It’s crazy to think that it’s been 1 year since Tatay passed away. One thing I’ve always known is the fact that time waits for no one. Whether we like it or not, life moves on with or without our consent. How is it possible for time to move so fast yet so dreadfully slow at the same time? I’ve always felt this way, but especially this year. So much has changed, is changing, and will change. I’m notorious for resisting change at all cost, but this 1 year without Tatay has forced me to accept the things I know I can’t change. These last 12 months without our Tatay Jack has had its ups and downs to say the least. The theme of the last 12 months have been: CHANGE.
For the first few months after Tatay passed, I had no dreams of him whatsoever. This may seem like a “…okay, and?” moment for others, but for me it was a big deal. I consider myself a very intuitive person, and have always had vivid dreams that I would read as signs either from the universe, loved ones from the other side, or things of that nature. I’ve always felt that I have a third eye to some degree. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked for the deeper meaning in things and always believed in signs. I’ve always believed that those we love are still around us after they pass. For me, I’ve always got those messages through dreams. So I was devastated when weeks had passed by with no dreams from Tatay. I was pretty bummed that he wasn’t visiting me because I desperately wanted a sign.
It took a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, for Tatay to start appearing in my dreams. When that moment happened, I was so relieved and felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. If he wasn’t with me in the physical world, at least I could still see him again in my dreams. It’s a comforting feeling to know that he still lives on in my subconscious memory. Every time I have a dream of Tatay the night before, I wake up feeling content with life. Losing Tatay is the void that I will forever be trying to fill for the rest of my life, and dreaming of him makes this change without him a little easier.
Even though it took a while for me to dream of Tatay, once it finally happened, it happened consistently. Some I remember vividly, and some very faintly. You know that feeling when you know someone was in your dream the night before but you can’t really remember all the details? You just remember envisioning their face and wishing that they were there and it were real life. For a while though, I had a few regular occurring dreams of Tatay. This frequent dream, I admit, is a bit morbid, and I would wake up feeling like I wanted to cry each time.
I dreamt this regular occurring dream over the span of a couple months. I wouldn’t dream of it everyday, but I can think of 3 or 4 different dreams where basically the same thing happens. In these dreams, I would be trying to convince people that Tatay was still alive, that it was all a mistake, and if they’d only listen to me, he’d be back with us. Like I said, these dreams were pretty morbid, but they always ended the same way. The dreams differed in small ways, but it was always the same gist. It was always that Tatay’s death was a misunderstanding, and he was in fact, still alive. In some of my dreams, we were even at the cemetery, the digger present to reopen his grave. Sometimes, it would even be me digging his plot, anxiously trying to prove that Tatay was buried alive. I had no doubt in my mind that he would come out, living, breathing, and perfectly well – a huge misunderstanding that we could easily fix.
I would wake up sad as fuck, wishing that that was actually our reality. But I knew it wasn’t, and it never could be true. I had this dream in different forms for a long time. One day, I casually told my sisters about my morbid occurring dream of Tatay. My older sister said, “That’s your subconscious not coming to terms that he passed away.” And I knew that was the case. It took such a long time for me to process and come to terms with the fact that Tatay passed, how he passed away when the state of the world was in shambles and had many restrictions, and feeling robbed of more time. It took a couple months for me to accept all of these things, and I guess it took my subconscious even longer to register in my brain that he was actually gone. For me, my dreams are always revealing what I push deep down and avoid. Just a few months ago, the reoccurring dreams of me thinking that Tatay was buried alive stopped. I guess it finally sank in, 1 year later.
I will admit though, there have been plenty of times where I simply forget that Tatay has passed on, even 1 year later. It’s crazy because I think about him all the time – he’s one of the first things I think of when I wake up, and always on my mind before I go to sleep. But there are still times when I enter his home and think that I’ll see him. There are still times I think we’re going to get him bread and drop it off for a quick visit. There are still times I think I’m going to be welcomed by the smell of Vick’s and hear his cane coming down the stairs. My head has adjusted to the fact that Tatay has passed on, but my heart still needs to get used to this new reality. Different places, smells, and times of the year bring me back to different memories of Tatay.
