Thursday, August 11, 2016

Why It's So Important to Live the Life YOU Want NOW!

Annika, you never lost your innocence and purity. May you be the angel that watches over us in our lives!
The start of 2016 was really surprising so far for me. I have been pursuing more traveling outside of the country, especially to cities I have never been to, and also figuring out what makes me come alive now. I literally got a lesson about life itself. I met well-known blogger Trisha Velarmino and got lectured about the beauty of traveling solo and going to places far from Philippines like Latin and South America. I have been wanting to do that ever since I got back from US. But one of the biggest lessons I learned so far this 2016 was this: "Live the life YOU WANT to live NOW." Because this 2016 had a really surprising and shocking impact in my life not only for me, but for my whole family. Of all people, we never thought it would happen to someone whose life had not even fully started yet.
I took this picture after finishing class and she was at home having fun and jumping around!
Let me tell you a story about this incredibly kind, young and bright girl named Annika. She was my cousin. She was born in 2003, while I was still around 12 or 13 at the time. She was just the cutest baby I saw, and growing up we watched her in her crib, attempting to say her first words, and even learning to crawl and walk! I would hang out and spend time with her after school, and even went to her on Sundays with my whole family. From attending her first birthday, to the birth of her baby sister, this was a normal routine for us up until she was 5 years old. We had some personal problems on the side, and all of us just grew apart eventually. This decision was probably the one that gave me an instant regret because after that, I would never see her again. 

I swear the look on her face when she smiled and walked around the house was very charming. It really gave a positive vibe around the house. Her parents and I were close before. Her mama was a fan of baking, who would make cheesecakes to sell when I was growing up with them, which was one of the many factors that convinced me to study culinary arts in college. Her papa was a golfer and businessman. He had previously lived in US, which was one of the reasons that inspired me to live in US before. It was really a beautiful thing they all had. I am just deeply sorry though that I never got the chance to spend time with them after we became distant.
These pictures were from over 10 years ago! She just grew her teeth! I cannot believe how fast time flies!
Though I never saw Annika growing up after 5 years old, I did hear from others like her other cousins that she was a very well-behaved girl in school, bright and successful in golf, as well as a well-travelled girl. Her parents really loved her that much, so much that they gave her the opportunity to see many parts of the world at her age! I had not achieved as much as she did when I was her age, let me tell you that! I saw photos of her growing up to become a beautiful girl. Tall, bright, intelligent, and full of capability. I even heard from her school mates that she was one of the few people in school that never really got bullied or go into a fight with anyone. A well-behaved girl like her deserved the world. And what happened to her, should not happen to anybody.

Annika and her family celebrated her papa's birthday a week before his actual birthday. They did that because they planned to go to Baguio while she was on a golf tournament there. One of Annika's cousins, Mayumi, said to me that they were talking about how beautiful and tall Annika was for someone her age. Mayumi said to Annika that she should become a model someday. Really, God sometimes makes the most outrageous things happen to anyone's life. Things that really make you wonder why, of all people. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't love Him less. Maybe these things do happen for a reason. Maybe they are a lesson or experience for us.

She grew up fast at her age. Along with her sister as well! Beautiful girl too good for this world.
On March 24, 2016, while in Baguio in Philippines, Annika was at a golf tournament. While she finished her first tournament, she suddenly had a seizure and then all of a sudden, collapsed and started to feel extremely painful headaches while there. At first, her family and friends thought that she was dehydrated since it was so hot outside, and that she just needed some water and some rest. That same night, she had a seizure again and started to collapse from the pain she was feeling in her head. Her parents and her sister were all shocked at what just happened. Immediately, they tried to bring her to the nearest hospital in Baguio to see what happened to her. Doctors could not identify so they decided to call the rest of the relatives, including us, after not seeing each other for so many years.

Now while this is happening, my family was planning our trip abroad. As we were packing up our things, we got a call from one of our relatives saying that Annika has collapsed and is in a coma. We immediately cancelled everything, and decided to see what the hell was going on. Apparently, the hospitals in Baguio were not advanced enough to identify what was wrong with Annika, so we all came to a conclusion that we should fly Annika and the rest of the family back to Manila, and into the most advanced hospital in Manila to see what had happened to her. As a parent, I can only imagine how much pain, sorrow and fear my uncle and aunt were feeling at that time. To have someone they have given life suffering in pain and collapsing is probably one of the most painful sights for any of them to ever experience in their life.

When we finally arrived at the hospital where Annika was, we saw her father and mother, crying and weeping like I had never seen before. They hugged us, and her father said to us why is it only now that we are meeting when she is like this? Really heart-breaking. What was even more heart-breaking was seeing Annika on the hospital bed with tubes helping her breathe. It got me thinking, wow. Here is a really beautiful girl who was living her life and fulfilling her dreams, now on life support with tubes in her to help her breathe. It really makes you question life in all forms. It should not happen, especially to a girl who just turned 13!

