wonderful young lady.
Being on good terms with my daughter’s bonus mom is important for many reasons. The first one that comes to my mind is that it helps forge the bond between them. Sierra is a wonderful woman who loves Marlowe very much, and my acceptance of her means that my daughter doesn’t have to feel guilty about allowing another woman to be in her life in such a major role. It also allows me to breathe. I don’t have to worry when Marlowe is with her. I know she is safe, loved, and well cared for.
I’m thankful that Justin, Sierra, and I are able to communicate and do what’s best for Marlowe. At her ninth birthday dinner, she was afraid that Sierra had taken her dad from me, that I didn’t like her, and we couldn’t be friends. We cleared that misconception up right away and Marlowe was immediately happier and pleased that she didn’t have to choose between us. To clarify, I was visiting Vegas for her birthday. She was living with them full time. I’m also very thankful that their relationship is solid enough to be a good example for Marlowe.
I’m very blessed we have similar views. Communication is so important because there isn’t just one person involved. There are actually 5 because their son, Sean, is included. We need to be able to talk about what is best for Marlowe. Boundaries are needed too. There is a three hour time difference between here and there. I work the night shift. Marlowe has to be off her phone by 8:30 PM. That’s what time I typically wake up because it’s 5:30 PM here. I have to respect that because those are their rules for her and it is their home. Boundaries like those show Marlowe that there is mutual respect among all of us.
Some advice I can offer for others out there who are co-parenting – Don’t make this about you. Of course there are hurt feelings that will try to rear its ugly head, but is the child happy? Do they glow in the presence of their bonus parent? Is your child’s life better overall because they have a huge support system full of love and acceptance? If so, let that be what guides you. Let your love for your child be the focal point of your co-parenting. Parents always claim to want to do what’s best for their children. Maybe this is what’s best for them. It’s not easy, but bringing a person into the world was never supposed to be.
And lastly, IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!! I cannot stress that enough. Please put aside pride and hurt feelings and allow a relationship to blossom between the child and the bonus parent. It is scary, but the benefits are so worth it. Marlowe would not be the amazing girl she is without Sierra and her family. Communicate with each other and know that the common goal is raising a person to survive in this world. Marlowe now has many adults around that love her and care for her. She has gained another set of grandparents, aunts, and family friends that care for her. Her foundation is very strong and supported. She confidently navigates her way through life because she knows she is so loved.” -Chrystina
“This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Jela’s story, written in her own words:
“Have I lost my identity when I became a mother? We all change. As time goes by our plans, decisions, and life change, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes the best transitions we experience or make in our lives are the ones that we feel like we are at peace with in the moment. Before I became a mother, I was a nanny, and at one point I became a traveling nanny for a very short period of time before my husband’s first duty station. When people meet me for the first time, I mostly get comments that I’m very patient and nurturing, and if I became a mother, it would already be “natural” for me. In my mind, I’ve always asked myself, “do you really need to be ‘natural’ becoming a mother or parent?”
I’ve always wanted to plan to be a mother in my mid 20s. At 23, I became pregnant with my first born son in October 2016, but only found out a month later. At that time my husband and I moved to his first duty station 3,000 miles away from our hometown. I will always remember the morning we found out I was pregnant. The night before, we went to my husband’s first command holiday party. We were about to order drinks. I had a drink in mind, but I immediately asked if they had pineapple juice or any juice only. They actually did have pineapple juice! I ordered juice because I was feeling nauseous at the time.
We planned to stay long, but we only stayed for an hour. Honestly, we left right away after that because we were going to GameStop to pick up the Pokémon Sun and Moon that we had ordered for the night release. After that, I really wanted to go to Target right across GameStop to buy a few pregnancy tests to take in the morning. The next day, I took a few pregnancy tests and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. I couldn’t really keep my pregnancy a secret from my family who lived nearby because every time we would see each other, or if we went out to eat, I would run to the bathroom to throw up what I just ate a few minutes before.
I spent most of my days and appointments alone because my husband was out to sea a lot during that time. He missed pretty much the first appointment and all the ultrasounds, but I am thankful that on some days my sister would drive an hour away to stay with me during the week. I would drive down to visit my siblings every other day, even if that underwater tunnel bridge traffic was always rough! I’d drive a few minutes to visit my husband’s relatives that lived so close to us, or drive up 3 hours to visit my husband’s relatives in another state.
Fast forward to when it was delivery day, we moved from Hampton to Virginia Beach, VA to be closer to family and my husband’s work, but the hospital I was being seen at was still in Hampton. I had an appointment that day, and I was called back in because my blood pressure was high (not sure why they sent me home the first time they saw my BP high in person). I developed Gestational Hypertension the day I delivered and needed to be monitored for contractions. I was having contractions, but to me they weren’t super painful in the beginning and I was 1 cm dilated as soon as we drove back to the hospital. They suggested that I walk for 2-3 hours, come back to get induced with a Foley bulb, but as soon as I came back from my walk at Costco (we even drove back home to pick up our hospital bag), I was already 4 cm dilated.
