Day 16: Gingerbread Houses

•January 7, 2020 • Leave a Comment

December 29,2009

4:30 am

“It sure looked like you had fun making the gingerbread (graham cracker) House Village. I like that you were the Nursery for the Church. It tells me that the children of the village are important – and they ARE! Jesus said to His disciples – “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them, for such is the Kingdom of GOD.” -Momma

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I love you, Sara. The only thing I would have changed about the memory is that I could have been there to help you and that we could have had it taped to view again like we were doing with the old home videos yesterday.

I love you, Sara Joy!

-Momma”

If I remember correctly, my cousins, sisters, and I all collaborated on a big gingerbread house (that was probably way less impressive than I remember it being). Being the babies of the group, Priscilla and I were confined to one small area at the corner of the so-called masterpiece. Priscilla made a Rich Man who donated to the orphanage and gave him a twizzler scarf, and I used the icing, pretzels, and gumdrops to make a door to the nursery of the church. Meanwhile, Momma was in and out of the fun, too weak to help out that much. She wrote this entry early in the morning before anyone else was awake, most likely because she couldn’t sleep. 

Again I’m painfully reminded of how for three months, she was dying with the knowledge that her daughters would soon be entering a world without her there, and her youngest would barely remember one with her in it. While this may be true, it’s still clear to me by these words that I have a Momma who loved the children of God, who loved ME, and who wished she could have been there to see me become my own person. And even though she’s gone, I’m thankful that her loving spirit still surrounds me as I grow up without her. I often come back to the words inscribed in her own handwriting, “I love you, Sara.” It is a reminder to me that Momma wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, that she wasn’t just my sisters’ mother. She was my mother, too. And somehow, I can find comfort in that.

-Sara Joy

Day 15: New Year’s Eve

•January 1, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Dear Momma,

I know you would have loved our family time yesterday. The day started off with some kinks – leaving late, traffic in the snow for an hour, even heavier weather conditions for others. But you know us – nothing ever goes just as perfectly planned in the Espiritu clan. But we all made it to Michigan safely nonetheless.

When we got there, I got to glam up with my sisters for a family photo. LydiaGrace showed me what contouring looks like, Christina straightened my hair, and I wore lipstick for one of the first times. It was really nice to listen to music and chill with my sisters as we made ourselves pretty (though I know you would say to all of your daughters that we’re beautiful without all the makeup 😊). Then we went downstairs for a sister photo in the snow and a family photo inside. It’s hard not to miss you each year when we take these photos and you’re not in them.

Then we opened all our Christmas presents! It’s always a joy to open them with family and the little ones. I used to be the baby of the family who got to choose first and pass out presents and help unwrap. But not anymore! I think Sapphira and Adelaide had us covered. Each present was gifted and received with love. I’m blessed to have sisters who love me and know me well.

After that we watched a family classic – While You Were Sleeping – while the little ones and their parents played Uno in the other room. Later we’d play games like Code Names and Apples to Apples. But as I watched other couples cuddle on the couch and enjoy one another’s presence, I’ll admit, it was hard not to feel a twinge of sadness that my boyfriend wasn’t there. But I heard your voice telling me that I’m still overjoyed to be with my fun-loving family whom I don’t get to see that often and that I should push sad thoughts of him aside to enjoy myself to the fullest.

Then came the Cup of Blessing, one of my favorite withstanding New Years traditions in the Espiritu Family. It’s a moment of fellowship and vulnerability and real talk and raw reflection. I love hearing about my family’s year, most of which I haven’t been present in their lives to experience with them. It was a moment for me to open up about a few things. It took a lot of courage, Momma, but I think you’d be proud. I got to tell them about the happy things in my life, too, especially my newly budding relationship with Tyler.

We all miss you, Momma. Throughout all the joy this season and this time together brings, many tears were shed. I felt the pain of others; I felt others feeling my pain. Together with the rest of my other sisters, we gathered around a sister who has gone through so much this year, all without a mother there to dry her tears. 2019 has been a roller coaster of emotions for all of us. But at the end of the day, we’re all there for each other in your absence.

