you haven’t felt yet.
give them time.
they are almost here.
from nayyirah waheed
As I’ve been reflecting of what this post would become, knowing that my mother passed away a year ago on December 3rd, I’ve struggled to find a way to eloquently relay the feelings and thoughts I’ve had in the last year of adjusting to her being gone.
Thankfully I have my journal, my notes, books, audio books, and friends to help me organize the craziness of thoughts bouncing around my head as I accepted, lived, remembered, grieved, remembered more, mourned, grieved, and continued to live my life. I didn’t follow the typical stages of grieving but I felt a few of those moments so strongly that I had forgotten who I was and where I came from and who I wanted to be. Never in my life had I been so consumed by sadness and happiness at the same time that I needed to give myself hours and days and weeks to breathe.
But this is what it’s like to adjust and move on from such tragedy in life. You live in it, float in it, jump in it, and be in it, without choice. You have no choice but to just feel and be and figure it out.
”Just Go With It” – Chromeo, Oliver
My mom took her last breath the early afternoon of Sunday, December 3rd, 2017. She was 50 years young. She was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer that had metastasized to many parts of her body that prohibited even the simplest of movements like getting up from bed. After she got diagnosed, she simultaneously received radiation and chemo to treat the aggressive nature of the cancer and she almost beat it. She almost beat it for 15 months.
She went through emergency brain surgery to remove a tumor that took her and everyone who supported her, by surprise. She survived brain surgery and tried to beat the continuously growing tumors in her body due to hospitalization and inability to receive treatment for 8 weeks. For 8 weeks she fought, she got better, but unfortunately wasn’t able to conquer what was killing her.
Levy Olivares fought her very best. I was there to see it. Many were there to see it. I believe that she didn’t choose to join the Kingdom of her God, but simply let the pain she felt from her organs shutting down and lifted them up so she can be relieved and free of pain. Her heart then stopped and that was it. Slow to breathe, gently beginning to settle into the new life of being with the angels above.
Two days after the “Best Last Day” I was on the phone with my dad to talk about my mom’s current state. After Thanksgiving weekend, her condition started to drastically deteriorate. She had an infection and was showing early signs of liver failure.
That night, I went to my friend’s house to share this news. I told her that I had a feeling this was going to be it. I just had a feeling. Her liver was failing. What major organ was next? I had two days until I was back in LA again. I purchased a series of plane tickets as a gift to my mom so I’m with her. Thank goodness I did that.
As I packed my small 19” carry-on bag, I thought long and hard about what I should pack. Should I just pack for another weekend trip or pack for the end? I did both.
I packed for the weekend: two pairs of pants, three pairs of shirts, a pair of boots, and running shoes. I also packed for the end: an elegant black, boatneck Jones NY midi dress that I bought with my mom from Ross when I was working in wealth management and tan leather wedges and black and gold earrings from Tory Burch she bought for me on our last shopping trip just a few weeks before her brain tumor scare. I wanted to look put together and I also wanted to be prepared (hence the wedges for grass at the cemetery and dress with pockets for my phone and car keys). I also packed a pair of black Aritzia pants just in case I needed it for a night service (the vigil) and black Cole Haan kitten heels to match. How I planned for this at the time, I don’t know. I’m in awe that I even did this.
I arrived in LA Friday night, just 5 days after I saw her last. It was bad. She was fearful. She was tired. She was intubated and had a refrigerated blanket to keep her temp down. It was not good. I felt so helpless. I couldn’t do anything to “fix” her. I could only comfort her and be there with her, holding her hand. I could only give my dad hugs and give my brother kisses.
That Sunday, when I received the text from my dad stating that my mom experienced a heart attack, I already knew what I needed to do and how I needed to be but it’s truly in these last few months that I have slowly figured out how to be without her physically here.
Thank you to my Tita for being in the car with me while I swallowed the news, called my friends, and picked up my brother from a conference. Your presence with me as I received that text and gathered my thoughts and drafted my plan of action was so crucial to my handling of things thereafter.
Thank you to the family and friends who were already there, thinking that it was going to be just a normal hospital visit in the ICU. Thank you to my Tito for being there for my dad as he received the news that his wife’s heart has stopped beating.
Thank you to my Ninang, Ninong, and Tita for your countless car rides to and from the hospital—for being our sounding board when we had to make difficult decisions and for making sure she was never alone. It’s sad our roles ended that day but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being the best example of sibling love I have ever seen. Your dedication and love is inspiring and I’m proud to call you part of our village.
I am so thankful that when that December day came, our entire system was there to say our goodbyes. Her family was there to pray for her and be with her. Her friends were there to say their goodbyes. My friends were there to say how much her love for them impacted their lives. It’s amazing to think that when my mom joined the angels, she was never alone. She was loved and supported and cared for until the very end. She seemed to be at peace and that’s all we could wish for. Rest In Peace, my dear Momma. I’ll try to be a good cook for you and promise I’ll reach the heights you always wanted me to achieve in life and love.
“O” – Coldplay
Recently, I had a conversation with a close friend about dealing with what comes after.