I had a few complications during my pregnancy prior to having Gestational Hypertension, one of them being that I had to gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (I did have a hard time gaining weight growing up). The second was that I was GBS positive. I was on antibiotics during delivery for that, so that meant I was only allowed to push every 3 hours when the antibiotics were administered to prevent passing it on to my baby, but everything was so quick after that last push. I tried pushing on my back and right side and I needed to push one last time so they turned me to my left side because his heart rate was dropping before my last push. I remember my midwife asking if I wanted to use the mirror up in the ceiling that they had (because his head was already out and I needed to push a little bit more). I remember looking at the mirror up the ceiling and I was just so amazed.
After giving birth, everything felt so surreal. Nobody told me that giving birth was going to sound quiet (at least with my first it was quiet!), lots of shaking, vomiting, and feeling the need to go to the bathroom A LOT. I started to push at 9pm, waited 3 hours to push again, then around 2 am, Isaac was out.
When Isaac (my firstborn) was born, everything was already prepared for him. I nested a lot even with my husband out to sea and we even got to move and settle into another town a week before I gave birth. We also moved to a smaller apartment, it was a 750 sq ft apartment but it felt so homey and loved our space. I felt so much excitement and happiness before and after giving birth. My husband and I even took classes and made sure we were informed about all the safety procedures we could possibly learn about.
But even with that, after giving birth came days where I felt off, not myself, a lot of pain experienced from healing postpartum, and breastfeeding in the early weeks. I was even told that if I ever felt sad or baby blues, to not talk to anyone about it. EVER. It felt invalidating, but I just brushed it off. I’m not sure what the person’s reasoning was for telling me that. I’m sure a lot of mothers have experienced the same thing where someone would give them unsolicited advice. I understand, maybe that person didn’t mean harm when they said it to me. Maybe it’s just an automatic response to what people learned to say before we were more exposed to raising awareness of mental health.
I didn’t think much of it until later on when I became more aware of things that were very stigmatized towards pregnant women, mothers, and parents. As a mother, we are constantly told to not feel certain things, judged by the way we look while pregnant, and especially after giving birth. That we’ll be fine, as long as the baby is okay, that’s all that matters. It didn’t matter if the mother wasn’t okay, especially with their mental health. When I had Isaac, I thought that self-care meant taking a shower, going to the grocery store alone (to get things we needed for the house), and all the basic needs that everyone should have, was what I thought was self-care, to be able to do those things again.
When I was going through postpartum, I turned to my husband and friends. They were the ones who were mostly there to listen or just be there as a friend. I am so grateful for them. I realized that the person in my ear was wrong because I didn’t feel at peace with it. I felt like I had to be ashamed of having feelings, it felt very invalidating. I felt like I had to shrink myself so everything could be “fine.” I felt like I couldn’t ask for help, making me feel smaller and smaller. As I talk to more mothers, once we open up a topic that is usually considered “not normal” to the world, we find ourselves relating to each other, and remember that we are not alone in this. It’s okay to feel positive and negative feelings at the same time. It’s okay if what works for you doesn’t work for another parent. It’s a really big deal for me when I finally get the courage to speak up or talk to someone.
A year and a few months after Isaac was born, we needed to move to California because my husband’s job was moving homeports. We moved to San Diego in March 2019. It was a really big move this time. Everything we had, had to be shipped, including our car. We were actually going to move back to our home state, but this time with no family nearby to just walk or drive to. My husband couldn’t fly to see the place we were going to live in because he was going to deploy in a few days before our move in date, so it was only me and Isaac that flew.
I thought “Hey, if I did this once, I can get through it again!” Since it also happened with our first move to VA while my husband was in Mississippi for his school before moving to his first duty station. Every time there was a huge change in our life, it felt surreal. It felt surreal that I picked up the house keys myself, lived in an empty house with no furniture, and our car was still in the shipping company waiting to be picked up. I was so grateful that time, my friend picked me up from the airport, offered her home to have us stay before our move in date, lent me her air mattress, and drove me and Isaac to pick up our car.
Even though I am used to being alone and doing things alone, I was grateful that during these critical times, it’s always the people that you go through these things with that show up. Honestly, I had times where I dealt with my husband being out to sea just fine and sometimes I didn’t deal with it really well. I found what helped me the most is when I am preoccupied throughout the day like being outdoors, staying active, learning the area by commuting instead of taking the car, traveling (LOTS of Disneyland trips!!) and going to spouse connection events.
I felt really blessed that even if my husband was deployed for a few months, my friends, military spouses, and neighbors showed up not just once but numerous times. My husband was deployed, and Fall of 2019 is where I think I started to feel like I lost track of who I was. It got really depressing when the homecoming days changed 3 times. That meant my husband’s deployment got extended for months that exceeded the maximum time that they should be away at sea. It got so rough that I stopped organizing (organizing calms me) and doing things I usually do to get through the day.
At that time, I was going through so much and focused on making everyone happy and setting my own needs aside. I felt like everytime I tried to take care of myself full on, someone would always tell me I was being selfish for doing it, or question my husband behind my back, and ask unnecessary questions when I was trying to give myself time and space. I started to not be as active online anymore and took a lot of huge breaks from social media. I felt like I needed to just stay silent and isolate myself because everytime I tried to communicate, it was often misunderstood and thought of as me reacting differently or being negative about it when I was not.
My husband and I were planning for a second baby. Planning on having a second baby was a huge discussion to talk about because we were both going to school full-time during the pandemic. I became pregnant with my second baby at the end of September 2020. I had already felt a bit nauseous, and I was even giving away some of my firstborn’s baby clothes, I honestly thought it was just the stress from school and the pandemic. But then I missed my period so I just had to check, just in case. With this pregnancy, I thought that it was going to be easy because I found out early. I didn’t feel the need to throw up, I was still doing some small hikes that were open during the pandemic with my family, and I only felt a little nauseous.
