Denise Lopez is one “hot momma.” I met her through her late husband Jerry who was my classmate in college. I distinctly remember her saying the eulogy during the funeral mass. Listening to this young widow and imagining myself in her shoes at that time, I was already in tears until I heard her next line which made me smile, “Assume the role of a suffering widow but never look the part!” And why not? If you can manage to still look pretty as Denise did while saying the eulogy, then good for you!
Denise is a bubbly character. She is someone who seems to know a lot of people. It’s not unusual for me to find out that she knows a lot of my friends from different sectors and periods of my life. And I think because she has a personality that draws you and interests you. She is always smiling, laughing and talking.
I asked to interview her to find out how a widow copes with the challenges of raising two sons all by herself and remain as gorgeous as she is. Raising boys does not come easy for someone who belongs to a family of girls. She has two sisters, two half-sisters and two step sisters.
It was in 1996 when Denise first went out with Jerry on a group date arranged by a common friend. Their first impression of each other was not really positive. She found him too quiet and a bit boring while he found her too loud. But these negative first impressions didn’t last long because after only three months of dating they already went on a Discovery Weekend (a weekend seminar for couples to determine if they are compatible for marriage). On March 15, 1997 Jerry and Denise got married.
Six months after their wedding, she was pregnant with their first son Chino. It was a difficult pregnancy that she had to take bed rest and give up her job. At first being a housewife was okay. Not having to go to work during those lazy pregnant days and being pampered by her husband was a delight. Like most idealistic first time moms, she also wanted to be hands-on in everything, no yaya; thus, being a full time mom was supposed to be ideal. Then Chino was born and he was not an easy baby. He was colic and fussy and Denise was not getting sufficient sleep for a prolonged period of time. This lack of sleep took its toll. She started resenting Jerry’s leaving for the office while she was left behind with the baby. She was concerned about her own sanity that she talked to her husband about it. Of course, Jerry was quick to get help but no going back to work yet for the young mom. Jerry preferred Denise’s constant presence at home during their baby’s early years. She tried to fight boredom by attending seminars, doing their home decors and costumes, “We always won best home décor and best costumes during Halloween and Christmas. Even I was always in costume! One time Jerry was so surprised when he came home and found a wedding cake. He asked, ‘What’s this?’ I said, ‘Wedding cake, you asked me to enroll in a cake decorating class remember?’”
Despite all these boredom busters, deep down inside, Denise was not happy anymore as a stay-at home mom. She was not enjoying the chitchat with the other housewives; she felt she still needed to prove something to herself. One time her sister who came to visit her exclaimed, “Ate, anong nangyari sa ‘yo, hindi ka naman baduy dati a, bakit ngayon hanggang balakang na yang buhok mo? Bawal ka ba mag parlor?”
The realization that she was not yet ready to be a stay-at home mom prompted her to have another heart-to-heart talk with her husband, “I’m not a happy mom and wife anymore. I’m not able to express myself by just being here at home. I think the house will run smoothly already because I’ve already put the system in place. Please let me work again. This way I can also help you take care of our expenses.” Seeing his wife’s condition, he agreed but requested her to just take a secretarial job so that she can be home early and still focus on their child.
She was lucky to find a supposedly administrative job from an IT company handling the marketing and sales for the Philippines and Indonesia. Even if it didn’t turn out to be the easy secretarial job, Denise couldn’t be happier because it paid her well and gave her the career satisfaction she was longing for. She was promoted several times, even when she got pregnant with their second son Basti.
Six months after she came back from her maternity leave, she bid the office goodbye to take her second crack at “housewifery.” And this time, she felt she was ready for it. She was enjoying Chino’s company picking him up from pre-school having their lunch together, going to the gym, going home to his delightful and easy baby Basti. She was an active school parent and she was now enjoying the chitchat with other housewives! She even started writing for Manila Bulletin and Good Housekeeping on the side. She also started a cleaning service while still devoting and enjoying most of her time with her family. She said, “Those were the happiest years of my life. I miss that life. Christmas 2003 was our happiest Christmas!”
These happy years turned out to be short lived because in March 2004 Jerry was diagnosed with colon cancer. Hearing the news on the phone was so devastating that she sort of blacked out. She could not remember how she was able to drive to UST Hospital (even if she didn’t exactly know how to get there) with no shoes on and no wallet. It was only from her dad that she learned later on that she was hysterical on the phone while driving, telling him about the sad news.
For 14 months, she went through the ordeal of a wife with a dying husband while taking care of two young boys. After a series of many treatments, they came home to prepare for the inevitable. She prepared everything with the help of some friends – memorial plot and funeral services were ready, food was pre-ordered with caterer, stampitas were prepared, eulogy was written, checks were issued and turned over to the funeral coordinator. The only detail missing was the date of death.
