“Infinity Is Forever”

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A year ago, my cousin, Nina, would never have imagined that she would be raising her son and daughter alone. But it’s the sad reality that she faces now. On September 28, 2016, she unexpectedly lost Will, the man she loved and been with for 9 years. Before this, everything seemed to be going in their favor; they got back together and were expecting their second child, they moved into the top level of the house Nina grew up in, and they were finally a family again after some time apart. Their lives drastically changed when Will passed away, leaving her with a son that was almost 5 years old, and a 2 month old baby girl.

The day after Will’s 1 year death anniversary, Nina decided to get a tattoo in honor of him. Before he passed away, Will wanted his next tattoo to be an infinity sign. When he brought it up she told him that she also wanted it too, and that they should get the tattoo together instead of him buying her an engagement ring.

“I told him, ‘I don’t want a real ring, I’d rather [we] have a house, and then we can just get tats on our ring fingers.’ That’s more permanent than a diamond ring,” she said matter of factly.

So I went with her to get her infinity tattoo, and she wanted to incorporate what seemed like 10 other ideas into it. With great thought, Nina decided to keep the tattoo simple, and stuck to the infinity sign with a music note that Will had tattooed on his hand. Music was Will’s passion, and she wanted to capture that in her tattoo for him.

It’s crazy to think that it has really been a year since Will passed away. And in this past year, I’ve witnessed my cousin change. She admits that she finds herself more antisocial, not wanting people to see her or be around others. She explains how even when she is out with friends, she’s not engaged in any of the conversations that they’re having, and her mind is in a thousand different places. After 2 hours of hanging out, she just wants to go home to her babies and call it a day.

Nina tries to keep herself busy to keep her mind off of the fact that Will isn’t here anymore. When she has too much free time, she’ll replay memories from the past and just overwhelm herself with too many emotions.

“What makes me cry the most is the fact that he’s not here to help me with the kids,” she says frustrated. “It makes me mad that he couldn’t stay here to help me and help raise them.”

And when she starts to overthink, she is met with the same feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt. Before Will passed away, and while she was pregnant with Nalia, they were running into financial issues, causing them to fight. The fighting didn’t stop when Nalia was born, and Nina never got to make up with Will again because he passed away shortly after. The overwhelming feeling of guilt takes over her when she remembers how they didn’t talk before he passed. It’s one thing to know that the person you love is no longer here, but it’s another thing to replay in your head what you wish you could’ve said. Nina feels guilty knowing that she’s living a “comfortable” life because he did pass away. When Will was alive, they worried about financial costs, but now that he passed, she’s not in that position anymore. She feels guilty that it took him dying to be in a place where she’s financially stable.

“I wish I could go travel with the kids because [now] I can,” she says looking straight ahead, as we’re parked in the parking lot of Nalia’s daycare. “….But it’s like… who am I going to travel with… and to share these memories with?”

She reassures herself that things could have been worse, and as bad as it sounds, this probably had to happen. This situation has forced Nina to rely on her mom more than she wants to. And though they disagree, she knows that if Will was still to be alive, it would be another situation with him. It’s one of those moments where you look at all the alternate realities that could’ve happened and realize, either way you look at it, you would’ve been put in a shitty situation regardless.

“I always think, ‘well, maybe this is God’s way of telling me I should appreciate my mom, and accept her for who she is and the type of person she is,” she says. “It’s  hella funny because Will would always say that I act exactly like my mom. And I hella see it.”

She wishes that Will could’ve realized what they had. Nina believes that he knew what they had, and knew they had practically everything they wanted, from a house, a family, jobs, and pretty much everything was set in stone. But he didn’t know how to handle it. She knows that he grew up having nothing, and for him to have everything, he didn’t know how to deal with it. Nina knows that deep down Will didn’t think that he deserved all the good things happening in their lives. He had a lot of responsibility on his plate. They were expecting their 2nd child, his 3rd. He had to provide for my cousin and his 3 children. And she knows how much of a hard worker he was and how he would stress over providing for his family.