I was wrong, 2 weeks after finding out, we dropped off Isaac on his first day at daycare, my husband and I went out to eat breakfast, our very first date together since he got home from deployment. As soon as the food got to our table, I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. I was just about 5 weeks pregnant. After that I started to feel so stressed, I know it sounds ridiculous, but morning sickness really took a toll on me. Everything I wanted to eat, I wanted to throw up, even if it was just a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, a bag of chips, or a rice bowl with my favorite side dish. Even driving made me dizzy that I had to drive all the time so I felt less nauseous, and I would still throw up before and after driving.
I tried all the remedies that were supposedly supposed to work to even get prescribed medicine to help me with the nausea. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I would literally cry almost everyday because I didn’t know what to eat or how to manage being pregnant anymore. I didn’t have much energy to go out, but I also felt so isolated if I didn’t go out for a walk or do something outside of the house.
What was different from my 1st and 2nd pregnancy was the amount of stress I experienced. I was going to school full-time while having my toddler learn how to use the toilet after showing lots of signs that he was ready, having him transition to his first daycare for a few months, and finding out where we were going be stationed next (the military doesn’t really give you so much time when it comes to moving to the next duty station, even if you are a planner and have set plans just in case), and with the pandemic, it caused so much stress and anxiety. I went to the hospital & ER a couple of times during my pregnancy early on for palpitations, monitoring my heart with a Holter heart monitor, and getting a 2D Echo (heart ultrasound). It was a relief that all the tests came back normal. But my depression and anxiety were peaking, and at the time I finally started to see a therapist.
The start of the pandemic, as we know, was scary and tremendously stressful for everyone. Some days, I was able to use some of that time of uncertainty to try to heal all the things I repeatedly brushed off and set aside, even if it meant feeling all my feelings at once to heal. By healing, I don’t mean “positive vibes only,” or being so certain about everything so quickly. I mean days where sometimes it’s a sad day, crying day, or even just a day where I sat by myself thinking “Hey, this was not okay before, but now that I’m able to recognize that, I can reflect on it and move on.” I felt like a lot of these things that were considered “normal” had to do with the toxic culture that most of us grew up in. We were conditioned to think and act a certain way because it’s become normalized in our culture and society.
At this moment, I feel like I “lost” myself. I find myself thinking about things I used to do, that I can’t anymore. Like who am I besides being a mother? But I realized that that’s just temporary and that I’m not “lost.” Having to handle two kids, I felt like I wasn’t enough to attend to them both. But school and exploring the city I’m in is helping me right now because I am learning more of what interests me and my family.Some days, I can balance being a mom and an individual, and some days I can’t. It really just depends on my 4 year old and newborn’s moods and needs that day! When I can’t, I really try my best to have an easy day for both me and my children. But I do know that being an individual is taking time for me to try to get used to, especially when I am around other adults. This pandemic got me going back to being more introverted than I already was before!
Self-care to me looks like having the time to yourself to enjoy things that you want or need. Even if others think it’s taking a few minutes showering or walking alone at the store or somewhere, it’s nice to have that time for yourself. As long as you’re happy with it. I notice myself feeling burnt out a lot lately, and I really need to find the time to take care of myself. To me, taking care of myself means finding the time to run (I love running, even if I’m a slow runner!), watching tv, eating my favorite food, or going on a date with my fave person aka my husband. One day I do want to try to go on a mini vacation by myself without the kids, BUT I don’t know when that will be since I don’t have it in me yet to try to do that.
My husband has been there for me, even if there were days where we weren’t on the same page. He’s such a great partner and father. Every couple has their struggles, and we’re all not perfect. When I’m not myself, he is there to pick up where I left off, whether it’s cleaning the house, filling up my gas tank so I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the cheapest gas station, or doing so many loads of laundry. A lot of those things get undone or unfinished especially with 2 children now. We don’t believe in “gender roles,” so he is just doing his part as a partner and father. He just helps take off so much of that mother’s guilt.
He makes me feel like I can be myself and that I am more than just the negative things I think about myself. I think and care about so much and he is more of a laid back person, so it balances out sometimes. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, even trying to get myself to eat or shower was just so difficult for me. When it’s the other way around where he looks so tired from work or school, I try to pick up where he left off. We’re also still learning many things during this process and I’m glad that he tries his very best to help in any way he can as a partner.
My advice is to surround yourself with your village and take it easy some days. It’s okay if your child/children had cereal for dinner just to survive the day, because we can’t be and do everything all at once. I tried that – trying to be a mom, help with what was going on with the world (especially during the pandemic), absorbing every feeling and problems that needed to be attended to – and trust me, it’s not possible to be everything for everyone. So I went offline for a few months and helped with what I was able to do at the time, and control what I can control at the moment.