It’s hard not to wish you were here, but Happy New Year all the same, Momma! I bet the party up there is like no other, even though I’m not sure if time and the New Year is that relevant in Heaven haha. Thank you for instilling in all your children the importance of togetherness. We’re all this close because of that unbreakable bond you told us we had all those years ago. I love you, Momma. Happy Holidays in Heaven! 😊😊

-Sara Joy

Day 14: Faces Frozen In Time

•December 31, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Back in November, my English teacher gave us an assignment to analyze a picture and its significance to us. I chose the last professional photo my family ever took. It was a photo shoot that my momma requested the Christmas season before she passed. In light of the new decade, I’d like to share it with you all 🙂

Sara Espiritu

AP Language and Composition

Mrs. Howard

22 November 2019

I have always been one to make a big deal over snapshots; I could spend hours obsessing over yesterday, living in the past. It’s almost like I’m afraid to go on living. I will keep on examining the candids until I exhaust my special connection to the moment. But one day I’ll stop, forgetting all about it until some fateful day in the far future when I happen to come across the memory, nostalgia taking over as I sit down by myself to return to it once again.

The black photo album takes its refuge in my living room, having collected dust on its surface as the years have gone by. As I wipe away the gathered particles from the cover, I find myself wiping away the tears from my face as well. These pictures capture distant, happy moments in my life, an innocence only known to the face featured in the photo. This album of precious memories signifies better times. I flip through the pages with ever-increasing emotion and stumble across one particular picture that stands out to me. As I lovingly look down at the precious memory, I reflect on everything that happened the day these faces were frozen in time.

The year was 2009. The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season seemed no different to the six-year-old face that shines back at me. In fact, everyone around her seemed to be making more of a fuss about the holiday than they had in years past. Every family member that flowed in and out of my house, every gift opening, every ornament placed on the tree, every last Espiritu family tradition was imbued with a sense of urgency and dread that she could not quite place. As her relatives gathered for a big family photoshoot, she was told to dress in red, to look her best, and to smile like nothing was wrong, an easy task for her to accomplish given the fact that she didn’t realize that anything was. Little did she know that this over-the-top, cranberry-colored spectacle would be the last photos taken of her unbroken family.

Just weeks before, after months of uncertainty and ambiguity, my dear mother had been officially diagnosed with an unusual form of stomach cancer called gastric adenocarcinoma with Littinus Plastica. This phrase, however, seemed too much for a little girl to handle. For months, the only thing people said to me was, “Your momma is very sick.” This was obviously a euphemism for what they couldn’t seem to say to me point-blank: “Sara, your mother is dying, and she isn’t going to get better.” But how could one possibly look into those innocent, almond eyes and say something so utterly hopeless?

And so my six-year-old self sits in the front row to the far right. My sisters are my shields, protecting me from the prospect of living the rest of my life without a nurturing mother figure. My sister, Tabitha, places her hand on my shoulder like she’s trying to preserve me from experiencing that pain. I am unable to comprehend what most everyone else already understands. In less than three months’ time, that pale, fragile frame, that woman smiling through the pain, would be gone. And the world would never be the same.

Now it’s nearing the end of 2019. At the turn of a new decade, a plethora of people online seem eager to look back and reminisce about what they were like back then. My Facebook is flooded with glow ups and before and afters and changes in style. Amidst all this, I can’t help but look back at this family photo with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat. All of the strangers staring back at me are now ten years older, ten years wiser, with ten more years of life experiences. All except one. Momma’s frail face will stay that way forever.

Even back then I made a big deal over snapshots. In the aftermath of my mother’s death, I held onto every memory of her I could. I practically slept with this picture under my pillow. I never left the house without my Momma Bear, my Momma Blanket, or my Momma Journal. I was afraid to forget the feeling of what it was like to have a mother. But somewhere along the way, it became too painful to try to remember. So I stopped.

In the wake of the ten year anniversary of my mother’s death, however, I am brought back to this time in my life. Since 2009, I’ve started new hobbies and gained new interests. I’ve gone through bouts of depression. I’ve had periods where I’ve just gone through the motions. I’ve been over the moon with happiness. I’ve had fallouts with friends, fights with sisters, and problems with boys. I’ve grown spiritually, physically, and mentally alike. I’ve done all of this without a mother by my side. I can only hope that that little girl and her loving mother would be proud of who I am today.

As I close the covers of the black photo album and carefully put it back in its place, I realize how long it has been since I revisited those memories. Over the last ten years, it’s been normal for me to accept the fact that I don’t have a mother, and over time it’s almost like I’ve forgotten that I ever did. But these pictures say otherwise. They act as a time capsule, reminding me that my mother’s love still surrounds me, and that six-year old’s joy is still present in me today. They provide a place for me to reflect on my life. They’ll be waiting for the next time I need to remember and heal. Until then, I’ll just keep on living, but every once in a while, I’ll look back and remember those precious times with my dearest mother and smile.