“I just wish that I could’ve just told him, ‘It’s going to be okay,’ ” she says. “But instead I was always mad. I would always be like, ‘what is wrong with him?!’ ”

She worries for my nephew, Tre, because he is a carbon copy of his father. She prays that Tre finds his way, because she genuinely doesn’t know what to do when he acts up in school. Nina says that he acts exactly like Will, and that’s why she’s even more scared for him. She wishes that Will was still around to help raise Tre, because since they’re so alike, he would know what to do to get through to him.

Since Nalia was only 2 months old when Will passed away, Nina always wonders what he would think of her if he was still alive. A couple months ago, Nalia turned 1. It’s one of those bittersweet moments that you realize she’s only getting older, and will only know of her father by stories and the few pictures they have together.

“Every time I stare at Nalia I’m just like, ‘what would Will say about her?’ ” she said. “Would he think she’s funny? … I always just look at her like, ‘what would he think about you?’ ”

Of course she knows that dating again is somewhere in her future, but she doesn’t like the thought of starting all over with someone else. She worries that a future partner can  be detrimental to the children, and overall just thinking the worst. She realized that she’s probably going to worry for her children and their well being for the rest of her life. And that’s something she despises about herself.

“If anything, this past year has made me realize what type of person I don’t want to be, but still am. ”

When I asked how she’ll tell the kids about how Will passed, she said she’d be honest with them and tell them the truth. Tre already knows that his dad was “sick,” but that he loved him a lot. Will always believed in not sugar coating the truth to his children, so that’s how she’ll continue to raise them. Tre and Nalia will know the truth, but will also know that their dad loved them and did what he could for them.

Though she hasn’t had many dreams of Will, the dream she holds dearest to her is the dream she had of him holding her hand. She loved his hands. She loved how they were that of a hard working man, but his palms were smooth and soft. In a way she believes that that’s Will’s way of saying that he’s still holding her hand through life.

“Infinity is forever,” she said. “He’s forever going to be in my heart.”

 

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All For You

Lee Ann graduated from SFSU with a Bachelors degree in Child Development in 2015. She has the most patients with children and has the biggest heart. All her former co workers could only tell me good things about her. She’s that kind of girl that nobody can ever speak ill about even if you tried. She has a heart of gold and a passion for learning.

She is now a pre school teacher and is working on getting her credentials. She is so relieved that all her hard work has paid off, saying that once you receive that diploma, everything you had to do to get to that point will be worth it. I congratulated her on all of her accomplishments and asked how her love life is and if there is someone special in her life.

Lee Ann told me that she didn’t have the normal “high school experience” like dating, going to parties, or being young and careless because she lost her father to ASL, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

“Losing my Dad really made me driven,” Lee Ann said. “I wanted to succeed for him. So I threw myself into school. And because of that I tried balancing work and school. It was also how I coped with grief. I somewhat pushed aside any kind of “social life”. The busier I was, the less I had to think. Education has always been so important to me. I’ve had a love for learning. The more I learned, the more experienced I felt. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.”

Education became Lee Ann’s main focus. It was her form of coping with the grief of losing her father. She told me how growing up she wasn’t involved in any sports or other activities. When I asked her why she told me that her father traveled a lot for work, but he would always come back home on the weekends. Her mom didn’t want to enroll Lee Ann in weekend activities because the weekend was a time for the family to be all together. She said she is happy that that’s how it was.

“The other reason I did that was so that I could focus on me,” Lee Ann said. “I was so unsure of myself and lacked confidence. If I wasn’t confident in myself how could I be supportive in a relationship? But now that school is done and I’ve reflected and grown a little bit of that confidence. There is one aspect that’s missing. I look forward to the future and being there for someone. I can’t wait to be a Mom and watch someone grow. Teach them and watch the world through their eyes.”

Now Lee Ann has accomplished what she wanted to do and now has a career. Next she will fulfill her next dream: to fall in love and start a family.