We’re all human, I know it’s hard sometimes to not feel guilty for parenting what works for us, or for doing one small or big thing for ourselves, and you’ll lose people who are close to you. Sometimes families can’t be there for each other because of being far away and having different schedules and plans in life, but I think that it’s nice to surround yourself with people who can relate to you or understand your situation. Even if it’s just 1or 2 people. We all can’t do it alone and everything all at once.” -Jela
“This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Cambria’s story, written in her own words:
“When I found out I was pregnant I had so many mixed emotions. I was 25 years old and still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I had a decent job and a stable income, but kids were definitely not in my plans at that time. I was about 4-5 weeks along when I first found out I was pregnant. I remember I had gotten this really bad cramping which usually never happens to me. I hadn’t gone to the doctor yet to confirm my pregnancy so I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I ended up fainting from the pain and ended up pressed against the tile on my bathroom floor. Somehow, I managed to get myself undressed and threw myself into the shower while hyperventilating. It took me what felt like 30 minutes or so to get back to normal and gather myself together. After fainting, I already felt like this was a bad omen and I was not ready to have this child.
I didn’t tell my parents about the pregnancy yet, but after that incident I felt the need to come clean to my mom. Me and my mom are very close, but for some reason I just felt so nervous telling her about what happened. After telling her about the whole situation, it comforted me a little bit just knowing that my boyfriend, Mark, and I weren’t the only ones keeping this secret. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the pregnancy. I just wanted some reassurance to know that she wouldn’t be disappointed in me or I didn’t feel like I was going to be a burden to my family if I were to go through with it. My mom has always been supportive of anything I chose in life, but I knew this was going to be pushing it a bit. I initially told her I was going to make an appointment to get an abortion and I would schedule it sometime later that week.
I vividly remember calling the Kaiser advice line to schedule my appointment and asked them if I could decide whether or not to go through with the abortion the day of the appointment. They straight up told me that I needed to know before scheduling the appointment so I ended up freaking out and told them I would call them back. I called Mark after and cried, telling him I didn’t know what to do. I gave him the run around about making the appointment because I felt in my heart that I didn’t want to give this pregnancy up. It wasn’t like I was a teenager anymore, I had just graduated college and I felt like I was ready for my next steps in life. After talking to Mark about our options, he saw that I really wanted to keep the pregnancy and after days of going back and forth I finally made my first prenatal appointment. This would be the start of realizing that no matter how much you plan for things, life will always find a way to challenge you.
Having a pandemic pregnancy was one of the loneliest experiences I ever been through. I was estimated to be due on January 12, 2021 so I was pregnant right when the pandemic started. I didn’t get to see my family and friends that often while I was pregnant so I felt like I couldn’t celebrate the happiness with my loved ones. Fortunately, I was still able to work but I would just work and go home and do it all over again. At times it did get a little lonely so I enjoyed going to work for socialization.
Although, I didn’t mind staying home and enjoying my own space especially since COVID was at its peak. I wasn’t allowed to bring my boyfriend during my appointments or to ultrasounds, so it felt like I was doing everything by myself. On top of that, I wasn’t able to go to any lamaze classes, so I was super unprepared for birth. I had to resort to asking my sister in-law, Jayna, for advice and look at pregnancy posts from Instagram and TikTok. But even with all those resources nothing would mentally and physically prepare me for having a baby.
During my research, I knew having a premature baby was a possibility, but I never thought it would happen to me. I would workout and stay active, drink water, and take my prenatal vitamins religiously. I felt like I was doing everything right and I thought I was having a somewhat healthy pregnancy so far. It wasn’t until I was at work and I started getting cramps throughout my 10 hour shift. I had a lot of back pain throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t think much of it. I thought about just going home early from work but me being the stubborn person I am, I ended up staying the whole time.
On my drive home after getting off, I remember wincing in pain and taking deep breaths while trying to stay composed because the pain was getting unbearable. I called the advice nurse and they told me if it gets worse I should call back and they might have to admit me into the emergency to see what was going on. I had the hardest time falling asleep that night. I was constantly tossing and turning until around 2 in the morning. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and Mark made me call the labor and delivery nurse to see what I should do next. They told me it sounds like I could be having contractions and to go there right away.
Me and Mark went to the ER unprepared, coming only with our keys, wallet, and water bottles in hand. The nurse who checked us in laughed as we came empty handed while the family ahead of us brought overnight bags and a car seat. She said, “Wow you guys packed light.” We laughed nervously realizing that it did not occur to us at all that I could have a baby within the next couple of days since I wasn’t due for another 2 months. As the doctor came in to check me she said I was 1 cm dilated and that I was lucky I came in when I did or I would have been further dilated. I found out I was in preterm labor. They gave me medication to slow down the contractions and a steroid injection so my baby’s lungs could mature faster in the womb before being born and if they were effective I could potentially go home.
A Doctor came in and talked to me about the possibility of having a premature baby and how a baby born at 32 weeks would definitely need to stay in the NICU at least until they reach full gestation which is around 40 weeks. I just remember bawling my eyes out because I was so sad to have to leave my baby in the hospital and I wouldn’t be able to take him home. Mark reassured me he would be in good hands but I was so crushed at the thought of not being with my baby for such a long time.
After my first dose of medications the contractions decreased and I could finally sleep comfortably for at least a couple of hours. The next morning I felt a lot better, my contractions slowed down and the doctor said I could be monitored and transferred to the neonatal floor and eventually be discharged to go home. I was so happy because it meant that my baby’s birth would be delayed by at least a couple days if not hours. A couple days didn’t seem like much but when your baby is born premature every second spent in the womb is crucial, as told to me by the Doctor. Hours passed and I was exhausted by being checked on by the nurses and doctors every 2 hours, but everytime they came in I was feeling much better in hopes that I could finally go home.