Day 13: Joyful and Triumphant

•December 30, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Day 13: Joyful and Triumphant

Posted by Sara Espiritu

“Before our opening hymn, I would like to dedicate a short instrumental introduction to my late mother, Melissa, who passed away from stomach cancer almost 10 years ago. The last Christmas she spent with us, she got to see me perform my first solo. She wrote me a letter concerning it, which read,

‘My dear Sara, I am so glad that I can share a memory of seeing you sing your first solo, among many I am sure! “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” – What a JOY to see your face as you sang. So sweet, so innocent. I remember thinking as you sang, “JOYful and triumphant” so clearly that it was indeed the perfect song for you, my Sara JOY. And boy did you bring joy into the hearts of many yesterday! Keep performing, dear.

Love, Momma’

As we gather in this place to celebrate the reason for the season, together with those who are celebrating in heaven, let us come, all who are faithful, and JOYfully, triumphantly prepare our hearts to adore Him.”

At the Christmas Eve service on Tuesday, I introduced the opening hymn, Oh Come All Ye Faithful with these words and led the congregation in a short woodwind intro with my sister, Tabitha. It was short, simple, and sweet – nothing fancy. Even then, I messed up a few times, and the perfectionist in me almost doesn’t want to share this video. But Momma never cared about perfection. My sisters always say that if my heart is in the right place, the mistakes don’t matter, and my message of worship will come across to the congregation.

At the end of the letter, Momma wrote, “I know what song you should do next year – JOY to the World!” At the end of the lessons and carols, after the candles were extinguished, the organ rang with the beginning of this song. I stood next to my sisters as we sang our hearts out in praise to our Savior (silly voices and all 😉). I knew that Momma’s presence was there and that she was proud. Proud of my performance, proud of my heart for Jesus…proud of me, her Sara Joya.

P.S. I definitely have the best middle name out of all the sisters 😉😉😉

Day 12: Ruthie

•December 25, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Day 12: Ruthie

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

-Colossians 3:12-14

At that same meeting, we were also each given another gift, one that I considered FAR more superior to the journals. Eight identical stuffed animals with white scarves wrapped around their necks made their way into view, and the fluffy figures were then passed out to each person in the room. “They’re teddy bears!” Momma said. “Our hope in giving you these gifts is that even when I’m gone, you’ll remember to ‘BEAR’ with one another, as the verse in Colossians 3 says. You sisters have a bond that is unbreakable. Even when you disagree, even when you fight, do not let the Sun go down on your anger.” The Momma and Papa Bears went up on a shelf in the living room while everyone else had free reign to keep or display their bears. As soon as the meeting was over, Tabitha, Priscilla, and I immediately began to search for names. Scilla settled on the name, Beck; Tabitha fancied the name, Ronni. I held my new friend with a smile on my face and told my other sisters proudly, “Her name is Ruthie.”

Just like Ruth was to Naomi in the Bible, Ruthie was and is a loyal companion. Ten years later, the Momma and Papa Bears still sit on the shelf, looking as good as new. Most of my sisters’ bears still maintain a decent level of fluff. But Ruthie on the other hand? That bear has been through thick and thin with me. She no longer adorns the white scarf. God only knows where that thing is. Her right arm is completely devoid of stuffing. Lola tried several times to stitch her up and fix her. Her coat, which used to be as light and fluffy as those two bears in the living room, is now matted and worn. She’s got this almost sad look on her face like she’s been through a lot, which, being owned by a young girl, she most certainly has.

My sisters always used to say to me, “The fact that she’s tattered just means that she’s been loved…A LOT.” And that’s true. I slept with Ruthie every single night (except on the nights when I felt guilty that she was an obvious favorite, and I slept with one of my other beloved stuffed animals). There was a lullaby I used to listen to on repeat, my favorite on the old album, called, “Lullaby for Teddy.” Whenever I couldn’t sleep, I wrapped my arms around Ruthie and closed my eyes so she would, too, as the song said. Ruthie’s been with me on several vacations; she was always my first pick to be my companion, except on trips I was too afraid I’d leave her somewhere. With my track record of leaving things behind, it’s amazing that I haven’t lost her yet. I was proud to bring Ruthie everywhere, no matter how tattered she was. Ruthie was also there for me through the grief bursts. Her sad eyes comforted me as she looked back into my own, her body was limp and weak from all the tight hugs, and her fur has held several of my tears. Out of all the gifts and things my Momma gave us to remember her by, Ruthie was the best one to give a grieving child. Even as a grieving teenager, there is still such comfort in a friend who has been there for you for more than half your life to help you deal with loss, even if she is just stuffing. When I look into Ruthie’s sad eyes, I remember to always bear with my sisters, to never be afraid to just break down and cry every once in a while, to always hold onto my Momma, and to never forget that I’ll see her again someday.