These last 12 months have brought on so much change for the Cabillo family. Extended family are starting to relocate elsewhere, and it’s a change we all have to get used to. For all my life, the core of the family has been in the Bay Area. Tatay was in the Bay Area with 5 of his 7 children. We got so used to family coming in from Vegas for Tatay’s birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmas’, that it’s unfathomable to think that that’s most likely a thing of the past now. Things were bound to change – our family is forever growing – but we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly.
I have never been one that conforms to change easily. I’m such a nostalgic person by nature – I’m big on family traditions, family time, and preserving things from the past. So when 1 by 1 we got news that family planned to relocate elsewhere, of course it made me sad. Because that meant that our family dynamic would soon be changing – everyone scattered around and no longer a short car ride away. But I’m aware that nothing stays the same forever, and if Tatay’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that. Change is inevitable, it’s a part of life, and it can be really sad. But in the midst of all this change, I’ve learned that it’s how you adapt to change that really matters. Feel those feelings and do whatever it takes to come to terms with the changes at hand, but pivot after and learn how to adjust.
Like I said many times, Tatay’s passing made me realize what and who is most important to me in this life. With Tatay gone, family moving away, and everyone doing their own thing, the family is well aware that we need to make a conscious effort to prioritize making time for each other to keep our family close. Effort and time is something that money can’t buy. The last 12 months without Tatay has taught me to be more mindful of being present for events for those I care about, even if that means expensive Ubers, plane tickets, and taking time off of work. Because at the end of the day, you can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time. Show people you care about them now, while you still can.
It has been a long, yet short, 1 year without our Tatay. One of my worst fears is that with time, I will forget tidbits of Tatay. From here on out, more and more time will pass. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my children will never meet their Tatay Jack in the physical world. But one thing’s for sure, my kids will hear many stories of their funny, gentle yet aggressive, animal-loving, likes things a certain way, Ray-Ban wearing Tatay Jack. 1 year ago, we lost such an important person in our family. But Tatay’s death has brought us closer in many ways. For my cousins and I, it definitely strengthened our desire to make the effort to keep our family close.
No matter what changes happen or where we all move to, home will always be where Tatay is.
For as long as I can remember, my main coping mechanism has always been sleeping. Whether I’m angry, sad, life in shambles, or have things heavy on my mind, the first thing my body wants to do is go to sleep. There is truly nothing a quick nap can’t fix. Just kidding, there is plenty that a short nap or even a deep hibernation can’t fix. But I have practiced this form of self-detachment for basically my whole life.
I am hands down one of the sleepiest girls you will ever meet. I am never not tired. Even when I get a great night’s sleep, I am still tired. I’m not a coffee or morning tea person, as I don’t want to be dependent on caffeine. I love tea, but 97% of the tea I drink is in my milk tea. As a result of my personal choice to avoid being dependent on caffeine, I am forced to run on my natural energy, which is close to 0 a lot of the time. I’m the bitch that schedules in a nap in-between events to make sure that I am recharged. It doesn’t matter if I take a long afternoon nap, I can still sleep soundly at night.
I overthink everything, to the point where I annoy myself. Sleeping is my way of shutting off my mind, even if it’s only temporarily. It’s like getting a break from yourself. You don’t want to overthink the scenario anymore, overthink the decision at hand, or jump to conclusions, so, you sleep it out. If you’re a person that gets in your head a lot, you know what I mean. I’ve learned a long time ago that overthinking can be the mental death of you. There are times when there’s literally no point to overthink things that have already happened or are just beginning to unfold. Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, and sometimes it feels like it literally can’t be done.