It wasn’t until I started getting contractions again and I was further dilated at 3-4cm. That’s when everything started to speed back up again. After they saw how dilated I was, the nurse told me I needed to be transferred back to the labor and delivery floor. I remember feeling contractions more often than before. I remember her talking to me and saying, “It looks like you’re going to have this baby today,” and I was so scared for what was to happen next. I was in so much pain that I was like “Okay, whatever, how can I make him come out faster?” But the thing that stuck with me was when the Doctor came in to talk to me prior to giving birth and told me,”It’s not your fault.” I didn’t get that until later. There’s a lot of guilt that comes when having a premature baby. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I wish I could have done something different, I wasn’t sure what that was but it broke me knowing that I couldn’t keep my baby inside me long enough for him to be healthy.
I was so mentally and physically exhausted that all I really wanted was to fall asleep but the contractions were getting closer and closer to each other that I knew for a fact this baby was coming soon. I kept asking for pain medications but they had given them to me so often that they were starting to wear off quicker and quicker to the point where the nurses told me there was nothing else they could give besides doing an epidural. I was too scared to do an epidural because of all the horror stories I’ve heard before of people getting paralyzed after giving birth because of it, so I refused it. The nurses respected my wishes and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. At some point I was having such bad contractions that I couldn’t even call the nurse for help because the pain was that bad.
Things started to speed up a bit and the Doctor informed me that they were going to prep the delivery room for me. I constantly nodded my head in response to everything because I couldn’t really think straight but I wanted them to know I was aware of what was going on. I remember being wheeled in the delivery room and there were so many nurses surrounding me and it looked like there was a lot going on. Once I reached about 6-7cm the doctor decided that I could either wait for my water to break or they could break it themselves to speed up the process. I told them to pop it so I could get it over with because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Once my water was broken, I pushed for a couple of minutes but nothing was happening.
The doctor said that he didn’t like what the baby’s heartbeat was looking like and if I didn’t push him out soon they would have to intervene. To be completely honest, I was so out of it that I don’t even remember what was happening. All I knew was that if I didn’t push this baby out they would have to intervene and in the moment I absolutely did not want to get a C-section, so I started to push as hard as I could. The other doctor then coached me while in labor to push my baby out by holding my breath for 10 seconds while I was having a contraction. I did just that and then about 15 mins or so later my baby was finally born.
Later I learned that that was the most incorrect way to push a baby out. You’re not supposed to hold your breath, you’re supposed to breathe through it and let it come out naturally but they were so pressed on getting him out that I didn’t really have a choice. I pushed so hard that my eyes were bloodshot and I got freckles on my face from breaking so many blood vessels. The bloodshot in my eyes didn’t go away for weeks. I looked so scary.
All I could really remember was saying “HI BABY” a hundred times and trying to rub all of the white stuff over his body because I heard that it was good for their skin. Then he was whisked away and went off to get weighed and measured then went straight to the NICU. After giving birth and getting a second for me and my baby to get settled the nurses mentioned to me that we could go visit him but this would be the only time we could see him together because of COVID. After that only one parent was able to visit per day.
At the moment I actually liked the fact that there were COVID restrictions and not that many people could come in because I felt like this was such an intimate moment. I wouldn’t want so many people in my delivery room while I was giving birth so I wasn’t really upset. It was after my birth experience that I wished my mom was there with me. She would know how to calm me down and check on me while I was having contractions and overall she would just know what to do. Mark barely knew what to do when it came down to it because we just were not mentally prepared for this early birth and on top of that he was sick so he wasn’t even in the right headspace himself.
We walked down to the NICU and saw him in his incubator with all the wires and mini cpap over him and his little IV line attached to his arm. We weren’t able to carry him because his oxygen levels were low at the time so we stuck our hands inside to hold him. When I saw Jojo in the incubator for the first time it truly felt unreal. I was fine seeing him attached to all the machines because I knew that those were helping him thrive outside the womb but I was so sad that I couldn’t hold him that first time and actually get to see what he looked like. Mark took pictures shortly after he was born during his weight check so I would just stare at those for hours so I could just imagine what he looked like. I just couldn’t believe how small he really was. He was so tiny at 3 lbs.
It was so unbelievable what just happened. I went back down a couple hours later while Mark rested during his touch times where the nurses check his vitals and I finally got to hold him in my arms since giving birth. I would soon find out that that would be one of the last times I would get to see him in person. They laid him on my chest and I couldn’t believe he was mine.
After coming back in the room, I later found out that Mark was coming down with a headache and wasn’t feeling well. He let the nurses know and they suggested that he leave and get tested for COVID just in case. After he left I was alone in my room until the next morning. I couldn’t have visitors due to COVID, so once again I was alone. I couldn’t even go to see my baby because I was at risk of having COVID, so I just stayed in my room until I was able to be discharged the next day. About a day after arriving home, I noticed I was starting to have a cough. At this point Mark had come back positive for COVID so I knew for sure I had it too.
