Stories: Who We Have Lost

His Hugs

Story aboutJoseph Michael Whitmore

My husband Mike was big into hugs. Every day — it wouldn’t matter where we were. To Mike, an opportunity to hug was an opportunity not to be missed. He always had a warm hug for everyone … family, friends, male, female. It didn’t matter to Mike. You were guaranteed a hug!

At home, every time we would pass each other, he would stop me and give me another hug. I would say to him “Mike, you just hugged me a little while ago!” And he would always respond “I can never get enough hugs.”

He was so very right. I took it for granted that I would have his hugs for many years. I would give anything for one of his hugs again and to hear those words. I miss him so much.

I love you more every day, dad

Story aboutErnesto Montero

I remember his voice like it was yesterday, the last time I heard it. I will never stop asking why … we had so many plans now that he was retiring. I moved close to him so we could see each other a lot more … I miss you dad, I need you more than anything in this world. I wish God could bring you back.

Double Heartbreak: Remember the Rivera's

Story aboutMike & Mary Rivera (1 of 2)

The beginning:

The beautiful love affair of Mike and Mary Rivera began on November 18, 1963. Theirs, like many other marriages was not perfect by any means, but I can tell you without a doubt that there was no Mike without Mary or Mary without Mike. They were married for 57 years before they died. Mary died on 12/12/2020 and Mike died on 01/07/2021. They were the parents of Mike Rivera Jr., Belinda Trevino and Michelle Rivera. They were also grandparents and great grandparents. If being a grandparent was a job, they would have been employee of the month every month. They loved their grandchildren and great grandchildren with everything they had in them.

Our immediate family is not huge, but I want you to imagine the chaos of our Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners. My sister, Michelle always hosted all of our holiday dinners and my mom would be beaming as she walked in with her infamous cornbread dressing and sweet potato cake. The dining room was always loud and you could not hear yourself think, but when it came time for the prayer before we ate, you could hear a pin drop. The love that our family has for each other will always be unbreakable, but we will always feel the absence of our wonderful parents. They raised us to be kind, faithful, family oriented, loving, hardworking people so it is important that we continue their legacy with pride.

Mary’s story:

Mary Rivera was born on 12/24/41. She did not have the privilege back in the day to go to school past elementary because she had to stay home and help take care of her 11 siblings. She was not able to read or write, but she worked hard all her life being a housekeeping supervisor. She would sometimes work two jobs just to keep us afloat. I didn’t realize back then as a kid that she was teaching me valuable lessons that would come later in life. When I was in high school, I would help my mom clean offices and I told her that one day I would be working in an office like the ones we were cleaning. I fulfilled this dream and just recently retired after working 30 years as a Human Resources Administrative Assistant at a school in Delaware. Our agreement was that I would retire after 30 years and return to Texas to be near her and my dad. I retired on July 1, 2022 and it was bittersweet because they are both no longer here. I now visit their gravesite and not their home. Sometimes we are lucky enough to have our mom visit us in our dreams. Her love was so strong that it still radiates all around us. We feel her in the wind and hear her in the cardinal’s birdsong.

Mary Rivera was one of the hardest working people. She loved you with all her heart and soul. She had the most infectious laugh. Her laugh alone could have anyone in the near vicinity laugh along with her without even knowing what they were laughing at. She was a beautiful woman inside and out. There just aren’t enough words to describe her that would give her the justice she deserves, but according to Leo Ceja (her great grandson), his Ma made the best sausage and eggs and all her other grandkids immediately agreed with him. They said her breakfasts were better than any restaurant’s they have been to. Her and my dad were an intricate part in helping to raise their grandchildren who are now either college graduates or in the process of getting a college degree. Earning a college degree was important to both her and my dad. Thankfully, they were able to attend most of our college graduations. The pride and joy in their faces made it all worth it. I know they will be there in spirit for future college graduations, weddings, births, or any celebrations we may have.

Now for the funny side of Mary. Our mom was notorious for calling people by the wrong name, even one of her own daughters. Her daughter has always been called by her middle name Michelle instead of by her first name of Yvonne. The following are other names that she used instead of their given names: Brittani=Brinni; Patricia=Nana; Jose=Che; Katlyn=Kaylynn; Arielle=Ari; Hugo Jr=Mijo; Hugo Sr=Dingy; and I saved the best for last…Brittani’s husband Chris=Gomer (as in Gomer Pyle) because he’s in the military. In return we had our own names for our parents. My sister called them her “big kids”, I called them my “rebellious teenagers”, and my brother and Brittani called them their “old people” My sister would take her “Big Kids” out to eat and run errands every Friday. She says she misses them walking through her door and calling out her name raring and ready to go!

Double Heartbreak (2 of 2)

Story aboutMike & Mary Rivera

Mike’s story:

Mike Rivera was born on 08/30/41. He was one of 8 children. He was able to complete the 8th grade, but was then pulled out of school to help his father work on a farm. He always stressed to us the importance of education.

He was an amazing person with the best personality and hilarious comebacks. We laugh thinking about some of the things that came out of his mouth. He would call us and sing “Turn out the lights (the party’s over)” when our favorite football team would lose. As irritated as we were from our favorite team losing, we looked forward to his phone call. We also looked forward to his birthday calls every year.