Yes, it’s avoiding feelings and suppressing my emotions from time to time – well, every time – but if the situation at hand is not fixable in the moment, there’s no point in stressing myself out. I’d rather detach and deal with that shit when I wake up. I’m not saying it’s the right way to handle things, but I’ve noticed this continuous pattern that I’ve repeated since I was a kid. When I get overwhelmed, I’ll sleep it out until I get the motivation to deal with it, let it go, or keep suppressing it. Sleeping away my problems definitely won’t solve anything, but at least I’ll be well-rested.
Everyone knows that awesome feeling when your head makes contact with that pillow. You can go to bed with a thousand and 1 problems, but with time, you slowly drift in and out of consciousness. The things that are stressing me out, or whatever scenario is heavy on my mind starts to get cloudy. And for a moment in time, my problems don’t exist. If I’m not awake to think about what’s bugging me, then it’s not a thought in my mind. I escape my reality briefly. And for a split second, I’m just existing in the universe, problem free, and at total rest. I let my mind do its thing, and I eventually surrender to my own subconscious. When I’m asleep, I’m detached from worldly complications, life is still, I don’t have a care in the world – even if it’s just temporarily.
I flip and turn in my sleep, and in those brief moments of slightly being awake, I try my best to lull myself back to sleep. There have been many instances where I’m teeter tottering between being awake and remaining asleep, and my mind starts to remember the issue, and I quickly try to get some more shut eye. Naps and sleeping are a great escape from your present day problems. It’s a great distraction to have when the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It forces you to detach and revisit the issue at another time.
That’s probably why people say, “I’ll sleep on it,” when making an important decision. Sometimes in the moment, you can’t think clearly. It takes a while to process information, stress, and getting the full story on things. So at times, sleeping it out is a great way to delay that process when you need more insight. Because of course nobody wants to make decisions in the heat of the moment or act out irrationally. Sleeping allows you to let things sink in and buys you time to see what you really want to do. It’s a very crucial step in my decision making thought process. Ironically, being unproductive can sometimes help me be productive when I wake up.
However, it does have its bad aspects as well. I feel like sleeping can be very productive when you can come to a conclusion right after. But for me, sometimes my coping mechanism of sleeping it out just prolongs my decision. Or, I sleep on it too many times that I end up just doing nothing and not dealing with it. I can push it to the side and avoid the problem all together. At times I feel like that 1 episode of Avatar the Last Airbender when Aang frustratedly asks Boomi why he didn’t put up a fight / do anything when the Fire Nation invaded his land. He casually said that he was waiting around and doing nothing, waiting for the right moment to strike. He had to wait and listen for the right moment to make a move.
I feel like I’m Boomi, doing “nothing” by taking naps to escape my problems, waiting to see when it’s the right time to act on something. I’m just waiting it out and seeing how I feel when I sleep on it. Do I choose to react? Do I make a decision ASAP? Do I even have to make a decision? Do I just let it go? If it’s important, I’ll eventually come up with something. And if I don’t come up with something….
“This is story 10 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 Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:
“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon.
When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill.
You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.
Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.
But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.
We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.
May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.
My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised.
Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best.
The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.
I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.
The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh.
Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit.
The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?
It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.
I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot.
As a mother, naturally you are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too.
It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.
What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him.
I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison.
Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.
Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.
I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.
I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.
The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.
Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.
My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.
However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad.
Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there.
It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.
I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.
The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie
“This is story 2 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
I’ve always considered myself very close to my Tatay, “Tatay Jack,” as I grew up calling him. I’ve always looked at him like he was a living relic because of his old age. 98! The things he witnessed and lived through always intrigued me. How he carried himself, how his mind worked thinking things through, where he came from, and how he grew up was so fascinating to me. He was 98 years old, but I expected 98 more. As naïve as it sounds, I never pictured my life without him. Of course I knew that with his old age, and given the life expectancy of your average person, it was childish and absurd to think that we would be on Earth together for as long as I lived. But, it was still my train of thought. To me, he lived against all odds, he was invincible.