I let the doctors know at the NICU our situation and they said it’s best for us not to come in until we’ve had our 2 weeks of quarantine. I was crushed. I was so angry at Mark for giving me COVID, but I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. The NICU nurses allowed me to FaceTime Jojo everyday for two weeks until I could actually see him in person. It felt surreal to me that I just had a baby because I was finally home, but it was just me there. On top of that, Mark couldn’t be with me either because we were both in quarantine. It seemed like the loneliness never stopped. I was also worried that my baby wouldn’t know who I was because the first days after birth were so crucial for bonding that I was feeling so shitty at the fact that I couldn’t be there. Nonetheless, I continued to keep myself fed and hydrated so that when the time came, I would be healthy enough to see my son.
Pumping in general was never a challenge for me. I always heard of people having a hard time pumping and producing milk but that was never the case for me. My only concern was that because I had COVID, I didn’t know if it was still safe for me to give my milk to my baby. The Doctor’s told me it was actually beneficial and I should be giving it to him not only for the health benefits it has but so it could potentially provide antibodies from the COVID virus. I didn’t think much of that until I noticed that my milk was turning green. At first I thought that my milk was getting spoiled but I wasn’t sure why it would be spoiled if I was handling it properly. Then I saw a post on Instagram talking about how breast milk turns colors when moms get sick and provides antibodies for your baby. I was in such awe about how amazing mothers’ bodies are and how our bodies were made to sustain a baby’s life.
At last my two week quarantine was up and I would finally be able to hold my baby again for the first time in 2 weeks. I was so happy to see him after only seeing him through a screen. He was so plump and had so much more hair than I remembered. He was growing so fast and I remember him always smiling when we FaceTimed, but I cried the first time I got to see it in person. I knew there were so many angels surrounding him in the NICU that would keep him safe and looked after him while I couldn’t be there with him. I hated leaving him so I would stay there without eating just so I could be with him all day. Leaving Jojo was the hardest, but I knew the day would come when I could finally bring him home.
Throughout those two weeks I got to see him, he was doing so well. The nurses said Jojo was their favorite because he was such a good and well mannered baby. I’m sure they said that to all the moms, but it made me so happy to know that he was doing so well without me there. One of the qualifications for them to be a NICU graduate was that they had to maintain their weight and hit at least 5 lbs. Everyday he grew so strong, he ate so well, and eventually he didn’t have to eat through his NG tube. Everyday was a celebration and every milestone hit from then on out was exciting. When Jojo was hitting all his milestones I felt like we were always just one step closer to him coming home. I wanted him to come home before Christmas so he wouldn’t have to celebrate another holiday in the NICU. I was so excited when I saw that he was gaining weight everyday and he finally got his NG tube out. All these little things could be checked off the box and he would eventually be a NICU graduate.
The day Mark and I finally got to bring him home, we were so nervous but ready to start this new chapter of our lives. Once our baby was in the stroller and we were on our way to our car we looked at each other and said, “Now what?”
It wasn’t until we walked out the hospital with him that day that he got discharged that it finally hit me. I felt like I was on my own now and there were no nurses to help me. I was really on my own and all the knowledge I got from the NICU nurses I would actually have to apply and eventually teach Mark how to do the same. I developed PTSD from hearing the machines go off and I was more paranoid than ever knowing that now as he was coming home, there was no way I could tell that he was breathing on his own other than physically looking at him and seeing his chest move up and down. Now that we’re past that and he’s sturdy and is doing things an almost 1 year old should do, it hits me every once in a while that he’s a whole human being and I have to take care of him everyday for the rest of my life.” -Cambria
“This is story 9 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is the last story of Tatay’s Series but I highly doubt this is the last time you’ll read about him. When I was planning out what each story would be about for Tatay’s Series, it really forced me to sit down and think about every idea, every memory, every feeling I wanted to express. I wanted to write about everything but at the same time drew blanks. It’s like that feeling when you know something so thoroughly, whether that be a show, book, subject, but when it comes to getting tested on that knowledge you question if you ever really knew all the answers, even though you know it’s there.
I arranged the stories in a way that I thought would benefit me most – let out all my anger in the beginning of the series so I could start to heal. I feel like all of that bottled up anger I have was blocking me from accepting Tatay’s passing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry and carry a lot of resentment, but it was a relief to get those feelings out into words and not just have them be thoughts in my head. As cliché as it sounds, I really felt my heart get lighter with each emotion I analyzed. I tried my best to have the stories somewhat come out in order, so you could follow along with me how fast, yet slow, his declining health was. I know this series has been 100% for me – giving my personal thoughts, first hand experiences, and memories with Tatay. But I hope whoever has been reading – especially my family – that this has helped you process your emotions around Tatay’s passing, even just a little.
Grief is very overwhelming. It’ll have you feeling a variety of emotions, then suddenly feel nothing at all. It’ll have you reminiscing about the past, hating the present, but trying to feel hopeful for the future. Grief will have you detach from the present day and desperately clinging onto memories. There are days where you want to be comforted, but would much rather be alone. You’ll start to panic at the fact that with time, there will be things that you will forget. It can be a lonely and exhausting process. Like me, grief will replay the same things in your head over and over again until you get it all out into words. And there are times where you purposely block out or avoid thinking of certain things because you know it’ll take you to a place that you’re not ready to face. That’s especially true for me, but when I close my eyes at night, I replay the same scenario. The day Tatay passed.
July 15, 2021 –
It was a Thursday night, and I was so relieved that the next day, Friday, would be the last day of work. This wasn’t just being excited for the weekend, but being excited for the long anticipated 2 week summer break. I was so excited to finally kick back, relax, sleep in, and do whatever I wanted for the next 2 weeks. The clock was winding down for summer break, but little did I know the clock was ticking for something else as well.
