Life is going to hit you with a curve ball when you least expect it, but one thing is for sure, it will throw that curve ball. The best we can do is show a light of optimism, but always be prepared for the worst. Exactly a month ago, on March 3, 2016, my wife and I were unexpectedly on the way to the airport to catch a plane to the DR. Just five hours earlier, we finished watching a show and were getting ready to go to sleep.
Shortly after going to sleep, at 11:31 PM, I got the dreaded phone call from my sister. When anyone calls late in the night, it’s not good news, it’s even worse when the phone call is from a close family member. Was this a DejaVu? Things were happening exactly how I visualized it, except that unlike in my visualization, I did not pick up the phone call. I froze because I didn’t want to hear the news. I wasn’t ready to pick up and confront the reality. Another three calls followed within 20 minutes from other family members and I finally gained the courage to pick up the fourth one.
I was dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to say. My brain went in a shutdown mode for a few minutes to deal with the emotions. An hour later we found ourselves packing and catching the next available flight to the DR that morning. Our best option was to drive to Queens, NY for two hours and depart from John F. Kennedy Airport. Every minute was crucial because we only had a few hours to make it to my parent’s home. To make things worse, the flight was delayed by almost two hours and we got there late afternoon.
We arrived at my parents’ house, but they weren’t there. It was the first time that I visited and both of them weren’t home. My mom was always home. She’s been bedridden for over a year and she was no longer home.
In early February this year we took a two-week vacation to Punta Cana, DR and decided to take a break from the location to visit my parents in Santiago, after we found out that it was only about a five-hour ride. This was exactly two weeks prior to the unexpected trip. We surprised my mom with that visit and it was the last time I saw her alive.
The world crumbles down when you lose a parent, no matter how prepared you are, but it’s important to be somehow prepared, financially and emotionally.
Appreciate your loved ones
To kind of prepare for such a hurtful event, and I say “kind of” because you can never be 100 percent prepared for this, I once practiced negative visualization. Negative visualization is a technique in which you spend some time imagining that you have lost the things you value most. It’s a Stoic principle. As horrible as it sounds, it makes you appreciate them more.
The things and people in our lives are “on loan” and can be taken away at any time from us, at any time and without notice. I had vividly visualized that phone call from my sister, what the words would be, what I needed to do and I felt the emotions. I had cried it out. Going through this exercise made me more aware of the reality and helped me appreciate the time left on Earth between my mom and I even more.
My mom was very ill and we almost lost her about a year ago due to the cocktail of diseases that took a toll on her fragile body. I understood that after that unfortunate event, every day was a gift and I had to make the best of our time together.
During the course of the year that followed, I expressed my gratitude to my parents for having the courage to raise eight children, me being the last one. They kept looking for a boy until I was born. Dominicans usually say Te Quiero Mucho to mean I love you. I made sure to tell her that I loved her with the words Te Amo Mamita, which is a much stronger way to express your love. I thanked her for my upbringing and let her know that I was super proud of her. My best advice is not to take your loved ones for granted and make every moment count.
Always have an emergency fund
Unexpected events, such as losing a loved one, is why it’s so important to have an emergency fund in place. Having an emergency fund allowed us to book flights, say one last goodbye to Mami, and be there for my dad and the rest of the family without going into debt. By being financially prepared, we were able to deal with our emotions without money getting in the way.
If you might regret it, you’re doing it wrong
Over the past five years my wife and I have been visiting the DR frequently to spend time with my aged parents, since they moved back there to retire. I thank Mrs. Enchumbao because she’s been very supportive and is always suggesting that we should visit them any chance we get. “Should we go to Europe or visit mom and dad one more time this year?” “Europe will be there three years from now, Mami and Papi may not” was our mantra.
During that Punta Cana trip in February, I thought of going to see my parents, but figured it wouldn’t be feasible due to distance. We originally thought it was a 9-10 hour ride, which would have been too much. However, once we learned that it was only about five hours to Santiago with the recently built new highway, Mrs. Enchumbao suggested that we go visit mom and dad. Her powerful words were: “If something happens to mom, would you regret not visiting during this trip?” YES, I WOULD. I would’ve regretted being within a five-hour distance and not taking the time to go see her and be with her.
I can only imagine how I would be hitting my head against the wall trying to go back in time to drive myself to see her. My heart feels very heavy as is, imagine if I’d had regrets. I’m glad I got to see her and give her one last hug, one last kiss, take one last photo together, make her smile one more time, cook her one last meal and tell her one more time: Mamita, te amo.
Mom was such a positive person. In her worst moment, she would worry about others more than herself. She worked very hard to raise us. I was fortunate enough to have had her last dance at our wedding before she became ill. We danced to the song: “Mi Novia Se Me Esta Poniendo Vieja” (“My girlfriend is getting old”) and it brought all people in the room to tears. It’s a beautiful song about the unconditional love of an aging mother, with very powerful and meaningful lyrics, written by Guatemalan songwriter Ricardo Arjona. I played it one last time at the funeral, and this song will forever remind us of her.
She was also a woman of faith, a devoted Christian. If there’s a heaven, she’s already there because she was an angel. I’ll always remember her every time I see the picture of Jesus below. Every year, we’ll celebrate her life and cherish the memories and moments we spent together.
So, remember, don’t take your loved ones for granted. Make time for them because they’re on loan and you never know when they’ll be called. Practice negative visualization and have an emergency fund for when need arises. And finally, if you’re going to regret it, you’re doing it wrong.
Think about it and seize the day.