Mr. & Mrs. Cruz

Amberly and JT met and started dating when they were 16. The first time JT met Amberly he told his friend, “I’m gonna marry her.” Through many bumps in the road, they managed to stay together because their love for each other was stronger than the outside drama that was going on around them.

On their 8 year anniversary, JT popped the question, and in 2012, they officially became Mr. and Mrs. Cruz.

They waited a little over a year after getting married to start trying for a baby. On Thanksgiving 2014 they announced to their families that they were expecting.

Devastating news hit Amberly and JT when the doctor informed them that their baby girl was developing a mass in her lungs. At that point Amberly was still pregnant and blaming herself. She was thinking it was because of her that the baby had a mass in her lungs, she thought maybe it was something she ate or her trip to the Philippines that caused it.

Aly was born June 2015, and February 2016 she got the surgery regarding the mass in her lungs. She is happy, healthy, and always smiling.

“It was amazing to see how the roles changed between us,” Amberly said. “We’ve been together for almost 13 years and I was always the “strong one”… Like I’d know what to do or say in a situation and usually be the one to keep JT at ease. But when I found out Aly had a mass in her lungs and will need surgery, I was a mess! I was (and still am) constantly worrying/ paranoid. JT was my rock throughout everything. He listened to me, consoled me, and even handled the paperwork for her surgery, usually I handle everything but it was too much for me.”

Having a baby brought the couple closer together, and when life tested them, they stood by each other and consoled one another. The birth of their daughter has brought so much joy to their lives.

“It was really comforting to see the change in JT,” Amberly said. “Usually he’s quiet and I have to be the one to ALWAYS be strong. It was nice to let my emotions flow and have my husband be my rock throughout everything. As corny as it sounds, we are a team and I’m really lucky to have such a strong support system.”

The Photograph

**Nancy, I know you said to focus on people that I don’t know, but I promise I will do that AFTER this post… this is a story I HAVE to tell.**

My dad’s mom died over 50 years ago in the Philippines while giving birth to her 8th child. Unfortunately my grandma and aunt both passed away. My grandpa was left with 7 kids, 2 of which were under the age of 7.

Decades passed and my grandpa was alone. He is now 92 years old, going on 93 this July. A little over 10 years ago he remarried. For so long he was alone and single, longing for companionship.

My family, aunts & uncles, & their kids that are free, go to my grandpa and step-grandma’s house every other Sunday. It’s a great way for the family to remain close and for my grandpa to see his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

One Sunday my aunt brought old pictures. She showed me and my cousins our grandmother, who none of us ever got to meet. My aunt was saying how she thinks she looks so much like her mother and how her other 2 sisters also share some features. There are only a couple of photos I’ve seen of my grandma, so my first thought was to take a picture of the photo.

My grandpa wasn’t really paying attention, he’s 92, so he’s always just chillin’ minding his business. My sisters and I like to show our grandpa pictures on our phone of him from previous events or ones we take right in front of him. He thinks it’s so cool how technology has advanced and still can’t believe that we can take pictures of him on our phones. Every time we show him his picture he starts laughing surprised like “that’s me!”

Anyways, I took out my phone and pulled up the picture of my grandma. I showed it to him and his reaction made me happy and sad all at the same time. Seeing her picture made him eagerly grab my phone out of my hand.

Staring at her picture he said to me in Tagalog, “Where’d you get this? Do you know who this is? It’s grandma.”

Other than when he complains about his back hurting, my grandpa is usually just chill and observant at get togethers. So when he reacted so surprised to see the picture, it touched my heart, because I could only imagine all the memories that photo brought back.

I think that’s a whole other level of love. To lose someone so tragically, and to be alone for so long, to get remarried, but to be so excited to see an old photo made me really happy. I can only imagine what he felt when he saw that picture, but I know that’s exactly how I would want someone to look at an old photograph of me. 20141109_190624

The photo above is the exact photo I showed my grandpa.

Family Business

Most parents want what is best for their children. When you’re young and dating, your parents’ say can have a big impact on how the relationship goes. For instance, how late you can stay out, if they like your partner or not, or if they’ll even let you be with someone.

