Early afternoon on December 8th, 2018 something sudden, completely unexpected, and devastating happened. A close loved one died. One moment he was here, happy, active, and very much full of life, then everyone blinked and he was gone.
Tony was a son, a brother, a husband, a dear friend to many. As December 8th crawled by- as the most painful days of our lives do- I couldn’t help noticing how very many people were in Tony’s life that loved him with all of their heart.
This post is about Tony, of course, but it is also very much about the one’s he’s left behind. Especially his wife and his brother (my husband).
In the days that followed Tony’s death so many of his friends and family posted on their and his Facebook pages photos of them with Tony and stories of their relationship with him and how deeply he touched their lives. He helped them through tough times, he shared so many joys with them. They expressed their sadness at his passing, and most of all they shared how much they love him. Below is just a sampling of the many posts.
Tony was the youngest of three siblings. They grew up in a blending of traditional Mexican and all-American cultures, as many Mexican-American kids do. He was intelligent, had a bachelors degree, and could hold his own well in virtually any conversation. He was always there to listen and give good level-headed advice. He had many friends and did many things with them and seemed to be an extrovert even though he was an introvert and suffered anxiety.
He loved photography, gaming, philosophy, and could often be found talking politics and religion just as often as he talked pop-culture. Tony was an animal lover and could often be found snuggling, talking to, joking about, and playing with his and other people’s pets. He was a foodie, loving to try new and interesting foods both in restaurants and through cooking at home. Tony was a well-rounded person with many interests and many friends to share them with.
Tony met Bri through mutual friends in the early 2000’s. They became friends and eventually started dating. They fell deeply in love, supported each other’s goals in life, made each other laugh all the time, even when times were so tough even a smile was hard to wear. They got married in early 2007 and continued to love and support each other every single day thereafter. They were together helping each other through college. They got good jobs with each other’s support and love. And, together, in mid 2016, they bought a house and made it their dream home together.
The day the world stopped for Bri, understandably she was frazzled, in shock, panicked at first. Tony had been just fine, totally his normal self all morning. They were going to make tamales with friends so a few people were there at the house with them. Tony walked out of the bedroom and said, “I think I’m having a heart attack”. And then he collapsed. 911 was called. Two of our loved one’s traded off doing CPR until the paramedics arrived. Other family and friends were called in those moments, one being our dear friend Stephanie who is an EMT, and another being Tony’s brother, my husband, Lee.
Lee and I arrived at the house just moments before the ambulance pulled away. We were quickly caught up on the situation. Tony collapsed, a heart attack, he wasn’t breathing. The paramedics were taking him to the nearest hospital.
In those moments Bri was obviously in a panic (who wouldn’t be). She was rushing around while talking on the phone. Trying to gather things she’d need at the hospital; her purse, Tony’s wallet and prescriptions, lock up the house… we all tried to keep her attention, tell her not to worry about any of that.
We finally moved her to our car and drove her to the hospital. She cried, who wouldn’t? I cried, too. She called her dad on the way. She and Lee talked a little. She kept repeating the moments when it happened through her soft sobs. She didn’t have any shoes on.
We got to the hospital and I lead Bri to the emergency waiting room while Lee parked the car. Bri, Ryan, Joy, Jackie, Stephanie, Lee, myself, Allan, Nathan S., and Jocelyne were all there. They moved us all to a large room off the main waiting room. They said it was because there were so many of us, but I couldn’t help being reminded of when my dad died. They took us to a room to tell us he wasn’t going to live.
Sure enough, not long later(I remember thinking the doctor came in too soon after Tony arrived for this to be good news) the ER doctor came in. He very quickly and straightforwardly, albeit kindly, told Bri, “I’m sorry to inform you your husband has died.”
One second passed before Bri blurted out in so much pain and agony, “WHAT?!” I could see her heart shatter in her face.
This came out of nowhere. He was fine! Then he collapsed. Just like that, her whole world was gone.
Tony was 41 years old.
They call this kind of heart attack the Widowmaker, and every person on earth hates that accurate name.
For the rest of the day Bri was in a kind of fog. She was surrounded by friends and family. Many more friends arrived throughout the day. They sat with her, talked with her, cried with her. Everyone offered as much help and support as they could. Many worked together to work out plans to help her with arrangements and all the tedious and confusing business related things she was going to have to work out in the near future.