With time, Tatay’s health started to decline little by little, and then drastically throughout the pandemic. When we would visit him, I couldn’t help but look at him with a heavy heart and wonder to myself how much time he actually had left with us. I know that’s a wretched way of thinking, but my brain was already mentally preparing my heart for the worst. At the same time, it made me cherish the times we went to see him even more because I knew time was not on our side. We all knew it was going to come one day, but I didn’t want that day to be now – or ever for that matter. But I knew I had to come to terms with the reality of life and death.
I expected to be an absolute wreck because I know myself to be a very emotional person when it comes to death. I expected myself to be more obviously distraught, crying at just the thought of him, and a ball of nerves and emotions. Instead, I find myself numb, withdrawn, and avoiding my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly sad, angry, and grieving, but my response to the passing of my Tatay is not the reaction I had prepared myself for. I find myself grieving in waves.
After receiving news of Tatay’s death, it’s like I was watching a movie, a total out of body experience. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, like it wasn’t even reality. As a family, we all had to process his death, but also go immediately into planning mode for his service. I found it easier to busy myself with tasks like writing his eulogy and looking through pictures to send to my sister to put on his slideshow than to deal with my sorrow and anger. For me, I didn’t have time to be sad. My main concern was capturing Tatay’s life in the best way possible for his eulogy and doing my part in giving him the best service, because that’s what he deserved.
Coincidently, Tatay passed a day before my last day of work before a 2 week long summer break. I was looking forward to this break for so long to finally unwind and relax. I soon realized that I would be using these 2 weeks off to mourn and bury my grandfather. Trying to make light of the situation, I would tell people closest to me that at least I had two weeks off of work to deal with his passing, oppose to grieving while still having to work 8-5 Monday through Friday. Christian and I had planned a week long stay in SoCal to visit his family before Tatay passed. Our Airbnb was non-refundable, so I decided to go for a couple of days instead of a full week to not entirely waste our money. The plan was for me to go to SoCal for a couple days and cut the trip short so I could be present for all of Tatay’s services, and Christian left SoCal shortly after me so he could be there in time for Tatay’s funeral.
It was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was on summer break, but I was so sad that it was under these circumstances. On my last day of work I got my nails done at the salon to prepare for my long anticipated vacation, even though all I could think about was the fact that Tatay wasn’t here anymore. I tried to force myself to get excited for the trip and have it be something to take my mind off of my reality for a while. I picked white for my manicure and pedicure so when I came back from SoCal, I was – dare I say – “funeral ready.” My aunts wanted all of us to wear white the day of his funeral.
The whole time I was in SoCal, I knew I had to write my speech that I would read during his viewing service. I brought my laptop and everything with me to type it up. But I couldn’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop and get started. Instead, I was mentally writing it in my head, drafting down nothing. I stalled on writing my speech because that would crystalize my reality – Tatay is gone, this is your last goodbye. So I stalled and stalled some more until I was back in the Bay Area. There was so much I wanted to say, so many memories I wanted to include, so many points I wanted to make, but no words on my screen. All that stood before me was a blinking cursor.
I procrastinated for so long, but it got to a point where I had to finish the speech because his viewing service was less than 24 hours away. This is part of the reason why I decided to write a series for Tatay. I had so much to say, but knew that his viewing wasn’t the place or the time. I wanted to go in depth about some topics and give my honest feelings about my grief, but I knew it probably wasn’t the appropriate setting for it. So I made the speech short and sweet, brushing over the topics I wanted to rant about. Thinking about it now, that probably added to my repression.
The viewing and the funeral was such an emotional rollercoaster. I’d have intense sadness that would result in audible weeping and uncontrollable crying. But then there would be other instances where I’d just have this out of body experience and just be seeing things play out right before my eyes. My grief was coming in waves, and I didn’t know how to let it all out. I felt as though I had an on/ off button for my emotions, but I had no control over it. As they lowered Tatay’s casket into the ground, I remember feeling completely numb. I didn’t cry, I didn’t look away, I just thought to myself, “damn. This is really happening.” I felt emotionally constipated. I had that feeling in my throat where I knew my soul wanted me to cry more tears to relieve my sadness, but nothing was coming out.