The doctors came in and had done a CT scan on her. They said that Annika had suffered a blood clot in her brain, from aneurysm. They were unsure with what exactly had triggered that aneurysm to happen to her, but apparently, the internal bleeding in her brain was severe. It had started to spread all over, and that her chance to live may be little to none. Holy crap, man! Tears just started pouring into our eyes. While we were waiting outside, my cousins and relatives starting talking with each others after being estranged for so many years. We talked about our current life, and how rebellious we were as kids, but Annika on the other hand, was not. Out of all of us in the family, she was the least rebellious and the kindest one out of all us as cousins.
This was Annika as the flower girl at my older brother's wedding. Of course she is always family to us!
We tried our very best to keep awake so we had black coffee prior to what happened. We stayed at the hospital up until 2am. I stayed with my mama to help out. We helped her parents find a place to sleep for the night within the hospital area, and got them things such as medicine and food from the pharmacy. Got to meet several of her cousins and relatives from her mother's side as well as several Tito's and Tita's that I just got to meet that day. What a devastating feeling it was to just be there and seeing all that pain and sorrow at her parents face as well as my other relatives. Her parents were actually wondering if that's what the Lord had wanted for her. We all went home with a heavy heart that night, hoping that maybe she would wake up.

My parents tried to find another doctor that could possibly do something to help Annika wake up and recover. But when we woke up the next day, we had heard from the doctor that Annika's organs had started to fail already. She was already declared brain dead because the blood had already spread to the vital parts of her brain. That moment was the moment we all realized that Annika had not made it. Everything went silent for a moment. The pain of losing a child is unbearable. I do not know how my uncle and aunt have been able to keep their composure after that tragic loss. Because I am sure that if you have a loved one pass so soon, grieving and breaking down are all part of the process.
Big, beautiful eyes. I remember this day. At the back with the watch was my grandfather back when we were teenagers and Annika was just 3 years old.
After that painful realization, we started to think of the place to send her for the wake. After we had found a place, we brought her body straight to the place. Her family and the rest of us followed soon after. Now normally the corpse of someone would be put in a casket first and then later on, would have the option to whether or not cremate it. But Annika's family had decided to cremate her straight ahead due to the fact that it was such a painful moment to see her corpse like that. I am sure that the pain they were suffering was indescribable, which is why I understand and respect the decisions that they make at this point. And so after that, we went straight to the crematorium to start.

When we arrived, we saw her lifeless corpse at the area fully dressed in her favorite color, blue-green. We saw her parents looking at her with every little bit to not cry. My other cousins took a picture of it and I swear, it was one of the most depressing photos I have ever seen of someone grieving over the loss of a loved one. Especially because I personally knew them, and also because it was parents saying goodbye to their daughter. For some odd reason in tradition, the parents were not allowed to view their daughter being pushed into the crematory so it was just us cousins who got to see our cousin go through the whole process. The moment she was entering it, some of us were breaking down crying and unable to watch Annika go inside. The people at the crematorium said that the cremation process will take around 3 hours. Due to how young Annika was, hers lasted only 1 1/2 hours. As we were viewing the remaining pieces of the ashes, we saw one of them had some blue green color stuck to it. She was wearing a blue green dress when they pushed her in since that was her favorite color. We thought that would be impossible for the color to go in there, but I guess it was one of the reasons why she loved the blue green color.
I remember how almost every Sunday when we were kids, we would go to the mall and hang out. Here we were having crepe with the rest of the family.
Anyway, after her ashes were put into the urn and sealed, the wake had officially started. I got to see many people whom I have not seen for years as well as people that I did not know were friends of Annika's parents. What I was even more surprised about was the amount of people who came in from her school as well as the entire golf community. Flowers were being sent in. Letters and support were being given. I did my share by giving out freshly baked cookies to everyone around, and I got to meet people that were interesting to me. We had our pastor from church come to talk at the wake and immediately, my Annika's father and him became friends because both used to live in Alabama, USA and were part of the same fraternity there! It was a time of grieving that Annika was no longer with us, but it was a time that everyone got together and just did a lot of catching up. We passed around tissue for those weeping, and food to those who needed it. My uncle had chosen to play some of Annika's favorite songs on her playlist as background music because he said that she would have wanted it that way. And I would have to agree on that.