-Sara Joy

Day 11: Momma Journal

•December 21, 2019 • Leave a Comment

“Here you go! A gift to you girls from your momma and me,” Dad said as he passed out the packages. We were all sitting in the living room around Christmas time having a family meeting, my sisters and I waiting in anticipation as the items were distributed. The presents in question were individually wrapped and rectangular, and we tore through the paper to reveal what was hidden underneath.

“They’re journals,” Momma said. “Over the next few months, I’m going to sit down with each of you, and we’ll write down our favorite memories together! Feel free to trade your journals with each other.”

After a few switcheroos and a puppy dog look from Tabitha, I landed with the journal I considered the ugliest of the bunch, as was usually the case as the youngest of six children. It looked, however, like I was going to be stuck with it, so I called out, “Momma, my book isn’t pretty like Tabitha’s!” She replied back to me plainly, “What? Polka dots, Stripes, AND multicolored?! It’s full of character! If you ask me, Tabitha’s looks quite bland compared to yours.” She smiled back at me warmly, and just like that, my opinion about the journal changed. I immediately got out a pen and began to customize the inside cover…

During the last three months of her life, Momma took the time to sit down with each of her daughters for some “quality time.” We would tell our stories while Momma wrote down the memory. At times, she would write a letter for us in its pages. And after she died, her daughters would be free to write their thoughts about her and look back on the precious memories. It didn’t click in my mind at the time that as early as two weeks after she was officially diagnosed, Momma and Dad were already preparing for her death, that giving us these gifts and several others was meant to be a coping mechanism and a way to remember her after she was gone.

My Momma Journal contains the last words Momma ever wrote to me, and some of the only words of love and advice she ever wrote directly to me, and every once in a while, I’ll write in it myself and let her know what’s going on in my life. Over the next ninety entries of this series, I’ll be pulling some excerpts from its contents. I’m thankful for all the words and the memories and reflections that I continue to hold close to my heart.

-Sara Joy

P.S. I’m back! I plan on being more consistent now that final exams are over 🙂

Day 10: In Honor of the First Snowfall of the Christmas Season

•December 15, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Priscilla and I woke up that morning to a bright, white spectacle outside our bedroom window. We looked out at the flurry of January snow that had fallen overnight that was practically BEGGING us to play in it. Adventure awaited us! We gathered up all the necessities – we doubled up on our pants, found our hats and scarves, searched high and low for two pairs of matching gloves, put on our snowsuits, and slipped our boots on over our fuzzy socks. And we were off!

But what was there to do? Snowball fights weren’t fun with just two people. Making snow angels was FAR too elementary an activity for a six and nine-year-old. No, today, we were going to attempt something we’d never yet done before – build a snowman! The problem was, neither of us knew where to start. We tried several tactics, each one failing rather miserably. But finally, after a few trial runs, we had three – very lopsided and lumpy looking – spheres of snow stacked on top of one another.

But now for the final touches – decorating! We rushed inside, our faces flushed and our fingers already numb from the cold. But we couldn’t stop now – our snowman needed some character! We scrounged up all the items we needed to make our creation come to life. Alongside the winter hat and scarf and sticks for arms that we found, we had to use some substitutes as well, like raisins for buttons. And our sisters said it was pointless to waste a good carrot, sooo we just used a stick for that, too. We decided not to add a replacement cigar, though. Smoking, after all, is quite bad for people, even and maybe especially snow people, who are very prone to melting when in close proximity to something so hot.

We were finally finished with our masterpiece! We made our back inside the house where Grace and Tabitha were waiting to greet us with some hot chocolate. All in all, it was a perfect winter morning. The only thing that would have made it better was if Momma could have joined us. I knocked on her door excitedly and called out, “Momma, Momma! Come look at the snowman Priscilla and I just made!” But Momma had had a rough morning and couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed that day. And unfortunately, Priscilla and I seemed to have both caught colds. Because of this, our older sisters advised us to keep a safe distance away from Momma until our coughs had gone away, saying they didn’t want any extra strain on her physical health. I don’t think I understood why at the time. I was downcast for what seemed like the rest of the day, staring outside at Mr. Snowman, wishing Momma could have been there to see the joy on our faces as we built and created to our heart’s content. I’m sure Momma wished the same.

-Sara Joy