COVID Grief: Grieving Sudden Death

On Wednesday night I got news over text. The paternal grandmother of my oldest girls (my ex-MIL) passed away from COVID.

The group text sent me on a tailspin. At first I was confused reading her name, no reference to her relationship to me. I first thought it was someone else and then realized, no, no, it’s her.

Reading those words in a group text made me feel naked, blindsided. It felt callous. Cold. Cruel. Sad.

I couldn’t process her death. I barely got it out when I told my daughters that this woman who was their grandmother, but with whom they had not had a relationship with in 13 years, since they were 2 years old, had died suddenly. They looked at me in a mix of blankness and confusion. I understood and yet I felt even more at a loss for what I should be feeling.

I tried to talk about it with my partner but couldn’t get more than a few words out before wanting to shut down again and not think. I avoided thinking about it by working as soon as I woke and cooking and cleaning when done with work.

Then not until four days later in the privacy of a Saturday was I no longer able to hide from her. Every time I closed my eyes I saw her face. Looking grim, her image floating right above me.

I allowed myself to think of her and slowly was able to separate thoughts of her from the trauma her son caused me.

I thought about how she’d welcomed me into her home when I married her son. Her willingness to embrace me, to make me feel like a daughter. To make me feel what no one else had, like I belonged. Thinking of her brought back aromas of Baja style fish tacos, crema, salsa, and homemade tortillas. Everything lovingly made from scratch over chisme in the kitchen. The grim face was replaced by an open mouth, head tilted back, deep throated and free laugh as I joked with her in the kitchen cooking side by side. Her face was plaintive as she spoke to me about how she was doing and managing her pain. Her face smiling lightly as I told her how about my all day sickness during pregnancy. Her face alight holding her grand daughters, showing me the dresses she made for them. The beautiful rag dolls she made and I helped her sell at work. Her face angry when I left her son. Her face in hard judgement asking why I couldn’t make it work? Her face embarrassed and apologetic when she realized all he’d done.

I started walking into the memories and with each face, a cry would come. A shy cry at first, afraid to release the emotion. Then tumbling over each other, grasping for space and breath. And then full force sobbing for what felt like hours. I cried until my face felt sore from throbbing and shaking. I cried until I couldn’t see through my swollen eyes. I cried until I could see her face and feel peace.

Yesterday, I woke up still puffy but also full of purpose and hope. She was at peace. Her voice that had been with me, imploring, judgmental, and kind – was released. I opened all the windows and door and lit Palo Santo – breathing in the sweet aroma and exhaling the fumes of a strong llanto. I gave the house a deep clean, buffing out my remaining tears, sweeping out all dust and remnants of fear.

I won’t be able to go to her funeral. She died in Tijuana, MX where she lived. It’s not safe to travel and it’s not safe for me to see her son. This is the grieving I am able to do.

This is the grieving that I can allow myself to do for now.

Pain Tolerance

When I was a little kid I took great pride in having a ‘high pain tolerance’. If I fell (which happened a lot in my slippery high-heeled cowboy boots), got into a fist fight with my male cousins (never one to back down), or burned myself in our outdoor disqueras – I would grit my jaw and swallow the searing pain and let it pool in my stomach. Let it sit there like a dare to see how long I could hold it without getting light-headed. I dug my nails into my palm or pinched the inside of my upper arm to transfer the pain and feel present in what I was actively doing to myself, for myself.

When I brought up stress at work, severe PMS depression, or struggling in general, my doctors waved it off. Not one heard me. When my ex-husband threw a heavy sound system and broke my toe, the ER doctor removed my nail and started giving me stitches as I flinched and sweated until they asked if it hurt. They didn’t even think to check if I had been administered pain numbing medication and I didn’t know that asking was an option. The same happened after a vaginal birth that required stitches. I didn’t want to be a bother. I thought it was a test to my abilities. As a mother of three children, thrice I said, “No drugs. I want to experience everything.” But really I was afraid of seeking comfort.