A few hours after the world ended the coroner came and took Bri’s world even farther away from her.
Bri decided to walk the nearly three miles home from the hospital. Friends walked with her.
Lee is the oldest of his siblings, and as I said, Tony is the youngest. Lee and Tony had a profound bond that went beyond the normal brotherly bond. They texted and called each other a million times a day. They spent almost every evening playing video games together. They hung out on the weekends. They even ran errands together. They had so many shared interests and had gone through every moment of their lives together. They were always there when the other needed an ear or a shoulder or help of any kind.
Allow me to digress slightly and tell you what had happened to Lee and I over the few hours before Tony’s death. I promise, this is relevant. The evening before, Lee and I arrived home from work and I went out to let the dogs in. One of the dogs, Kandi, came running in all happy as usual. But Chispita didn’t come right away. This wasn’t unusual but also wasn’t too common. I called her again and she finally stepped into view off the side of the porch. She was looking at me but not moving. “C’mon, Chispita.” I said sweetly. She started walking, slowly, painfully. It wasn’t until she stepped into the house that I realized she had a huge spot of blood on her back and down one side.
I called Lee to come over. “Something’s wrong with Chispita, she’s drenched in blood.”
Lee came over and looked at her. “It’s a huge gash.” He went and got his mother from her room and asked her what had happened throughout the day regarding the dogs. She hadn’t spent much time with the dogs this day, she had last seen them around 4 when she went out to feed them. They had both been fine. We cleaned the wound as best we could, gave her pain meds, and kept her warm and comfortable for the night.
The next morning we took her to the vet. They said she needed surgery to sew up the wound and put in a drain. They took into consideration her age (about ten years old) and that she was dehydrated but otherwise OK for surgery. They would give her fluids first and during. We left her in the capable and caring hands of the vet and went home.
A couple hours later the vet called. Something had happened. Chispita had an adverse reaction to the anesthesia and her heart stopped. They were keeping her body alive until we got there, but she was gone.
We went to the vet and said our goodbyes as they turned off the machines. We cried, our hearts broken.
I said as we watched Chispita’s final moments, “Kandi’s going to have the hardest time with this. They’ve never been apart, they’re so close.”
We went out to the car but before we left Lee called Tony and told him what had happened. Tony comforted Lee over the phone.
Not 15 minutes after we got home from the vet, Lee got the call. Our friend Jackie told him Tony had passed out and we need to get there right away.
“They’d better be kidding. This better be some stupid joke to get us over there to make tamales with them.” Lee said as we rushed out the door.
Being his wife, and knowing him as well as I do, I could tell how worried Lee was. But he hid it, he buried it and took charge. He was solely on the task of taking care of business…and of burying his emotions.
While he was driving Bri and I to the hospital, he was comforting and calming Bri, and he told her to call her parents. I remember thinking “he needs to be comforted, he needs to not bury his feelings for too long”. I was already thinking ahead, to when we got home and were alone. No matter the outcome with Tony, good or bad, Lee was going to break down once we were alone.
The moment the ER doctor gave the news of Tony’s passing I looked to Lee. My first thought was that he was going to die right there. His brother, their love, their profound bond. I honestly expected my husband to drop dead at that news. But he didn’t, he just stared, expressionless. He didn’t move, he didn’t blink, I don’t think he even took a breath for the longest moment.
Then he went right into protection mode. No feelings, no thoughts on reality. Just take care of business. What needs to be done? Who needs to be comforted? Who needs to be notified? Who needs to be here that isn’t already? Etc.
I went into protection mode as well. I felt the devastation, I cried a lot, but I soon realized I needed something to do, so I did what I always do, what comes naturally to me, I needed to support and protect my husband. I stuck to Lee like glue all day. I needed to be there for him. I needed to make sure he was OK. I stopped him whenever he was on the verge of… I don’t know how to put it, it would have been OK for him to cry, it would have been OK for him to grieve…but when I could tell he was on the verge of something else, exploding?, panicking?…I would stop him and hold him and make him sit down ‘for a minute. Take a breath, it’s OK’. A few tears fell from his eyes, but not many. A moment here and there he stopped and I could tell he was starting to think about it, but then he’d wipe it aside and get back to business. He comforted everyone, he wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of, especially Bri and his mom.
