Friday April 1st 2016
This was a hard weekend. Not so much for myself but for my friend Michael Vega. Michael’s mother, Bishop Felicita Vega had been battling cancer for a little over two years, and this week she passed away. Tuesday March 29th at 8:11 am at NY Hospital of Queens formally Booth Memorial Hospital.
The Thursday before, March 24th Mike and I spent a good hour or so on the phone. We talked about my workouts and how surprisingly I had been sticking with it. We also discussed my work situation. This was the week after my boss told me he was leaving. It was a crazy situation which Im still unsure about how it will play out. It was a good conversation, especially since it had been many weeks since we last spoke.
That Saturday, March 26th was Easter weekend. Andrea and I got up early to head down to Paxton. Sometime after leaving Chicago city limits I was browsing Facebook when a new post popped up from Michael about his mother being hospitalized.
I informed Andrea as she was driving. I called Michael immediately. 11:24am He picked up the phone, emotions streaming. I asked him what was happening. In a few words he told me that his mother had been hospitalized on Thursday and that things were not looking very good. I think at this point they were still going back and forth with doctors as to how she could fall ill so quickly. It would not be until I arrived later in the week at the funeral that I would learn more of the situation. I told him I loved him and his family and hoped that things will be ok. I let him go. Shortly after I began to cry hard. My love and fear for Michael’s situation just triggered that deep emotional sadness that we experience sometimes. After my crying subsided I called my Mom and informed her of what Michael had told me.
Mike started a gofundme page for his mom that went live Easter Sunday.
In not wanting to inundated Mike with calls and worry i waited until the following day to call him back. This would be after we left Andrea’s parents house to head back to Chicago. He answered, somberly he informed me that they had reached the point where his mother had been intubated and that she was terminal. There had been discussion of surgery but that it would only prolong her life by days. They were also extremely risky and that she might not survive it. At this point it was down to their family to decide when they would take her off life support. It would either be Monday or Tuesday. At this point they had already began looking into funeral homes as he informed me that a nearby Funeral home had availability on Thursday and Friday. I told Mike to let me know when that was scheduled and Id plan accordingly to attend. He thanked me and we got off the phone.
I did not contact Mike beyond a few text messages that week. On Tuesday morning on my commute to work Mike posted on Facebook that his mother had passed away. I texted as i was on a crowded bus. The rest of the morning and afternoon I looked into flights to nyc wondering if i should go or not. I was also worried that my work responsibilities would prevent me from leaving since i was to receive robs instructions in his last week. Later in the mid afternoon i called my mom for advice. I told her that mike was trying to raise $20,000. And that i had already donated $200. In looking at flights i was looking at about a $400 to $500 flight on short notice. That maybe I should donate the money instead of flying out. She told me that the money didn’t matter, and that my presence matters more than anything. That the church would handle it. Being there was more important. She was right of course. Shortly after I booked a $300 Southwest flight to arrive Friday Morning April 1st. I then called back my mom and gave her the flight details. With my mom on the phone I told her how sad I was and began to cry hard again. Its that emotional sensitivity that I learned about just recently. That reaction we get when we see an injury on TV. That your brain reacts as if you are experiencing the injury. This was in my sadness for Mike as well as the fear of losing my own mother. It eventually subsided and she told me to go wash my face.
On Friday I arrived into LGA at around 9am. By now, funeral services had already been set for Tuesday and Friday starting at 2pm with 7pm services. Saturday would be a morning service at 9am with burial at 11am.