As I grew older, this “high pain tolerance” was nothing more than an old belief and voices that said, “Don’t cry! Why are you crying?! I should be crying!”, “Crying is for funerals”, “Callate llá!”, “Don’t tell anyone.” I internalized these voices and messages. I believed that I didn’t have the right to show emotion nor the “luxury” of expressing my pain.

For a long time I believed I didn’t feel physical pain like others. I had a shield, a super power that would make me an impenetrable spy (hey, I dream a lot!).

I didn’t know it was okay to admit to feeling pain.

Then with each birth came a storm of postpartum depression that engulfed me, leaving me unmoored in a treacherous sea of feeling nothing, unprompted tears, feeling like a live wire, raw emotions, unsolicited trauma memories, and a pain so excruciating it hurt to breathe. I finally went to therapy.

The only difference between me saying my pain is a 5 in the pain scale compared to your 10 is that I have been trained by harmful behaviors and neglect to eat and hide my pain. You have been cared for when you fall, when you get burnt, when you are emotionally devastated. You know it is natural to feel pain and you expect to be comforted.

I didn’t know that it was okay – as a human being – to express how much I was hurting.

I didn’t know that seeking comfort is not selfish, not a weakness.

After four years of therapy I learned to ask myself, “What would you do if this was happening to [insert my child’s name]?” Only in this manner could I allow myself to empathize with myself. Only in this manner could I understand how much pain I was in.

On Wednesday morning I was out for my daily walk waiting on an iced latte and croissant, feeling giddy and abuzz with the impending inauguration, and feeling in control and in awe of my life.

I was notified of my younger brother’s arrest for one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder.

I started choking on spontaneous sobs swallowed by old pain denial mechanisms and trying not to pass out. I didn’t want my partner to see me, much less the strangers walking right by me to get coffee. I felt rage at their rudeness. Didn’t they see that I was hiding – away from the coffee kiosk? Couldn’t they go around?! Couldn’t they see I was failing and trying hard to hide this – to close this ocean of pain threatening to undo me?

I am in pain.

For most of the last week I have teetered between sobbing, feeling empty and impotent, and white hot rage.

I’ve leveraged all of my tools from therapy to remain present. To keep being a mother. To keep being an employee, a wife, a friend, a person. What has been constant is this heavy weight of deep pain that makes me want to do anything to stop it.

On the outside I look the same.

I look ‘fine’.

But I am not fine.

I do not have a “high pain tolerance.” Brown and Black people do not have a different way of feeling pain. We feel the same pain. We have just had to hide it to survive.

But surviving is not enough. I need to deal with this pain so I can focus on helping my brother. I need to release some of this pain so I can breathe.

I need to stop hiding. See my pain. Respect my pain please. Respect that I am struggling and trying my very best.

To (now Online) College Students – You need a plan to succeed

In the midst of the pandemic, first responders are struggling to keep our fellow Americans healthy; service workers have lost wages and tips; many of us are or will face the loss of a loved one; and many of us are trying to figure out how to keep the fridge stocked and a roof over our heads. Those are all incredibly difficult and life altering problems.

And so is the real issue of dealing with an education system that has moved online. For many students in the US, this will be the first experience with online learning or #zoomuniversity. As a former community college student (and many times failed online school student – side eyeing you Kaplan), I’ve juggled raising a family as a single mom, working 50+ hours at a high stress job, and taking a combination of in-person and online coursework. So I like to think I know a thing or two about the matter.

Making a plan that works for you – and how to interact with that plan to set yourself up for success

There’s several apps and tech out there but I like to keep it fairly simple. I make use of Google Calendar, iOS notes app, and sticky notes. My tips below:

  • Google calendar
  • Keeping up with the Lecture Schedule + Study Groups
  • HW, Quiz, Exam release dates + deadlines
  • The art of note-taking and asking questions
  • iOS notes app
    • Daily checklists
    • Check in with yourself
    • Journal
  • sticky notes on my display screen

Google Calendar: What to Add and Why

This is a tricky balancing act. Add too many items to your calendar and you will have an anxiety attack just looking at all the deadlines. Don’t add enough and you risk missing an important deadline or lookahead for exam studying.