Everyone was just as comforting and supportive to Lee as they were to Bri. Hugs, tears, words of support, offers to help whenever and wherever needed. We have so many wonderful friends with beautiful hearts.
Then we went home. Maybe 30 minutes or so after we got home, he started to let go. He began to feel it, think about it. And I held him. It came in little spurts at first. It was hard for him to accept that his brother was gone.
“I want to hide from my feelings.” He said.
The parallels between our dog Kandi’s grieving and Lee’s grieving don’t escape my attention. Two hearts that lost the connection to their sibling, both broken. Kandi howled and barked and cried for her sister. She looked everywhere in the yard to find her sister who had dissapeared. Lee woke up the next morning and almost immediately broke down in sobs, finally. The flood gates are open and that huge gash on his heart will never be closed again.
He was crying on the couch. I heard him from the bedroom. I went over to him and held him and cried with him.
“I know what you’re thinking.” I said (because I had thought it as well).
“You see something, or think of something, and your instinct is to text him or call him and tell him about it.” I said through tears.
“Yeah…” He sobbed. “Oh, God… fuck! Why?!…why…”
So, so many friends and family came by the house over the next days. There was no time to be alone and that was good for almost everybody. It is very calming to be surrounded by loved ones, to know you are not alone, to grieve together, and to also have your mind distracted. To be reminded that life goes on, and it’s OK to cry, but it is also OK to laugh. To share stories of the one you’ve lost, good stories, happy memories, fun times.
Two days after Tony’s passing, Bri, Lee, myself, and Bri’s parents went to the funeral home to make arrangements. The first thing I’d like to mention here is how very strong Bri is. Her husband died so suddenly, so unexpectedly; of course she was devastated, of course she showed all the range of emotion and typical grieving you’d expect; but she held it together, thought clearly, and took care of this horrible required task like the badass woman we know her to be. We stood by her, supported her, helped her, and that certainly gave her strength, but I can only imagine if Tony were there he’d smile and say, “Of course she’s got this, that’s Bri”.
She’s only 34 years old, she shouldn’t have to be doing this.
The whole ordeal took about two hours. The funeral director was so very kind and easy going, straight forward, and explained everything step by step. Lighthearted stories and jokes were told from time to time to lighten the mood and make it easier on us all. It was a depressing and daunting task, but it wasn’t nearly as torturous as it could have been.
After the funeral home we headed over to the cemetery. Tony died suddenly and young, remember, so there was no plot already waiting for him, it had to be bought now. That whole task didn’t take much time at all.
Bri and Lee had agreed that it would be nice if they could find a plot near Lee and Tony’s father. We were worried there might not be one available since it was in the older side of the cemetery. One was found just a few rows away, and that was good enough.
Later that evening Lee and I went over to Bri’s house to spend time with her and some friends. We sat around the hookah and smoked a bit while talking primarily about Tony and how we’re doing in our grieving process, as well as discussing the upcoming viewing, funeral, and reception. I felt both better and worse hanging out with my friends, telling stories and remembering happy times with Tony. It felt good to have so much love and support, but it also depressed me more. I felt the loss even deeper in those moments. I felt the empty space where Tony should be. Where were his quips and jokes? Where was his laugh? I was sitting on the back patio talking with everyone, I looked up for a split second and could swear I saw him walk by the dining room window. A fresh surge of sorrow rushed over me.
On the way home Lee and I were talking about how everyone was dealing in their own way and it was helpful to have so much support. I agreed, but I also didn’t. I hadn’t said anything about it up to this point because I didn’t want to upset anyone or cause any issue, but I said it at this moment.
“I don’t want to sound mean or make anyone feel bad. I know some people need to have people around all the time right now and that’s OK, they need to do what they need. I know everyone just wants to help and be there for all of us- each other- and that’s wonderful. But I can’t grieve like this…I haven’t been able to grieve properly for me. The people, the hanging with friends is great and it does help, but I need solitude, I need to be alone. I can’t think, I can’t feel, I can’t work through the deep sorrow with all of these people and all of this activity and noise around all the time. I need to be alone.”