The worst day of my life was not when she passed but when I realized the reality that I now lived in was a reality where my mom is no longer and never will be. That was this past September. It took me 9 months to get to that point and 10 months for me to wrap my head around what happened and think about how to be after carrying the weight of this forced reality with me.
It was so painful–the sadness, the anger, the fear, the questioning, the uncertainty, the acceptance that the woman who gave you life is no longer here. But damn, I got through it.
I am still going through it–but now with a sense of peace as I find ways of doing things that remind me of her versus not doing anything at all and feeling things that I know she would want me to feel versus not feeling anything at all.
“breathin’” – Ariana Grande
It is really quite amazing to see how humans and life forms respond to tragedy. Flight or fight kicks in. Instinct.
“How did you get through it, Raelene?”
“I don’t know. I just did what I knew I needed to do or what I thought was best.”
When I look back at everything I experienced the last two years, I get exhausted but I am proud of myself in being resilient and trying to adapt to the change.
Here’s the last two years in a nutshell:
1. I left corporate finance at Boeing and switched industries to commercial real estate brokerage.
2. I went to LA to take care of my mom for a summer after she got diagnosed.
3. I got engaged and we got married (!!!) John, if you’re reading this, I love you.
4. I adjusted to having my mom back and treated her like my best friend again and not as my mom who is sick and is my patient.
5. I watched my mom reach new heights then deteriorate and almost make it out.
6. I saw my mom’s last breaths and said my final goodbye.
7. My family worked together to plan her funeral and her celebration of life.
8. We celebrated our first Christmas without my mom in Seattle. And my dad and brother got a sweet dog named Chester 🙂
9. John and I celebrated our first year of marriage. A few months later, we had our wedding celebration in LA where 170 family and friends gathered to celebrate us both. My mom was there in spirit, she was everywhere 🙂
10. Left commercial real estate and embarked on a new adventure back in corporate America at Starbucks. Thank you Digital Finance team for ignighting my fire and being my breath of fresh air!
11. I traveled to Europe with my best friends, had a trip of a lifetime, remembered and experienced the feeling of joy, and reconnected with my mom at the Vatican for the first time since her death. The Italian woman next to me in the chapel gave me her tissues and she shared that she recently lost her dad too. We both cried.
12. Came back to Seattle and John and I bought a house in the suburbs. Goodbye to the city life! I also bought a Prius! Woot!
13. I started a new role at Starbucks in Digital Marketing, entering a completely different industry from the finance worlds I was familiar with for 5 years.
And here I am now. Still growing and learning and feeling. And adjusting.
“My Life” – ZHU
I have learned that life is all about adapting to the constantly changing environment around you. The world will always turn and life around you goes on. And sometimes you fall and get back up. And sometimes you reach new peaks and grow. I will always want to grow, but now I have learned to slow down and find solace in the falls because it reminds me of where I came from and where I want to be. Grief demands it and it’s part of the journey of moving on.
As I approach a new year, I challenge myself to continue to give myself space to breathe and think, while also acknowledge that the pain and sorrow is of the past and this is a new chapter. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. I will forever carry her heart in mine. I’ll continue to be a daughter and friend to my dad. I’ll continue to be an Ate and friend to my brother.
I look forward to taking my experiences from 2018–my growth year—and applying them all to make a better, stronger me.
“Best of Us Go Down” – Aquilo
Lastly, as I move on and leave the pain behind, I want to thank every single person who has reached out with support and love. These last few years, I have drawn strength from many of you, who have reminded me of my age, my humanity, and my needs as such.
Thank you for the dozens of prayer groups that held my mom in their thoughts, for these friends and strangers also gave my mom strength to overcome and fight.
Thank you for the friends and family friends who have become permanently etched in my heart as family. You are all so amazing and it brings me tears to feel your kindness even as my mom has passed. You are her fighters, someone’s hero, someone’s brother and sister.
Thank you to my friends for holding me in times when I couldn’t keep myself up. Thank you for crying for me when I couldn’t feel sadness and just felt anger and confusion. Thank you for loving me when I didn’t know who I was and unsure of how to find myself. Thank you for responding and for following up. Thank you for showing up. I love you forever for that.
To my husband, thank you for your unconditional love—for fulfilling the idea and turning it into something tangible. Out of choice, you always chose me and chose us. You believed that I will recover and will return to the woman who was full of life. Because of your love and support, I believed in myself. So thank you for never giving up, always forgiving me in times when I projected anger towards you and always asking how you can help. Thank you for letting me be me and accepting me as I am and for showing me joy and laughter when it was hard for me to see other than dim and darkness. I love you infinitely, now and forever. Here’s to the rest of our lives together as we approach the celebration of our second year of marriage!
As I close this chapter and enter a new one, I hope you’ll follow my journey of discovering self and experiencing the new. It’s quite weird to feel like I’m turning back the clock because for years I felt like I was a 40 year old in a 20 year old body. Now I can figure out how to be a normal 20-something and see what’s out there!
“show me” – San Holo
In loving memory of Librada “Levy” Balagtas Olivares
01.18.67 – 12.03.17