Lecture Schedule

Personally I add lecture times or the time when the pre-recorded lecture will be up. Either way for the time window I include the length of the lecture plus an additional 15-30 minutes (depending on class content) for pausing and rewinding. This allows me to see the pockets of time that I have to dedicate for each class and I can “reschedule” it to another day or time when I know I can focus on content digestion.

Keeping up with lecture: The merry-go-round that never stops

Ay. We’ve all been there: class is recorded, we have overlapping classes, and we PROMISE ourselves that will catch up on the weekend – always on that mythically eternal long weekend that somehow always flashes before our eyes in a second with no progress on lecture. Before you know it, it’s two days before an exam and you’re are binging on lecture videos trying to LEARN new content instead of reviewing something that was taught weeks ago. Don’t fall victim to this vicious cycle – it never ends well.

Lecture Accountability: Form Study groups

What has worked best for me is setting up study groups pronto! More than one – including with people you don’t know. I use groupMe, group texts, Slack to communicate with different study groups. I then schedule days when we will go over HW problems (which rely on lecture) so that I HAVE to be ready. There’s nothing like the pressure to stay up to date because you want to help your friend out with their questions – it should always be a give and take dynamic.

The Art of Note-taking: How to Absorb content while viewing a video + Post on Piazza with my name (Not Anonymously)

I download the lecture slides (if available – all online classes should be required to have slides) onto my iPad. Before I saved for my iPad, I used to print out the slides (I am so, so, so sorry mother earth) and write notes on the pages.

With my iPad I can now follow along with the video and pause the video when I have question or am unclear on what was said. I note the time of the video and write what my question is. I continue with the lecture if this doesn’t stumble me up for the remaining content and see if my question is answered. If not then I post on piazza or whatever student Q&A platform the class uses and note what I am referring to (both content summary and timestamp of video) and state how I understand it (so prof has an opportunity to explain it further or differently if I misunderstood) and ask my question.

I publish questions with my name – not anonymously. Why? Because fellow students are more likely to answer a question if there is a name attached – that’s just human nature, and because someone I know or knows of me will be even more inclined to give an in-depth question. I had a CS class in which I made it my mission to give in-depth answers to all questions but especially to those posed by Latinx / Black students. Sue me.

Find the ways in which note-taking works best for you but know now that an online class will require more effort to master the content.

HW, Quiz, and Exam Dates

I add when a HW/Quiz/Exam is out and when it is due. That way I can see if I have multiple classes with the same deadline. I then reach out to my counselor, Office of Accessible Education coordinator, and professors – in that order so that I can see what accommodations are available to me, ask for those accommodations and get appropriate documentation if needed, and then email the professor and lead TA with a blurb on my specific situation, a specific ask, and attach the documentation.

If you’re floundering from day 0 because you have a lot on your plate (caring for children, parents, siblings, working, etc.) please follow the above. There is no reason that we should suffer alone and quietly. Squeaky wheel gets the oil is something you need to embrace as needed.

iOS notes app: checklists are my jam, journaling, inspiration

I use my notes app for pretty much everything. During a quarter I aim to post every day with a list of TODO items using the checklist feature.

Below is an example of recent posts. As you can see I forgot the tomatoes and I need to charge my phone 🙂


An example of my TODO list
I have been eating a lot of cheeze-its. We’re in a pandemic – don’t judge me!

What the Checklist is for – and what it Shouldn’t do

More importantly, you will notice that I don’t get through everything on my list in one day. Completion of tasks within the day is NOT the point. The point is to keep an inventory of TODOs, prioritize accordingly, and carryover anything that wasn’t done to the next day. No judgement. This is meant to help you – not make you feel worse.