This detail was filled in on May 15, 2005. It was a very early death for my college classmate who was only 40 years old then when life was supposed to have just begun. But I was quite proud of Jerry’s achievements even with such a short life span. A very dedicated employee, he continued to report to work at Standard Chartered Bank even during his illness. This dedication did not go unnoticed as the company established a Jerry Lopez Award to honor him. The award is given to their employees who show dedication to work. They also gave his two sons high school and college scholarships.
After her husband’s death, Denise unconsciously delayed her grieving. She did not cry anymore. She said, “Naiiyak ko na yata lahat before he died.” She prepared a checklist of things to do and she went on to accomplish all those within her control. She assessed that she can go on without working for one year. She learned how to have inexpensive bonding time with her sons – e.g. playing board games instead of going to the mall, going to Luneta and riding the calesa which her sons enjoyed so much. There were happy days and there were very low days. She described the low days in the same way a common friend described, “There were days when the biggest accomplishment was to get up from bed, brush your teeth and go back to bed.”
It took two years after the death before she started really crying. And somehow her sons were following her lead. For her, Christmas and birthdays are easier compared to wedding anniversaries, “During birthdays and Christmas, everybody greets you and you are surrounded by people you love. But wedding anniversaries are different because that’s your special day together.” They would have celebrated their 14th anniversary last March.
On single parenting she said, “Being a single parent is difficult. Sometimes friends who are separated from their husbands tell me I’m lucky at least we didn’t separate so there’s no hatred. But I disagree with that. Being a widow parent is a lot more difficult. I grew up with my mom when my parents separated, then later on I had a stepdad. But I’m telling you, it’s easier for the kids and also for the mom to know that the dad is still alive, is there in case you need help from him.”
Denise narrated her challenges as her boys are growing up entering puberty. One time their tutor found out that they visited a site to find out about masturbation, a subject they heard from a friend. When their tutor told them that she will have to tell their mom about it, the boys begged that she does it after their scheduled holiday vacation. Finally, when the incident was reported to her, Denise was also at a loss on how to handle it. This was another time she wished her husband was with her. She had to seek the help of her stepdad, the boys’ lolo to explain things to them.
Over the years, she has also come to terms with her discipline style with the boys. Because of her sons’ different learning capabilities, she also employs different sets of academic standards which she explained to them carefully. Another lesson she wants her sons to learn is that all our actions have consequences, “One time when I found out that Basti was not attending his optional Chinese class, I made him pay for half of the fee. And since he’s also kuripot like his dad, I think he really learned his lesson. This summer in order to show Chino that all families have their own rules, I arranged for a friend who lives in Singapore to take him in as their son for the Holy Week. Chino agreed to it and hopefully, he will realize that I don’t only impose rules just to make life difficult for him.”
Denise’s coping mechanisms include massage, yoga, going to the gym, attending self improvement seminars, photography and her time off. She is big on traveling with the boys but she also has her own travel time when she does it by herself.
Her most important anchor in all these challenges is God. Her faith has kept her strong and healed her from all the anger she had, thanks to Ed and Betty Trono who introduced her to Bible Study Fellowship. Now she regularly meets up with her group of 12 women to study the bible. Her favorite is the book of Isaiah which says that God has a special place for widows and children. She’s also happy that even her sons are blessed by her faith, “Would you believe when I scold Chino, his first recourse is to pray?”
Another important help in her coping with life after her husband’s death is her flourishing career. Denise is now the Industry Manager for Banking and Financial Market at IBM Philippines. Even if she sometimes misses her housewife days part 2, she’s very thankful for having a fulfilling career at IBM which supports work life balance, allowing her to work from home. She is able to manage her work and family schedule well and even reaped the Golden Circle Award last year for overachieving her targets. She brought her boys to the awards night for them to take part in their mom’s big event. During her acceptance speech she thanked her boys for understanding that sometimes she can’t make it to some of their activities. The site of two little boys escorting their mom to the stage was so touching that there were no dry eyes in the audience.
Denise wants to impart in her sons the value or hard work and education. She reminds her sons about their father’s dedication to work. She also wants them to realize that their mother’s education and hard work are the things that made them survive and have a good life even after their father’s passing away. Her fulfilling career has enabled her to single handedly save up and invest in various properties for her and her sons’ future.
When I asked her about remarrying she said, “I actually had a boyfriend and the boys liked him and his kids. But maybe it was not meant to be.” I teased her to go out with a common friend. She is not discounting the possibility of another marriage especially when she gets old, “Maybe that’s the time when I’ll remarry when I’m old na, so that now I can focus my attention on the boys while they’re growing up.”
When I asked her what she looks for in a man, she said of course she wants someone who will love her sons and will take care of her. Then she continues in her usual bubbly manner, “Sometimes at my age and with my situation, it’s kinda hard to choose who to go out with. If they’re not 10 years older, they’re 10 years younger naman. Haay… parang rhythm method! Hahaha!”
I hope you got some useful insights from the story of Denise. To read her blog, visit http://adventuresofruthswidow.blogspot.com.