And shortly after his funeral, life went “back to normal,” and work started back up again. Only 2 weeks had passed, but I felt like a completely different person. The day Tatay died, I was telling everyone that I was okay, that my family and I were expecting his departure. It took me 2 weeks to realize that I actually wasn’t okay. On the outside, I was continuing with day to day tasks, keeping up with work, doing everything I did before Tatay passed. But on the inside, I was bursting at the seams with emotions, yet at the same time, empty and emotionless. The more I wanted to simmer in my grief and heartache, the colder I got. I couldn’t figure it out. Internally I felt emotionally constipated. And my gut feeling was telling me that all of my buried emotions were about to burst out and surface at a time when I least expected it. I didn’t know that out of all things, my manicure and pedicure would be the thing to set me off. Yup, nail polish is what made me crack.
I usually change my manicure color every week. I have my own gel curating machine at home and a ton of gel nail polish sets. I get tired of my manicures pretty quickly, and the moment I see a chip in my nail polish, I’ll take it as a sign to peel those bad boys off and change the color. My manicures last at most, 1.5 weeks, and that’s part of the reason why I do my own nails and rarely get them professionally done because ain’t nobody have time or money for all of that. I have no problem taking off a manicure and switching it up, it’s something I’ve been doing for years. But the manicure I got the day after Tatay passed was different. I was clinging onto that manicure for dear life.
I refused to change my white gel manicure. It was done with salon gel nail polish, so to be fair and honest, they did last way longer than my gel nail polish that I get from Amazon. This manicure was on week number 3, going on 4. I realized that I was getting fixated on changing my manicure, but brushed it off. “I’ll deal with that later when it actually comes time to change it,” I thought to myself. It’s the longest manicure that has ever lasted on my hands. My nails were growing out, and it was definitely time to change the color. But I was so hesitant. Why? Because time.
For me, seeing my nails growing out and doing a new manicure meant that time was passing. This is obviously a given, but in my head, my manicure was a measurement of time. Since I got it the day after Tatay passed and picked a color that was appropriate for his funeral, to me, changing the color meant significant time had passed since he left the physical world. My nail polish color is something so small and irrelevant, and I didn’t expect to be so fixated on the concept of what changing the color meant to me. Changing my manicure meant that time was passing, that his death was no longer “recent,” that time was moving forward and there was nothing I could do about it. I burst out into tears and started wailing.
I knew I had a lot of emotions that I had to sort through to cope with Tatay’s death. Grief is a tricky thing. One day you think you’re okay, and then another day you’re in complete shambles. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m worried that I’ll forget him. Writing this series is my way of letting it all out. I know I have to sort out all of my grief and lay it all out on the table or I’m just going to keep avoiding these feelings.
It’s crazy to think of all the little things we seem to overlook when it becomes routine. We’re so used to people, things, feelings, interactions – whether big or small, on a daily basis. Most times, little things in our routine change, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s not, sometimes you don’t even notice the change, and sometimes you realize it but keep it movin’ because what can you do?
For over 6-ish years, my dad and I literally crossed paths with an old man from our neighborhood almost every day. He was a Japanese old man, probably in his 70’s or 80’s, it’s hard to tell because he seemed to be in good health – being that he would talk to my dad every day during his morning walk. He had white hair, that kind of hairstyle where they’re bald in the middle, but he covered it with a Golden State Warriors championship hat, usually with a matching blue Golden State Warriors Letterman-type jacket. And his most important feature – his smile. He was always in a good mood, with a huge smile on his face. He just radiated kindness. My little sister and I described him as the “cute old man.”