You will also note that I include the mundane (grocery shopping), along with school work. I have one day where everything I did centered on cleaning and errands. Celebrate everything you accomplish because it is exactly that, an accomplishment. There will be days when you are too tired *raises hand*, too depressed *raises hand*, too busy with caring for loved ones *raises hand*, too whatever to do the schoolwork that has to get done. Be prepared for that. It doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you human – especially since at minimum you are dealing with stress induced by the pandemic and all the changes and uncertainty that it brings.

Journaling – I was terrible at it until…

You guessed it, I used my notes app. I’ve tried to buy pretty stationary, notebooks, blogs *yes this blog – stop judging me!* to establish a daily-ish journaling practice and it just never took. A few months ago I started some intense trauma therapy and to stay anchored and document my progress and state of mind I started jotting down notes under each day. Things like, how I felt when I woke up (e.g. feeling groggy, good / bad sleep, # hrs of sleep), how I felt that day (e.g. a good day, in a funk, a really bad can’t get out of bed day). I included workouts I did – never what I didn’t do. What I cooked that day, a memory I made that day w/ friends or fam, etc.

These check-ins lead to the practice of self-awareness and introspection – one of the most powerful skills you can hope to develop. It also allows you to look back and question false statements such as “I was so lazy this week.” Were you lazy? Or were you just dealing with extra shit that week? This has helped me identify what triggers my anxiety and depression – also a very powerful and life-altering skill.

There are no rules – jot down what you want!


If you ever need an idea for a startup, social justice issue you should care about, or a poem – I got you. I write these down too. But I keep these in separate notes. I love being able to reference these to undo “writers block”, get a brainstorm for CS group research projects going, etc.

Sticky Notes! Printouts! —> Physical Inspiration Board

Before being a full time student at Stanford, I was the Global Business Development Lead for the Technology Transactions & IP Group, Data Privacy Group, and the Life Sciences Industry Group at a top three law firm. Yeah it’s a mouthful and it was a lot. To keep me from losing my mind from all the deadlines, being the only Latina in the entire department, working in all white spaces in a corporate setting, reporting to some very childish and a-holy personalities (though also some incredibly supportive and amazing partners who I owe a lot to and learned a lot from), and to keep pushing myself to achieve more I kept an inspiration board. Well that’s a stretch.

What I did was print out articles of bad ass mujeres achieving despite their circumstances and graphs and visuals on tech trends; maintained a white board with my upcoming high level strategic goals, handwritten messages from colleagues, silly drawings, and sticky notes all over my screen with sayings like – “Remember Who You Are”, “You’ve Been Through So Much Worse”, “Look at You Miss Chingona – Get it!” and the such. I loved that board. It kept me rooted in who I was, where I came from, and most importantly where I knew I was going. It reminded me that even though I ‘just had a HS diploma’ that I was keeping up and outrunning colleagues who had advanced degrees from Ivy Leagues.

These days, I remind myself how far I’ve come since taking my first introductory CS class. How far I’ve come since the shitty childhood I had in Boyle Heights / East Los, the trauma, the abusive relationships, being a single mom at 23 to two toddlers in LA without help from anyone, all the shit I had to crawl through to get to where I am. I told you I was a chingona. 😉

Osea – Be your own cheerleader

So use these sticky notes to be your own cheerleader. Because no one, absolutely no one should be a bigger cheerleader for you than you are for yourself. Because there will most likely be moments (and at times repeated long periods) when you fail, when you feel that you have fallen into a hole so deep and dark that no one sees you anymore and from which you don’t see a way out. In those moments, that’s when you can tap into that inner cheerleader and urge yourself to take it a day at a time, un poquito a la vez, because this is what your new measure of success may be – Am I a little further (no matter how much) than I was yesterday? Sometimes you will feel like you walked back, other days like you didn’t move at all, but there will be days that you advance. Un Dia a La Vez. 