A few days after his passing, I had a night full of dreams of Tony. The dreams were more like memories of normal things we did all the time. In one dream we were in the car, Lee, Tony, and I, driving on the freeway on the way to run errands and have lunch in Fresno. Tony and Lee were talking and joking on all the topics they always loved to talk and laugh over. In another dream all of the regular group of friends and family were gathered for a random party at Tony and Bri’s house. We were gathered around the hookah with music playing. Everyone happy and enjoying each other’s company. Tony and Ron leading the main conversation and keeping everyone smiling and laughing with their jokes and anecdotes.
Then I woke up and was hit with the brick of reality. I will never see Tony again, never hear his voice and laugh again. He will never join in on our gatherings, and never run errands with Lee and I again. I will never hear my husband yell at his brother over Xbox chat while they played CoD or Destiny, or any of their games, ever again.
Every now and then I have a moment where I feel just about normal again. As soon as I realize I feel OK I then feel guilty. I know it’s normal, natural, and healthy to feel OK even when you are in the middle of mourning, it’s all part of the process. But I can’t help but feel guilty for feeling OK when it’s all still so fresh.
Lee can’t see a picture of Tony without breaking down. Lee can’t talk about Tony with anyone without breaking down. Lee went to his contacts list on his phone to call someone and the first contact on his list was Tony because he called him the most often. Lee broke down. Lee can’t go to Tony’s Facebook page yet, he wants to, but he just can’t do it.
Tony’s mom is elderly and in poor health as it is, the news of Tony’s death lay immensely heavy on her. She’s his mother and now she’s burying her youngest child. The day it happened, Lee and I went with our dear friend Stephanie to give his mom the news and take her to the hospital to see her baby before he was taken away.
Her cries will forever echo in my memory.
Lee and Tony’s sister, Mona, was away at a retreat when Tony died. She was unable to make it back until the next day. She rushed over to our house to be with Lee and their mother. I heard her step onto the front porch and ring the bell. Lee opened the door and I could hear soft, cracking voices greet each other. Then Lee stepped onto the porch with his sister and closed the front door. It didn’t even begin to muffle the sound of her wails.
Mona came to our house the next several days. She kept her mother company and took care of her, and took comfort in being with her everyday for many days. They organized a rosary every night at the house and found comfort in their religion and friends.
The Wednesday after Tony’s death Lee had a doctor appointment. The appointment had been made a couple weeks earlier but Lee decided to take the opportunity to ask for an in-depth examination of his heart considering his family history and his brother’s sudden death.
When the doctor came in Lee and I began to tell her the story of Tony. She listened compassionately but as we talked I could see her facial expression change from empathy to curiosity.
She stopped Lee mid-sentence. “Is your brother Tony _____?”
“He was my patient. I just signed the death certificate today. I’d just been his doctor for a couple months, but, yeah, he was in good health. I’m so sorry.”
We had not been aware that we shared the same primary care physician with Tony. It’s a small world.
After the doctor appointment we met three of our friends for dinner. Ever since Saturday everyone had been so burdened with the horrid feelings of loss but this dinner turned out to be a barrel of laughs. Jokes, anecdotes, stories, memories, and “if Tony were here he’d say…”, followed by laughter. So much laughter. Lee and I smiled, really smiled, for the first time in days.
We are so lucky to have so many wonderful friends who love and know Tony just as much and just as well as we do.
Bri had been holding it together most of the week with the help of friends and family. It was obvious that she was devastated, but she kept herself busy, which wasn’t hard because she had to take care of so much for the funeral. I can only go by my own experiences but I imagine she was constantly reminded of her husband and her loss by all of the things she had to do, gather, sort through, and talk about. Sometimes she smiled through the tears, sometimes she just cried, sometimes she was very quiet, sometimes she was running around doing nervous busy work. The day finally came where she asked to just be alone. We were all happy to oblige because we knew she needed it, but we certainly hurt and worried for her.
Our good friend Nathan H. wrote Tony’s obituary. He has a way with words and did a beautiful job keeping it simple, true, and touching.
I made a video presentation of photos set to music to show at Tony’s viewing. It hurt, but was also comforting, to sort through so many photos, listen to emotional songs, and put the video together. I had to watch it beginning to end many times over in order to get it just right. Many of Tony’s friends and family contributed photos to the project. Our good friend, Nick, helped me with some technical issues. It turned out nice and was played at the viewing and digital copies provided to friends and family who requested them. Friday evening I finished the project but before I was to upload it to the web I needed some fresh eyes to watch it and, hopefully, catch any mistakes and provide any suggestions for improvement. The only person available at the time was Lee. I felt bad asking him to watch this video full of pictures of his brother, but he was willing.