For years, it was routine for me to walk out of the garage to find my dad talking to this man. How did they even get close? I don’t even know. My dad is the type of guy that smiles and says good morning to strangers if they so happen to walk by our house. My sisters and I have crazy schedules, between my older sister’s job, and at the time my little sister & I’s changing school and work schedules, my dad was basically always chillin infront of our house anywhere from 7:30 am to 1 pm, waiting for the next daughter he had to drop off (bless my dad’s heart, he works hard as hell.) before he leaves for work at 1 pm.
When I would walk out of the garage to get in the car, I would already expect my dad to be talking to this kind old man. When they would see me, my dad would say something along the lines of “Well, there’s my next customer!” The old man, with his charming warm smile, would wave at me as I say goodmorning to him, and he would tell my dad, “Ah! Taxi, your next rider is here!” He would say departing words to my dad, and 10 see ya later’s/goodbye’s we would be on our way. My dad would get in the car with a big smile on his face, close the garage, and pull out of our driveway. All the while, our friend would be waiting infront of our house for us to drive away, we’d wave goodbye, he’d do the same, and then we’d drive off. Through the mirror I’d see him continuing his morning walk, going up the hill towards the stop lights. This was routine. Every day.
My dad would tell me little bits and pieces of this man he got to know over the years. He knew he was Japanese, that he had an adult son he wasn’t close to because of the son’s troubled past, his wife had passed away and he was living alone, and he basically had no family in the area. He lived a block away from us, which is why our paths crossed plenty of times during his daily walks. He expressed to my dad that his next door neighbor was his friend, who was on his Will to obtain his house and belongings when he was to pass away.
As the years went by, gradually, things began to change. It seemed that we would pass by him on our car ride to school or Bart, when in the past, he would already be talking to my dad in the driveway way before we got out. It seemed that either our times weren’t lining up, we left earlier, or he started his walks later. All of this was so minuscule to me at the time, but now that I look back, I see that it was his health declining. My dad would make comments that he would see him taking a few steps and pausing. He was getting weaker and older, but still he persisted on with his daily walks. Everytime we passed by him in the car, my dad would honk. The old man would smile and lift up his whole arm to say hello, and we went about our drive. It made me sad to think that my dad and him didn’t talk as often, because it seemed like our times weren’t matching up anymore. Like I said, schedules changed, he was getting older/ walking slower, and we just seemed to see him in passing.
As time went on, it went from seeing him everyday, to seeing him every other day, to seeing him once a week. Gradually, we saw him less and less. This was all over a span of years, so it didn’t seem too drastic as how I explain it now. Like I said, we get so used to routine, that little changes in our day seem so minor, until you look back and realize it’s no longer the same.
The last time I could remember seeing our friend was around November 2018. I want to say sometime after Thanksgiving. It was a brief encounter since I was on the way to school. From what I remember he came walking up our street just as we were about to get in the car. They talked about the Warriors briefly, and that was that.
In February 2019, it had been months since we seen him. I asked my dad a few times before if he had seen the old man recently, and he also said he hadn’t seen him in a while. My dad thought that he had passed away since we hadn’t seen him in months. I brought it up a few more times, and when I didn’t verbally ask my dad, I thought about it everytime I got in the car in the morning and we didn’t see him.
Finally, one night when my dad and I got home, I brought up to my little sister how we haven’t seen the old man in very long. My dad agreed that it had been such a long time, that he’s pretty sure he had passed away. He also told us that he drove past his house a couple days before and saw a big container in the driveway filled with belongings, further explaining why he’s been M.I.A. That thought made my little sister freak out, even though I knew it was a huge possibility. My dad enthusiastically said , “Ok, Marinelle, tomorrow before I go to work, we’ll drive by his house and knock on the door.” This made me happy but at the same time sadness had taken over me. I thought it would be good to get closure on our longtime friend, but I had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be what I expected. I doubted that he was at home just chillin this whole time, but a part of me still clung to hope that it was a possibility.