It was a typical Thursday night. I still had my hair wrapped up in a towel after getting out of the shower moments before. I went into my room and picked up my phone that was on the charger. I had left it charging during dinner time, even though I usually have it with me at the table. While it’s charging, I usually skim my notifications quickly to see if there’s anything I need to tend to as soon as possible. I saw a notification that I missed a call from my mom, and another notification saying my mom texted me.
“Tatay died @ 6:10 PM ,” the text read.
I stood there, staring at my phone. Kind of frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. I just stood there.
“Tatay died,” I told Christian.
I honestly don’t remember how he reacted or what his response was. I just said that I was going to call my mom. I stepped out of the room and dialed my mom’s number. She said that Tatay passed away about 30 minutes prior. I asked if I should make my way over to Tatay’s house, but my mom said that it was okay, there was no need to because he already passed away and my aunts, uncles, and dad were already headed over there. I asked if she was heading over, but she said she wasn’t. My dad is the only one who drives, and he was coming straight from work to Tatay’s house. We got off the phone, but I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t feel anything. I was in total shock, but not surprised at all. This was something we were prepared for.
It was really upsetting to me that I didn’t get a chance to sleep over Tatay’s house and help take care of him. All of the aunts and uncles were taking turns and having shifts to help care for Tatay. They finalized a tentative schedule during his 98th birthday, and they were going on week number 2 of the new routine. My dad and Auntie Salvie had the weekend shifts because they both worked throughout the week – the only 2 siblings that aren’t retired yet. My younger sister and I were trying to convince my younger cousins, Michael and Shawn, to sleep over with us while their mom and our dad did the weekend shift. We wanted to help care for Tatay, even if it was just letting my dad know that he needed something throughout the night. We had planned to sleep over Tatay’s house that upcoming Saturday, and I was excited. Not your typical excitement, since I knew that his health was declining, but excited in a sense that I would be useful in caring for him. It was just 2 days away. We never got the chance, and that really upset me.
I went to the bathroom just to sit down on the toilet and plan out my next move. I know my mom said there was no need to head over to Tatay’s house, but I knew in my heart that’s where I felt I needed to be. I opened the group chat with my sisters and Ate Nina. “Tatay died,” “I know, my mom told me,” I read on. I asked if anyone was planning to head to Tatay’s house because I really wanted to go but didn’t know if it was appropriate for me to go. Ate Nina said she was willing to go if we were going as well. Usually with us 4, it’s a group effort. My sisters quickly responded and said they wanted to go with her. Ate Nina let them know that she was going to start getting ready and pick them up. When my mom learned that Ate Nina was going to give a ride, she wanted to come as well. That was all the information I needed. I went to my room and told Christian that I was going to Uber to Tatay’s house.
Being that I live so deep in San Francisco, I knew I’d probably be the last one to arrive. So I quickly got dressed. I get pretty anal about my routine sometimes, and you’ll never catch me leaving the house after I’ve already showered and started my night routine. Of course, this was the exception to my rule. I threw on whatever was comfortable, and pulled my towel off my head, my hair still dripping wet. Christian was hosting his usual game night that night, so I let him know that it was okay to stay back and host it. I knew he was conflicted because he thought he should go with me for support, but I didn’t know what the tone would be like at Tatay’s house. I thought it was best if I go alone and report back on whatever was discussed. I just felt like I had to get out of the house as soon as possible. I needed to see Tatay, I had to be there.
I started to tear up as I waited outside for my Uber. It was cold, foggy, and my hair was still wet. Everything about the scenario fit the gloomy mood. I started to text my close friends that Tatay had passed, as I kept them in the loop throughout the last couple of months regarding Tatay’s health. I think typing out “My Tatay passed away,” made it feel more real. However, it still didn’t register completely. I was originally texting people that I was okay, that we as a family were expecting his passing. And at the time, I really meant it. I really felt “okay.” I wasn’t reacting the way I thought. I thought the moment I found out, I would be balling my eyes out. But that wasn’t the case. I feel like it took me a really long time to process everything. Everything that I prepared myself for went completely out the window. I would soon realize that as much as you prepare for the worst, you will never know for certain how you will take things until you’re actually living it. I thought I knew myself well enough to predict how I’d react, but that wasn’t the case.
My Uber finally came. I was fine the first couple of minutes, occasionally wiping my tears away, still really slick about it. The kind of tears that could be played off as something in your eye that you’re just wiping away. But then I started thinking about how things would be once I got to Tatay’s house. I was going to see his body. How would I react then? Would it be too much? Then I really thought about it. It dawned on me, holy shit, I’m going to see Tatay’s body! The tears started flowing uncontrollably. My nose started to drip under my mask, and there was no hiding my obvious discomfort anymore.
God bless my Uber driver’s heart, he didn’t ask if I was okay, he just rolled down the window for some fresh air, continued to drive, and tried his best not to look at me in the mirror. He probably thought that I got broken up with or something, and I felt a little embarrassed to the point where I wanted to call someone and be like, “Hey, Tatay died,” just so I didn’t look pathetic. But I thought, fuck it, Tatay’s dead, looking like a fool to a complete stranger is the least of my problems. I’m thankful that he didn’t try to talk to me because my Uber ride lasted about 30 – 35 minutes. It was a true 5 star experience because he minded his business and kept it moving. Literally.