He was so awesome with his great grandchildren. You could find him at 77 years old playing hide and seek or rolling on the ground with Leo and Owen laughing. They would be so rambunctious and so loud at times that my mom would have to ask them to keep it down. His love for his grandkids was proven when he received a phone call scam of someone pretending to be Jose, his grandson. The person on the other end said they were in jail and that they needed money to be bailed out of jail, but not to call his mom. The person said that he would need to purchase $2000.00 in Amazon gift cards in order to get him out immediately. Mike went to several different Walgreen’s to purchase the gift cards, he even had to get Mary to purchase some because he had reached the maximum amount you could purchase. This is just one example of the lengths he would go through for his grandkids. He loved to receive rocks as gifts from his grandchildren and great grandchildren. It was their thing. While we were cleaning out the house we found a lot of those rocks.

Mike had a green thumb when it came to planting fruit trees. He had grapefruit, orange, lemon, banana, fig and pecan trees and he loved sharing his bounty with neighbors, friends and family. I have a fond memory of having my niece Patricia on my shoulders grabbing oranges off the top of one of his trees. Oh what a funny sight that must have been.

The aftermath:

How do you move on after losing both of your parents to COVID-19? We lost both our matriarch and patriarch within a few weeks of each other. When you think of losing your parents, you envision holding their hands as they take their last breath. Never in our mind, did we imagine that we would not even be allowed to see either one of them until it was time to make the grueling decision of whether or not to remove them from life support, and even then it was through an ICU window. When we were allowed to see our mom, she looked so beautiful and peaceful like she was just sleeping. It was heart wrenching yet serene at the same time. She always told us that if she was hooked up to life support that she would want to be taken off. This was her wish so it was not as painful as having to make the same decision for our dad. Our dad was private about his final wishes. The stress of losing both parents so close together still haunts us, but knowing they are together dancing and singing in heaven softens the pain. We promise to “Remember the Rivera’s” and to not just let them be a statistic. We love and miss you Mom & Dad; Ma & Pa; Grandma & Grandpa!!!

Our Sister

Story aboutDina Kogan (1 of 3)

After our sister Dina caught Covid and went into the hospital, we received one last message from her before she was put on a ventilator. “I like being alive,” she texted, and we never spoke with her again. One of the many horrible cruelties of Covid is that we are all denied the ability to say goodbye to our loved ones. The things we would like to say at the end go unsaid. We don’t hold their hand, or stroke their foreheads. We were lucky enough to get to see our beloved sister through the glass door to her ICU room the day she passed away.

Dina was everything to us, a funny, unique, kind person, who as her final message made abundantly clear, she did “like being alive.” Everything she did throughout her busy days back up this statement.

We were truly blessed to have Dina as long as we did. Even though our sister’s work here on Earth was done, it doesn’t seem to be fair. Her 53 years of life was cut short, even if it was lived fully. She suffered with asthma, COPD and chronic bronchitis. But she never let it get her down. Even when she had difficulty with breathing, she was full of life. Dina was a big part of our day to day always. Being 17 years older than Dawn and 11 years older than Denise, she was our big sis, and always took care of us. Even long before both of our parents passed away, it was always the 3 of us. She was like our 2nd mother. She was the same with all of our children as well.

Dina’s niece’s nephew’s in age order, Joseph, Stephen, Teagan, Jeremy and Avery, all could depend on Dina for anything. Whether it was to talk to them about the Lord, knit them hats or stuffed animals, to make them food, walk them to the bus stop, or even scrounge up some money from the bottom of her change purse to buy them something they so desperately seemed to need, just to name a few. Dina was constantly knitting and crocheting. Other than God and her family, this was her passion. She made a YouTube channel named, “Dina’s Yoyos”. She acquired 500 followers in no time. She loved chatting and showing off her creations as well as doing tutorials on how to knit and the different kinds of yarn she recently picked up from walmart or what a friend may have mailed to her, which she called “happy mail”. She had such a fun time unboxing all different yarns for her followers to see.

We all moved to Florida together in 2018 from Rockville Centre New York where we were all born and raised. We had three brothers as well from our dad’s previous two marriages that we became close with and enjoyed time with. Their names are Alan, Paul and Barry. It was a big culture shock for us moving. Dina had a great heart and always did for everybody. She may not have had much, but always made do with what she had. Her YouTube channel produced many friends and Dina also like to call them her family as well. She participated in many others YouTube channels as a guest also. Dina never learned to drive so she was stuck inside a lot here in the country of Florida at our home. There is no public transportation, no busses or trains for her to get about. Dina would take to walking around our 12-acre property. She would videotape all the farm animals and birds that she would come across. She liked to “moo” at the cows and “hee haw” at the donkey. Dina was a child at heart. This is also how she met some neighbors and church goers in the area as well. Dina used to knit preemie hats and blankets for local hospitals, collect socks for the wounded warriors project, always gave money to feed the children as well as just giving random people things she made such as her lollipop angels, shawls, or crochet towels and trivets. And the stuffed animals Dina would make … the kids just love them! When Teagan was a little girl, she had made her a dress out of a pillowcase. It was definitely one of a kind and gorgeous!

Living on 12 acres, you could imagine that we had lots of pets. Dina gave a bunch of nicknames to all of our animals. To name a few … Sweetie our chiweenie she called “Sweetie Petee,” Bella our beagle she called “Bella Wella” ( this was Dina’s favorite pet and her copilot on Dina’s Yoyo’s). She called our pit bull Red, “Redy Red Red,” and last but not least, our chihuahua Precious, she calls “The Raccoon” because of her Gray markings. Dina always used to take Dawn to Girl Scouts as a child and bring her favorite red construction paper to draw on. Dina loves Snoopy, he was her favorite. She also loved Gremlins. She really loved anything by Stephen King, especially his books. She loved to cook and make meatloaf, or her famous potatoes as well as our grandma’s macaroni salad and potato salad. She always made pizza on English muffins and her famous ramen noodle soup with cheese and hot dogs mixed in.

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