This is the struggle of my best friend April Padua. I basically grew up with April. We went to the same school from kindergarten to 8th grade, but became good friends from 4th grade to present day. Since I’ve known her for so long, it seems like we went through the same stages together. I know every major event that has happened in her life as she knows mine. Our parents make small talk with each other every now and then and our moms sometimes carpool together.

In high school April’s aunt made her tell her parents that she had lost her virginity to her now ex boyfriend. I was so scared for her, knowing how awkward that probably is, especially since her parents are very overprotective and won’t let her have freedom.

It’s that kind of relationship where “whatever I say goes because I’m your parent.” For instance, April isn’t going to school because her parents want her to pursue nursing or the police academy. So she feels like it’s pointless to go to school for something she doesn’t even want to do. She wants to go to school for Cosmetology, but her parents think it’s useless because that’s not “where the money is.”

When April told her parents, surprisingly they didn’t react the way we thought. I thought it was going to end in tears and possible disowning, but they were calm about it. They didn’t let her go out much with him though, but it was still more freedom than she expected. When things with her ex hit the fan, it was all bad. Her parents didn’t want her to see him anymore. Her ex was constantly texting her dad to let him see her, showing up at her door at all hours of the day to try to talk to her, and black mailing her.

At the end of the day, she respected her dad’s wishes and ended it for good. She’s now in a different relationship, and her parents are in the way of her having a “normal” life. She has to ask me and  her other friends to cover for her when she’s out with her new boyfriend because she feels like she can’t be open with her parents and tell them. Her and her boyfriend met at work and if me or her friends can’t cover for her, the only time she gets to spend with him is their lunch breaks at work. May I remind you all that she is 21. Her dad drops her off and picks her up from work to make sure she’s where she says she is.

This is causing problems in her new relationship. Her boyfriend feels like she isn’t making an effort to hangout with her. He knows she has parents that don’t let her have freedom, but he doesn’t know to what extent. He acts like it is easy for her to just lie and get away with it, but it really takes planning. It has to be a certain time, because Filipino parents tend to look out the window to see who is picking you up. She tries to go out when her dad’s at work and her mom’s asleep, if not, the opportunity is gone.

“I’m honestly so used to all of this that it doesn’t even bother me anymore,” April said. “But in my head I’m just like, ‘if my relationship is hidden like this and based on lies, is this even gonna be a relationship that’s gonna workout?’ He thinks I don’t try and I do. It’s really not easy. I’m trying to please him and be able to see him but I hate lying too. I’m torn. It sucks I’m 21 and my life’s still unfair, you know?”

I feel for my friend. We used to complain about not getting freedom when we were in high school. Luckily as I got older, my parents got more lenient. My mom is happy when I come home at midnight on a school night. For April, her parents still treat her like she’s in 6th grade.

She understands that her parents are just trying to look out for her. But it is not just for the fact that she’s in relationship and can’t go out. It’s much deeper than that. She feels like she has no control of her life. Her parents caused an atmosphere of resentment. I feel bad that she has to sneak around and put her life on hold because what she wants to do with her life isn’t getting the approval of her parents.

April feels like nobody gets her relationship with her parents. Her dad is so overprotective of her and her mom goes with whatever her dad says. But it’s true. As much as I want to say I know how she must feel, I really don’t. I can relate to some extent but I don’t know the pain she feels when she feels trapped. She learned to bite her tongue and doesn’t even bother to talk back or say her side when she’s getting lectured because she knows it won’t make a difference.

Just recently April’s aunt told her dad about her new boyfriend. Her dad didn’t confront her about it yet, and I’m hoping for good outcomes. She deserves to be happy, experience life while she’s still young, and make mistakes for herself.

To April: I know you’re reading this and feeling a little bummed out. I know one day it’ll get better for you. I know you feel like you’re stuck and sad that you’re 21st birthday is coming up soon and your parents still won’t let you do anything. I hope one day you get the courage to pursue Cosmetology because it’s your life and career. Okay I’ll text you back now. lol.