A week had past for the duration of the wake, and the overflow of love and support and positive attitudes coming from the guests and especially Annika's parents were tremendous. I had gotten close to some of Annika's other cousins like Manu and Mayumi. I was surprised at how her parents stayed so calm and positive despite their loss. I saw the letter that Alexa wrote for her sister Annika, and it was so sweet. It stated that "I promise to do the best that I can to continue your legacy in golf and to be as good as you. I love you and I will miss you forever." A girl at age 9 can express so much maturity and heart these days. I don't think I was as expressive as here when I was 9 years old. I don't even think I lived my life as much as Annika ever did when I was 13 years old! What were YOU doing at 13 years old compared to her right?
Look at that cute little girl! So well-behaved. Annika was definitely the kindest out of all of us!
After a week had passed, we decided on who will be allowed to attend the burial of her urn. And due to some odd beliefs in Chinese cultures, those who were born the year of the snake and dragon were not allowed to attend the burial due to the clashing of other animals to the one that Annika was born to, which was the year of the goat. They assigned Annika's other cousin from her mama's side, Mayumi, to be the one to carry her picture frame, and ME, to be the one to carry her urn to the table and into the section where her urn will be kept in a church. I felt as if I had a responsibility to do one last nice thing for her. It felt a bit scary because what if I accidentally dropped her urn and her ashes scattered all over the place right? But luckily, the urn was sealed tight with screwdrivers underneath it. I do feel that it was my obligation to do this for her and for her parents!

Anyway, the day finally happened. Mayumi and I headed to the car from the sanctuary to head to the church where Annika's urn will be buried. It was nerve wrecking because all of these people I have never met or have seen for more than 10 years at least were there looking at me while I was carrying her urn. Probably her entire school was there as well because prior to the burial they were singing at the wake. Her wake required another room just to fit in all the guests! As I was putting in the urn at the table along with Mayumi and the picture frame, the pastor had started to talk. Sitting at the front while he was talking, I begin to look back the years Annika and I had spent with each other. From the moment she was born to the moment we parted ways, those 8 years that I did not get to see her until her passing was painful because here is a beautiful girl who had all the potential in the world to be successful, but had her life taken away from her in an instant. I really do feel sad because she could have been part of my life, and we could have had some special moments together as family. The only thing I want to know now is that she is happier wherever she is and no longer suffering.
This picture really describes her the best. A well-deserved award to an amazing girl, Annika.
As the pastor finished talking, Mayumi and I started to carry the urn and picture frame up to the section where her urn will be locked into. When we arrived there, the pastor gave one last speech right before the burial. There was something which I thought was a fly land on Mayumi, and I tried to shoo it away, I realized that it was a butterfly! In past beliefs, every time a person passes away, the person is normally transformed into a butterfly, and then will start to go out there to spread love and joy, to let you know that they are okay. I did try my best to not get teary eyed. Apart from seeing Annika in the hospital to seeing her being cremated, I tried my best to just smile throughout the rest of the process because Annika was known to have a smile on her face a lot.

As I buried her urn into the section where her urn will be locked, I said to her "Goodbye Annika", and gave her one last kiss, right before burying the urn inside. And at that point, we all part ways and just begin to talk to each other. I saw cousins whom I have not seen in years there, and we started to reminisce about the past, and getting updates from each other. I heard one person say to Annika's parents to "Take care and be strong for Alexa" as well as provide her mama a book about dealing with the loss of a child. I admire their strength and compassion for each other despite losing someone so dear to them. I love how caring they are for each other. Weeks later, the kids golf community had released tons of balloons in the golf course to commemorate Annika. Experiences like this make you really appreciate the fragility of life, and also to be thankful that you have the life you have now.

If there was one thing I could learn from this experience, it would have to be to "Live the life YOU want NOW!" Time is moving so quickly, and I just got a first hand experience from it. Make everyday a day that is meaningful to you, that feels good to you. If Annika were still alive today, she would be doing just that! Living her life to the fullest, and doing things that she loves to do with not only her friends, but also her family. For 13 years old, she did live her life, and was so lucky to have gotten to see the world. I am supportive of traveling and exploring even more now because of all this. Let someone know that you love them, thank someone for being so kind to you, go out there and just do whatever it is you want to do, and don't let anybody stop you from living the life you want. And so from this point on, whatever it is I want to do, I will just go for it and just smile and love more. Thank you for showing me that Annika. What an angel you are. I love you, and I hope to see you again in the next life!
As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. And if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.


  1. What a beautiful girl :( I'm sorry for the loss, but also glad to know that each loss comes with a learning that we will all carry throughout out lives. I myself am trying to live the life that I want now. There are no excuses. We all have 24 hours and best to maximize our resources because life is INDEED so short.

  2. Thank you for the love and kindness. I think we should all live our lives like she did. We would be so much happier that way I think.