Though i probably should have done some work while waiting for 2pm i mostly slept on Mom’s sofa chair. I was just so tired. I did manage to send out some emails. I arrived at the church shortly after 2pm. I walked up to the 2nd floor crossed that little hallway and opened the door to the church. There was Michael’s mother in her casket just in front of the stage. There were three seating areas. I remember being impressed by the changes they had made since the last time I had been there. There weren’t many people there. Maybe 10 to 20. I didnt recognize anyone i knew. I just sort of stood in the back wondering where i should wait. Then I noticed Mike and Teresa were sitting in the front row directly in-front of Felicita. I walked to them and hugged them both. Mike then recounted the week for me. He did so in his official Michael tone. Very matter of fact, removed of any emotion. A practice ability given his experience in Healthcare and social work. I recall feeling odd about it and then later thinking that it may have been a strength of his that i could not have had, had i been in his shoes. I teared up a few times during his story. Just the week before Felicita had been experiencing stomach issues. Loss of appetite and pains. On Thursday, shortly after we had talked he had found out that his father had taken her to Booth Memorial Hospital. He and Teresa went there. He said that the staff was being very unresponsive. Not helpful at all. Each update just informing them of more delays. It was not until he put on his Hospital Associate Director badge that they began to bend over backwards to supply them with updates. After 5 hours of waiting they informed that she was then terminally ill. A shock of course after 5 hours of zero real information and no urgency in the communication. From that point on Im sure they fell into an emotional Rollercoaster of fear, anger, and sadness. The following day, Friday, Felicita’s pain would become so great that they decided to sedate her completely. Mike said that later people told him that even though she was sick in the ICU prior to being sedated she had been texting many people checking up on them. Making sure they were alright. For me, this would solidify in my mind who Felicita was. Over the next two days I would come to learn more about Felicita than i had known.
Growing up, Michael’s mom was just Michael’s mom. I knew a long time ago she was a nurse or something as my mom had known her in some way from working at Parkway Hospital. Later i knew she became a pastor. And her and Michael’s dad Michael Jose would run the church together. Beyond this, i really had no more information on who she was. Again, she was just Michael’s mom. It wasn’t even until the Gofundme site that I learned that she obtained the title of Bishop. In-fact, the first female Bishop within the network of Christian churches that they were apart of. Michael’s mother led an amazing life in working for Jesus Christ. She, unlike anyone else i have known, truly put others before herself. I learned of many stories in which Felicita entered into someones life to help them at a difficult time. And then to continue with them on life’s journey to always check in on them, always remember them, and to continue to help them when they needed help. One pastor recounted a story in which he was presented with an immense responsibility in taking over a church or position. Not sure which. Felicita didn’t know the man, but she had known the woman that had been his predecessor. He said he picked up the phone and she said “Hello my name is Felicita Vega, we have never met but I recently learned of your situation and I wanted to offer you some help and advice if you care for it”. He said that it was this day that he experience and learned without a shadow of a doubt, that when you truly need it God will send you someone to help you. This is something I too believe. It is up to the individual whether or not to accept it or turn it away. For many people, this is who Felicita was. In a time of need she was there. You did not have to ask for it. Though you would never be turned away. As soon as she learned of your struggle she would be there. She would reach out. She would make contact. She would help you in that difficult time. And not always in that loving light tone you might expect. Another pastor recounted a time in which he was meant to attend an important event but because of his irrational fear of lighting he couldn’t. She had called him and demanded to stand up, be a man, and get his butt over there. She was to present to him a plaque that resides in his office as a memory to face your fears and be a man when you need to.
The stories i learned of Felicita were sometimes fun and sometimes serious. And with each, Michael’s mom, stopped being Michael’s mom and began to become Bishop Felicita Vega, this amazing woman who was a wellspring of love, support, and comfort. For a moment I felt a pang of jealousy followed by a longing for a missed opportunity. All this time in the 26+ years i had known the Vega family, there was this amazing woman that i could have been closer with had i taken the time to get to know her. To bond with her in way beyond being the mother of my best and first real friend. But at the same moment in feeling this, I looked over to Michael and realized that I had bonded with her. She never reached out to me and I too her because i was already being taken care of by her son. That through my buddy Michael Vega, I too would receive the care and support from him as what was taught to him by his mother and father. I then contemplated upon the physical and emotional distance that has separated me and Mike over the last 10 or so years. As well as the distance formed between myself and all of my closest friends. One of Felicita’s most loved traits was her ability to remember and to always be checking in on the health and well being of those around her. I used to do that quite a bit. But not much in recent years. From now on I’m going to make a effort to stay in touch with those I care about. Want to make sure that they are well and be that support for them if they need it. Its such an easy thing and yet I’ve gotten so caught up in my little professional world that I’ve neglected my personal world. I suppose the fact that Felicita’s Professional world was her Personal world made her exceptional at caring for both at the same time.