My little sister was bummed that she wouldn’t be present when my dad and I planned to go since she would be at school. I asked my dad how he even knew where he lived, and he said, “I’ve been in his house before! In his garage.” My dad also brought up how he would give the old man bread from the bakery, after dropping some off to my grandpa. My dad said he would see him walking by and would give him a portion of our family’s share. All these things we never knew, my dad going to his house, giving him bread, all these aspects of this man’s life that we had no idea of.
“… wait…. do you even know his name…” I asked my dad.
“…….I think its Steven? Steve?”
“Bruh! How have you been talking to him for years and not even know his name?!” Yes, I called my dad ‘bruh.’
“I…… I don’t know it never came up…” My dad said sheepishly.
“Did he know your name?”
“You know, I don’t think so. We might have said it maybe 1 time and we never called each other by name.”
The next day before my dad went to work, we drove the block to the old man’s house. The big container my dad was talking about was gone. There was no car in the driveway. My dad got out of the car and made his way to the house. I lost sight of my dad since the stairs were located on the side of the house. But I did hear a bell ringing. Not a doorbell, but an actual bell that you have to “gong.” After about 5 minutes my dad came back to the car.
“Yeah, he didn’t answer… I think he passed away,” my dad said.
“Was that a real bell?”
“Yeah, he said his doorbell wasn’t working so he just has a lot of bells.”
I felt bad that my dad didn’t get any closure. I looked at the old man’s house again. I saw that his neighbor 2 houses down was outside cleaning her car.
“Go ask his neighbor, or you’ll never know,” I told my dad. My dad’s a shy dude, so I expected him to say Nahhhhhh and drive off and forever wonder. To my surprise he agreed and got out of the car.
I watched as my dad approached the middle aged lady. She was cleaning her car and had to turn off her vacuum. From the car I could hear my dad say “… yeah, he’d be walking all the time.” After about 3 minutes my dad returned.
He got in the car and explained that he asked the neighbor about the old man that lived in “that” house.
“Oh, James? He passed away a couple months ago,” she told my dad.
My dad went on to say that he knew he passed away because it was so long since the last time we seen him. I said atleast we knew for sure and wouldn’t have to be wondering anymore. It was a pretty depressing moment and my dad said how the whole situation was just sad. I tried to brighten up the mood and car ride…
“Bruh, you said his name was Steve.” I said. My dad laughed and shook his head.
When I texted the group chat with my sisters and told them that James had passed away, my little sister texted back that she was actually tearing. He was a familiar face that we saw almost daily. His smile and positive upbeat attitude will always be the first thing I think about when I remember him. Mornings aren’t the same as they used to be. But nothing stays the same. These small routines and conversations were just that at the time – small routines that you don’t think twice about. But now that he’s gone, it makes us think of him everytime we pull out of the driveway to start off our day / morning.
This day was a rough one. It was the 10 year death anniversary of my grandma, “Mama,” and it hit me hard that it has really been a decade without her.
I remembered early in the morning what day it was, but it really hit me at night. My boyfriend, Christian, was at work, so I was watching Netflix at his apartment waiting for him to get off. I remembered again that it was my Mama’s death anniversary, and as the room started to dim with night time approaching, I decided to face what I was feeling head on.
You see, on her other death anniversaries, I would get a little sad, but wouldn’t get too sad because I know she no longer suffers from her Diabetes and is in a better place, along with her son and my grandpa, Tatay Celso.
But this anniversary was different. It’s one of those milestone years where you’re like… shit, it’s really been that long? Sitting in the dark and turning Netflix off, I played the song my cousins and I danced to at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. The song is called “Tanging Yaman.” I remember my cousins and I practicing outside of Mama’s house, the waltz-like dance we had to perform infront of our family and family friends. It was a surprise party for my grandparents, but close to the date of the party, they were both admitted into the hospital for different health reasons. At that point my family had to continue with the party, with or without my grandparents present, because all the invitations were out and it was too close to the date to cancel. We thought we’d be performing for no one. I mean, the whole crowd of those invited would see, but not the 2 people that mattered. My Mama ended up being able to go to the party, and although we were sad that our Tatay Celso was still in the hospital, we were glad that atleast one of them got to make it to the party.