During the Uber ride, I just kept mentally preparing myself to see Tatay’s body. I’ve only ever seen loved ones’ bodies during viewings and funerals. So this was something new to me. I’m also a huge scaredy cat and I get uncomfortable being in those settings. So I had no idea how I was going to process seeing Tatay lifeless in his bed, the same spot that I last seen him in. The same place where I saw him time and time again, week after week. I really had to process it and mentally prepare myself for what going to Tatay’s house really meant. Was I going to be hesitant to approach him? Was I going to be scared? Would I keep my distance? I didn’t know. But at the same time, my worst fear was that they would have Tatay’s body be removed from the house before I got there.
When I got to Tatay’s house I opened the door and said hello to everyone that was in the livingroom, but quickly went upstairs. I got upstairs and saw my Auntie Lilia and Auntie Luz in the hallway in front of Tatay’s room. I said hi, and kept it moving. In Tatay’s room stood my dad at Tatay’s bedside and Tita on the other side. My dad was holding a napkin or cloth under Tatay’s chin. When I asked what he was doing, he said that he was trying to have Tatay’s mouth be closed as much as possible because he didn’t want whoever would be handling his body after to force his jaw closed and break something. I walked over to Tita and blessed her.
I looked at Tatay laying down before me. It just looked like he was asleep, but I knew that he wasn’t going to wake up. I burst into tears and started wheeping audibly, holding onto Tatay’s arm. Tita hugged me and she started to cry as well. Together, we wailed over Tatay’s body as my dad’s eyes began to water. What made me even more sad was what Tita was saying to me as I cried. “Tatay’s gone now. No more Tatay. Now there’s no reason for you guys to visit on Sundays anymore,” she cried in Tagalog. That broke my heart. I’ve always prepared myself for what life would be like without Tatay, but I never really considered what it would be like from Tita’s point of view. It crushed me to hear that she feared that we wouldn’t visit her anymore because Tatay was gone.
I wasn’t scared to be in the same room as Tatay, I wasn’t afraid to hold him, I wasn’t distant at all. I wanted to be next to him, and I was sad that I didn’t get to see him one last time. I was miserable to know that in just 2 days, we planned to sleep over and keep him company. It finally hit me. He was really gone. I asked my dad if he was okay, and headed back downstairs to join my cousins. I’ll never forget the hug my Kuya Ryan gave me after I sat down teary eyed. He didn’t try to hide his pain, he didn’t try to “be strong,” he was feeling the same exact feelings I was. It was a silent comfort and a mutual understanding of shared grief.
We stayed at Tatay’s house for a couple of hours. Almost every immediate family member that lives in the Bay Area was there that night. At one point, the story of the blue bird was told to us. As Tatay took his last breath around 6:10 PM in South San Francisco, a blue bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. This bird was flying back and forth in the house – curiously observing its surroundings. What’s even more crazy is that the family members who are living in the house took a video, not even knowing that Tatay had passed away. We were all shocked to learn this information, but it brought peace to our hearts.
All Tatay ever wanted was to be back home in Batangas. It’s all he talked about – wanting to be back home in the Philippines and live out the remainder of his life there. It hurt me to see him in his bed during the pandemic basically pleading with anyone who would listen to let him go back. With our hearts heavy, hearing the story of the little blue bird who entered Tatay’s house in the Philippines brought us great comfort and peace. Tatay finally made it back home. Of course that’s the first place he would go to once his spirit left the physical world. That’s what you wanted all along, Tatay. And I’m glad you’re finally there.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and nothing about it is pleasant. What I will say though, is that in times of need and tragedy, the family came together. Family came from all over to grieve with us, to lay our Tatay to rest, and be there for us in our time of need. The Cabillo family leaned on each other for support, plunging ourselves into the thick of planning to make Tatay’s service one that he deserved. In Filipino families, when someone passes, the next couple of weeks are anything but lonely. It seemed like we were always together, always at Tatay’s house, always discussing what we needed to do next. Even though they were under these circumstances, it felt good to have the family be so united.
And I know that’s what Tatay would’ve wanted. A few years ago, after his 95th birthday, we all sat at Auntie Lilia’s dinning room – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren – and interviewed Tatay. We wanted to know what he was most grateful for, what he wanted to be remembered by, and any messages he had for his future generations to come. Tatay was a man of few words, but he did let us know that he just wants us to be happy, to enjoy the company of those we choose to be around, and be together as a family. He just wanted his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all the family that he will never get the chance to meet, to be happy, have good health, and be united.
Even though Tatay’s passing was “expected,” it didn’t lessen the pain of having someone you love be gone. It took me a really long time to process Tatay’s death. Even at his viewing and funeral I still felt like it was an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching a movie and no way was this real life. But it is. And I still find myself choking up at the thought of seeing Tatay on his bed, or how he looked during his viewing. Just when I thought I knew the meaning of life, reality threw me a curve ball. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I really view life in a different way.
Tatay, this is my temporary goodbye, because I know I’ll see you again one day. This has been the hardest “see you later,” to date. Just know that your family is holding it down, and we’re trying to make you proud and live out your wish. Until then, you will find us at your grave every Sunday. Like old times, “Byeeee, Tataaaayyyy,” until we meet again…