On December 26, 2008, my best friend’s mother suffered a massive brain aneurysm. Despite the hard work and care of multiple neurologists and an incredible nursing staff, she was declared brain dead the night of the 27th and taken off life support the afternoon of the 28th to pass peacefully in the presence of her two daughters and husband.
I, along with countless friends and relatives, spent the couple days leading up to Angelique’s passing in the Scripps Memorial Hospital ICU waiting room, lending whatever support I could to my friend and her family.
In memory of Angelique (and with the blessing of my friend and her sister), I wanted to write a little bit about her vibrant spirit and how those last days of her life impacted me. More than anything, though, I’m writing in the off chance that somewhere in this mess of words resides even the smallest bit of healing for Barbara and Amanda.
The thing I remember most vividly about Angelique is her voice. She was this tiny, tiny woman with this incredibly warm, deep voice that came out of nowhere. Whenever we’d stop by Barbara’s parents’ house, Angelique would give us the whole parental nine yards — questions about where we were going, when we’d be back, who was driving, what part of the neighborhood we’d be in, when we’d call her to let her know we got to our destination, etc. — all clipped with the lingual sheers of a Philippino accent.
Barbara had an incredible patience for her mom’s questions. By that point in her life this process was a ritual and, for me, it was oddly comforting. Coming from a family of fairly hands-off parents (they were fantastic, don’t get me wrong), I always found it a bit novel to see the other side, to watch a true “helicopter” mom in action. There were moments in the beginning of our college years that I know drove Barbs up the wall, incessant calls and questions and demands to call home. But, somewhere along the way Barbs came to an understanding with her mom, based in the simple fact that the separation from her daughter was just incredibly hard for Angelique to bear.
This woman was the band-aid over her daughters’ hearts, the protective wrapping that was never supposed to be torn off so soon.
Rifling through the memories of the days following last Christmas, I get stuck on odd details, like the insane amounts of food Angelique’s family and friends managed to drag into the ICU waiting room at Scripps Memorial. But buried in the blurred hours at that hospital, among the clutter of coping mechanisms and surreality, is the moment we grew up.
It sounds cliché but I became an adult in one defining minute filled with the soul-shattering sound of my best friend’s heart breaking.
B came out of the ICU about a half-hour after the attending neurologist delivered the news to our packed little waiting room. She stood in front of a small group of us in the corner, wavering a little on her feet. I asked if she felt okay and she mumbled a response about feeling like she was going to pass out. I watched as her cousins sat her down, unsure of what to expect, bracing for something.
But she just sat, not breathing, eyes focused on no one.
You know the moment in a car accident right before impact, when everything slows down and goes eerily silent? These seconds felt a bit like that.
Breath eventually came as tears began to roll down her cheeks, like those tears were the only fuel her heart would accept to carry on. There was no sobbing, no dramatic angle, just the calm and inevitable tears of a truly broken heart.
And right then, as I watched her cry, that asshole driver slammed into my chest at 100 miles an hour.
In that breath Barbara let out, in the tears she cried, were the last bits of our sheltered youth. If you don’t grow up from shit like this, you never will. And there was nothing any of us could do except cry along, for the loss of a wonderful woman and mother, for the pain her family would endure, and for the shiny coating of false immortality that was brazenly stripped from our lives.
I’m not sure I ever knew just how dedicated Angelique was to her daughters until she was gone. And I’m not sure I truly comprehended the very real impermanence and fragility of our lives until those days spent at Scripps. And I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’d hardly recognized the true comfort and protection of a parent’s presence until I watched Life shove Barbs out from under the comfort and protection of her mother.
Above all else, I didn’t know how much I was able to care about someone until the breaking of my friend broke me, too.
On the one-year anniversary of Angelique’s passing I can say without a doubt that this tiny, fiery woman helped me find bits and pieces of my heart that I never imagined truly existed: The bits that put others before myself and the pieces that foster strength in the darkest of times; the bits that accept and honor vulnerability and the pieces that make helplessness a joke; the bits that know what real love looks like and the pieces that know exactly how to love.
A real legacy is born when death teaches us how to love. Thank you, Angelique, for the lessons, the love, and for giving the world a beautiful legacy embodied in your daughters.