“Ikaw Ang aking, tanging yaman… (‘You are my greatest treasure’),” the song played on. All of a sudden I’m in tears, sad and angry. It’s really been 10 years?! I texted this to my group chat with my sisters:
I was getting angry at myself for not remembering as much as I used to. I stayed at Mama’s house 6 days out of the week. Everyday afterschool, my sisters, cousins, and I would walk across the street to Mama’s house and wait for my uncle or my mom to pick us up after they got off work. And every Sunday everyone was at Mama’s house after church. It was like a party every Sunday.
And now here I was, crying in the dark because it was such a big chunk of my life, and now I feel like I don’t remember as much as I should. It made me feel some type of way knowing that from here on out, I’m probably going to remember less and less as I get older. And I hate it. I mean it’s not like I don’t remember anything. I always joke around that my memory is so sharp that it’s almost annoying. But the normal thing of: as time goes on the memories fade a little more, especially since I was like 12 when she passed away.
Christian came back home and greeted me as he walked in.
“Whatsup,” he said.
“I’m being emo,” I said hiding in the covers in complete darkness.
But then I started telling Christian about my grandma who he’ll never meet. And retelling the stories made me feel better. Like the time I was 5 years old and everyone thought I got kidnapped. Mama’s house was right across the street from my school’s church. On a Sunday while the whole family was over her house, Mama walked out of the house in her white lace veil and Rosary. For some reason I was playing on the stairs outside by myself. She asked me if I wanted to go to church with her, and I said yeah. I made the mistake of not letting anyone inside know that I was going with her. I remember being happy that I was going to church with Mama and it was just us 2. But I also remember sitting in the church aisle and staring at the people sitting behind us, and looking at one of the church door open seeing my mom frantically trying to find me calling my name. I have no idea what happened after that 😂😂😂. I remember asking my mom if it was just a dream or if it actually happened in real life, and she looked at me like “no, bitch, that really happened and we really thought you got kidnapped!” 😂😂😂
Or the times my Tatay Celso would drive me and my little sister to pick up Mama from Dialysis, and I would hold her arm and help her walk back into the car. Little pudgy 5 year old me would get so giddy when I heard one of the people working at the Dialysis tell Mama, “oh your granddaughter is a big help!”
Mama would tell me, “Sunog, get food for the Santo Niño,” all of this would be in Tagalog of course. “Sunog” was my nickname, which means “burned/burns” because of the burn scars I have on my left arm. Anything Mama would ask me to do, I would do it. Putting little food offerings infront of her statues of Santo Niño and Mary was something she would do herself, but as time passed and her health declining, I was happy to do it for her.
On her death anniversaries, I try to remember the good. And honestly sometimes I try not to remember because I get upset when I remember I didn’t have a chance to say my goodbyes. My parents didn’t want my sisters & I to be present, so us 3 stayed at home while my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins said their goodbyes at the hospital. My parents didn’t want us to see her like that and I understand their decision. But sometimes I wonder if she noticed we weren’t there.
This post took me a span of a week and a half to write because I kept stopping. I didn’t know how to put what I felt into words. I try to end most of my posts on a positive note or have a resolution for whatever issue I’m talking about. But in this case, there is no resolution. No matter how much I try to focus on the positive, the truth is: time will still pass. And as much as i hate it, time will go on I’ll remember less and less. And there’s nothing more I can do to remember things I’ve already forgotten. But sharing a little of what I remember makes me feel better.
I never got to say my goodbyes, but I would say it in my head all the time. I pray that she’s still around during family get togethers and that she watches over us, which I know she does.