After the video was over I asked him, “So, what do you think?”
He replied through sobs, “Fuck you, that’s what I think… it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.”
Every morning I wake up feeling vulnerable. It seems each day is getting harder and I grow more sensitive. It’s difficult not to cry, holding tears back seems futile. I am depressed, not severely, but it’s there.
The cemetery where Tony is laid to rest is literally on the main street in town. Lee and I and many other friends and family of Tony drive by it all the time, like every single day, multiple times a day. This doesn’t help to ease any pain.
Almost all of us who were very close to Tony are at the point in the grieving process where we’re a bit short-tempered. It started at the mid-point of the funeral arrangements, all the stress of organizing plus the heartache of Tony’s loss, but it’s not gone yet. Hopefully soon.
Early on in the week both Lee and Bri had stomach issues due to the shock and heartbreak. My stomach had been fine until just about a week later. I woke up a few mornings in a row with nausea and other issues. At first I thought it was because I had missed a few days of meds due to being so distracted and sad, or maybe it was because of the terrible diet I’d been eating all week (carbs are comforting). More likely it was both of those and the sadness all mixed together. Also, I hadn’t been drinking hardly any water all week, but crying a lot. Dehydration will get you.
The day of the viewing/rosary we woke up to rain. Tony’s sister and mother were stressed about it, worried it would muck up the viewing and funeral. Lee told them not to worry, people are buried in the rain all the time, it won’t hurt anything. I thought it was perfect weather for a funeral, even the sky is crying over Tony. In the end the weather cleared up and all was sunny for the funeral.
The viewing was as good as such a sad event could be. The flowers were beautiful and represented Tony’s taste well. The mortician did a great job making Tony look just like himself. Bri chose a handsome suit and she had him wear his WoW ring on a chain, and one of his favorite watches (he collected watches). His mother had them place a rosary in his hand. It was all so nice. They played my video on a large screen over the coffin, with speakers placed throughout the building for the music to be heard. The flower arrangement that set on his coffin had his Titanfall helmet in it. It all represented Tony so well.
Everyone had a very hard time. No one could hold in their sorrow. Tony’s mother and sister sat in the front row the entire evening, sobbing and grieving heavily. Bri wandered a lot, not able to sit still for very long at a time. Lee went and saw his brother at the beginning of the evening, then went to a side room to cry for a while, then went outside to get some fresh air, then came back in to a different side room for the rest of the evening. I stayed by Lee’s side the entire time.
A lot of friends and family came, the chapel was packed. We were hugged and comforted by friends new and old, and family from near and far.
Mona lead the rosary. I thought it impressive how she could be so strong to get up and do that at her brother’s viewing. She did a good job.
The following day was Tony’s funeral. It was a traditional Catholic Funeral Mass. Our dear friend Nathan H. said a eulogy, beautiful words with a touch of humor. Perfect.
After the mass we headed over to the graveside. The procession of cars was very long. Tony was well loved and something around 100+ people attended his funeral. At the graveside about halfway through the priest’s final prayer a train came by (the cemetery is right next to the train tracks). We all paused and waited for the long train to go by. After, while we were waiting for everyone to make their final pass by Tony’s casket, Lee, myself, and a couple friends joked that Tony would have joked about the train stopping the funeral being lag. That’s an online gamer style of joke for those of you who don’t game.
The reception hall was also quite full of loved ones. It was sad, of course, but also filled with lively, happy memories of Tony and how he touched each and every person’s life in such positive ways.
Our good friend, Kim, and other friends came together to make the center pieces for the tables. They turned out beautiful. Each one had a different picture of Tony.
The first week has passed. The viewing, funeral, and gatherings are done. Now begins the mourning -while -living -life part. The part where you have to go to work, run everyday errands and chores, do normal everyday things. The part where you go hang with friends and have fun, but he’s not there. This is the hardest part, figuring out how to go on without him. How to do those things we used to do with him, but now without him.
We will always remember Tony. He will live forever in our memories, our stories, our photos. He will be forever cherished.