Beginning the Rest of My Life // Dec 2018

Good Vibes, Reflections





you haven’t felt yet.

give them time.

they are almost here.

— fresh


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


The Origination of Monday Musings // Oct 2018

Good Vibes

monday musings 1

Around January 2014 I got a text from my mom saying that she experienced a minor stroke. I clearly remember my environment while reading those words, saying she had a stroke. I was staring at my phone, getting tunnel vision, on a hill climber machine at SeattleU’s gym and I tried to act normal with my gym buddies as the realization of this medical scare sank in.

As soon as I got back into my dorm room, I called my mom. I asked her how it happened. I wanted to feel included and make her feel like I was there for her. It was so long ago that I don’t really remember our conversation, but I do remember the fear and guilt I felt.

After that blurry conversation, I called my best friend from high school.  Both our moms have had health and medical issues for as long as we could remember so we found comfort in sharing these moments with one another. I remember telling her how guilty I felt that I didn’t have the best relationship with my mom and that I wasn’t there for my mom during this time. I talked about my fear that if a stroke happens again, she could be unrecognizable and turn into a “vegetable”. I understand now how insensitive that word is, but I was 19 at the time, I didn’t know what to think yet.

More phone calls to my best friends were made. There were tears and minor freak outs of thinking “it could’ve been worse” and “I wasn’t there” and “my mom needed me”. So after that night, I started talking to my mom everyday and that’s truly when our mother/daughter relationship began.

Around this time I was juggling three jobs while trying to enjoy college life as a 19-year old sophomore. I was working as an finance intern in a wealth management firm after kicking ass my first summer, I was also working in the admissions office, and was also working as a Resident Assistant in SeattleU’s party-building, Campion Hall.

With those jobs, I was proud of my financial independence and continued doing well in school, finding new hobbies and enjoying my funtivities. I was also in a relationship for almost a year and we were both RA’s trying to balance the professional and romantic relationship as two young adults.

The stress of everything around me started compounding after hearing my mom’s news and it was the first time I ever really felt loneliness and the first time I felt like I had the world on my shoulders. Welcome to the adult world, I thought.

Prior to this January scare, I was doing great. I felt balanced, I felt secure, and I felt supported. I was going to the gym regularly, doing tabata classes and discovering the magical practice of yoga. I was also reading books from my finance/sales internship that talked about success and prioritizing yourself so you can help others.

The most applicable book I had read when my mom informed me of her stroke was a book called “The Strangest Secret” by Earl Nightingale. This short book focused on the thought “you become what you think about”.

If you think that you are going to be sad and poor, you will be sad and poor. But if you really push yourself to think harder and be bolder, you will be the great human you aspire to be. Cliche, I know. But it’s the power of thought that can get you through anything. The mind is so amazing and fascinating that way.

I introduced this idea of “you become what you think” to my mom. I told her, “Mom, you probably had this stroke because you’ve been over-exerting yourself and not taking the time to set goals and think about what your purpose is.” She agreed. She was trying to get back into work and get out of a rut. She just had a hysterectomy performed a few months before in September that was painful to recover from. She felt limited and stuck and her negative thoughts got the best of her. She let her thoughts consume her with self-doubt, self-pity, and sadness.

Every morning thereafter, I texted her a quote or something positive to inspire her. I shared that I did yoga on Wednesday mornings and it really helped me cope with the stress of working three jobs, balancing a relationship, and also trying to be a good RA for my residents. It was time for myself to reflect and have a well-deserved mental break.

Alas, this resulted in my coined “Wellness Wednesday”. I kept it to myself at first, then started sharing it with others who also felt the stress of life. Every Wednesday, I would make the extra effort to do something for myself. Whether it’d be morning yoga or a long run to Lake Washington or a walk to Molly Moon’s for a split scoop of lavender and earl grey ice cream in a cup or a waffle cone for an extra dollar.

This positive thinking and daily conversation lifted my mom’s spirits. She started to strengthen her faith with God and bought a book with daily devotions. She’d share pictures with me of quotes she’d find interesting and meaningful and also tell me the good parts of her day that she was proud of.

The power of positive thinking is so important, especially during a time when it seems like things are falling apart. I truly started learning the lesson of the glass half empty or half full during one of the darker times of my young adult life.

Yes, it got exhausting trying to be there mentally for my mom, everyday, but it was worth it. Anything I can do to prevent her from another medical scare and to make her mentally stronger, I did.

Eventually, she turned it around after taking the time to take care of herself and she started sharing her positivity with others. She called this her “Monday Musings…” and she posted quotes and photos that she resonated with and thought would resonate with others.

Levy’s Monday Musings became a part of her identity and it was something she carried with her to her final resting place. When she was in and out of intense medical trials or personal troubles, she would look forward to the time when she’d be well enough to share Monday Musings with others.

She posted Monday Musings everyday for almost a year and half until she got suddenly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in June 2016. Then it got silent for a few months and she came back online that November with a new zest for life.

This zest was infectious, everyone who saw her posts about Monday Musings, her cooking, and her selfies LOVED it. And she loved all of you for giving her that sense or purpose. I know it meant so much to her that she could uplift others who were struggling as she once or sometimes did

Unfortunately, the last Monday Musings she posted was on Monday, October 2, 2017. This was the Monday after we buried my Grandpa Lu. I say this to exemplify how much she cared about these posts to her friends and family. During my Grandpa’s funeral, I could tell something was wrong and she was off. She was complaining about an intense migraine that wouldn’t go away. It persisted for two weeks, even with medication, but she continued saying she was okay and that it will pass.

As I type this, I am shaking at the thought of the final week of my mom as a relatively normal human in the outside world. This was before we discovered the massive brain tumor. Before she was attached to tubes. Before she lost her speech. Before she spoke her last words to me. Before she died, two and half months later.

The days leading to the knowledge of the brain tumor will come in another post because I want this post to focus on Levy’s Monday Musings and the strength it gave her and others. I just wanted to also share the gravity of that last post because it’s eerie and sad…saying “last” of something or someone who is no longer here.

ANYWAY (deep breath), this was her last Monday Musings:

No photo description available.

She posted this because wanted to focus on her recovery and upcoming infusion. She had a life in front of her planned out and she just needed to continue moving forward towards the land of being cancer-free.

So to those who are reading this and following my journey as I share and reflect, whatever you may be dealing with, try to focus on the good. Try to envision who you want to be and don’t lose that vision. Whether you want to be a hip grandma taking your kids to Disneyland or a 20-something working your ass of to earn a promotion, see the dream. Make the dream a reality.

I always tell my mentees: once you see yourself in the future as the person you want to be, don’t ever lose sight of the dream!! Work harder, play harder, and stay humble. Be kind and the universe will be kind back to you.

Til next Wednesday, friends. I hope you took at least a little part of your day to give yourself a pat on the back for being being present and for being you. GO YOU! 🙂


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