TLDR / In Conclusion

Be prepared. Make a plan. Continuously check in and update that plan. Find what works for you and adapt accordingly. Check in with yourself – not just academically. Be kind to yourself. Know that You will get there and You will be cheerleading yourself on the whole way.

Like I love to say, we have to Take Life By the Horns and Make it Your B!tch! 🙂

Letter to my Dear Eliza on her 7th Birthday

When I see your face, your uninterrupted innocence, and feel the silkiness of your cheek when you rub it against mine in affection I am mesmerized.  I am awestruck and grateful for the simplicity in your joy and outlook in life; by your dreams full of cotton candy clouds, rainbows bursting through the sky, pink princesses leading the world; and your mommy loved above it all. 

You hold my hand, tilt your head to the side, giving me one of your crooked half smiles that can’t contain itself and I am filled with a radiating warmth that makes the world around me livelier.

 I work hard instilling a joy for life, an appreciation for everything around us; whether it is observing the morning dew glittering on a blade of lime green grass or sitting quietly taking in the fiery and purple hues of our LA sunsets.  I pray, in my own way, that you take what happiness you can from each moment in life and that these moments become a permanent state of happiness for you.

Each time I threw a penny in a wishing pond, each time an eyelash fell and we pressed it against our fingers, every birthday cake wish since I’ve had you two, I have fervently wished that you grow to be Happy and Kind – wonderful women.

 Along the way of finding ways to improve your chances of a better tomorrow, I have found bits and pieces of happiness myself.  As I looked for a better education for the two of you, I found a way to use my skills to volunteer and received a higher sense of fulfillment.  As I pushed you into the arts, I became immersed in a colorful world of music, acting and dance. 

 We have grown happier together.  We have grown stronger together.

 Today you are seven years old. 

 I was 21 and a mother of two with a growing sense of dread and an urgent need to raise you on my own before you were marred with witnessing what I did as a child.

 No one knew what went on nor do they need to know.  I set out with the two of you and we carried on as three.  It is the hardest decision I have ever made.  Not because of what I needed but for fear that I was being weak by not putting up with a bad situation so you could have your father. 

 In many ways I have never been a child but more of a half adult.  I experienced life’s travails and physical exigencies while still trapped in a child’s body.  Like a Matryoshka doll, I forced forward the strength of an adult to appease the need of others when inside I was physically and deep down, emotionally, still a child. 

But since the first moment I laid eyes on you, I Loved you.  You were my renewed link to life in many ways, my dear.  With time, I have found my own place, independent of you two, I discovered self-love.  But what remains unchanged are the tears that threaten to spill from my eyes, the ache in my chest, in my soul, when I think of you and the love I have for you. 

 I say all this in tribute to you; to the strength that you have as a seven year old, to have lived through the many low’s that life dealt us in the past but retaining only the good.

 You take heart in the beauty of dying embers even when the fire burned.

 Your eyes, full of honest and raw adoration looked up at me and thanked me for a weekend that reminded you of how special you are.  I will never forget what you told me that night.  I share it in hope that it inspires the formerly unloved to focus on the care and love of their own children instead on love that was not received. 

 The night was bitingly cold but we happily lingered in the moment as we walked back from your birthday dinner.  I took your small fingers in my hand and caressed them with the magic that hung, suspended in the air.

 You stopped and looked up at me, your eyes shining with tenderness, and asked me,

 “Mommy, you know how you can happy cry?”


 “When you read me your card, you made me happy cry.”

 —The contents of said birthday card will remain private because I whispered those words, meant only for you, into your ear—

 “Iza, you’re making me happy cry now.”

 “Thank you Mommy.” And you hugged me tightly.

 That in a life continuously assaulted with the love for Things, with the need of bigger, better, brighter!, you chose to focus on and appreciate the love that I show you, made my wish come true.