I was home in the US for six days. Six bittersweet days. I said “welcome to the world” to my newborn nephew, Jacob, and “hello again” to my 1 year old niece, Ava. I reunited with my family and my closest friends, and together, we said “goodbye” and “may you rest in peace” to our dearly loved Uncle Randy.
It was Sunday, July 26th in California when it happened. It was Monday morning in Japan. I had just gotten to work, attended my morning meeting, and was settling down at my desk with a can of Dydo Ice Cocoa and my paper fan, trying to cool down from the humid summer heat. It was barely 9 o’clock. My phone rang, and Nick was flustered in a panic. “I don’t know how to call home. I need to call home. There’s a family emergency.”
Just a few months ago, there was a fire in my sister-in-law’s second floor apartment. She was a few months pregnant at the time. Her husband ran through the fire and told her to jump from their balcony. He broke her fall and she thankfully only suffered from a leg injury. Her baby survived and later she gave birth to a healthy, beautiful boy.
When Nick said a “family emergency”, a number of things rushed through my mind in that instant. Did something happen to mom and dad? Is the baby okay? What could possibly be happening now? I checked the Softbank website to see if we could call home from our cell phones, and asked him to call me back when he found out the news. I was not at all prepared for what he had to say when he called me back.
Uncle Randy died.
One sentence. Just like that. And he was gone.
It was strange. Just two days prior to that phone call, we had been messaging back and forth with him on Facebook. Nick was really excited because he just bought himself a Canon EOS 60D and was asking Uncle some questions about shooting video. I was asking him if I should finally give in and pick up the Canon EOS 7D. Uncle had traded in his 10D for the 7D about a year ago and loved every minute shooting with it. We were also talking about the limited edition and unique Kit-Kat flavors available in Japan. Their supply of Green Tea Kit-Kats was running low, and I offered to send him a pack of Tohoku Zunda flavor to try. The package of Kit-Kats was actually in my purse that Monday morning we found out the tragic news. I was planning to go to the post office that day to send the package to him.
It’s one thing to experience death when you know it’s coming. Sometimes people get old or sick, and death is inevitable, and you prepare yourself for it. But it’s another thing when death just happens to someone young and healthy with so much more life to live.
We both left work and went home to mourn and console each other. We called home using Google Voice and Skype. There were no details about the accident yet and no details about the funeral. We packed our bags so we would be prepared to leave as soon as possible. On Tuesday at around 5 o’clock in the morning, we booked flights home and made our way to Tokyo, meeting Jerome at the airport.
Those past two days had been surreal.
It was good that we went home. Being around family helped us just as much as our being there helped them. The family began nine-day rosary novena prayers, seeked out more information about the accident, and prepared for his funeral. It was really rough for all of us, but we were all together and we did what we had to do to cope. For some of us, including myself, that meant keeping busy – gathering photos of him from his childhood to present, creating a slideshow in his memory, and taking photos for relatives and friends of his who couldn’t gather with us in person.
Though I have experienced death in the family before, this occasion was especially rough for two reasons:
For one, there were so many similarities between Uncle Randy’s passing and my Kuya Jude’s which happened seven years ago. Kuya Jude, known to many as Air Force Master Sgt. Jude Mariano, was stationed in Qatar as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He died from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle collision. He was only 39 years old and was survived by his wife and three children. . He was supposed to return home only a few months later. Nick joined me as we gathered at their home for rosary prayer and also to attend his funeral. His death was sudden and unexpected and left a hole in everyone’s hearts.
Uncle Randy’s death was also sudden and unexpected. He was the youngest of his siblings and only seven years older than my eldest brother-in-law. Though he was our uncle, and from Nick’s side at that, he was more like a brother to all of us. We always joked about his youthfulness in looks, interests, and personality. And now, he will always remain “forever young”. He was only 42 when he died last week.
He was thrown from his Kawasaki ZX-250 motorcycle while driving over the Stumpy Meadows Dam in Placerville. He is survived by his wife, Auntie Deedee, and their 9-year old daughter, Charlotte. I cried the most when I thought of them.
It was strange, because the day we drove to see his body for the first time, we ended up at the wrong place. We drove into All Souls Cemetery by mistake, which was just down the street from where we were supposed to be. All Souls is where my Kuya Jude is buried, along with my Aunt Lucy, and my Uncle Aniceto, whom I never met. I stopped to say hello to him before we left.
Secondly, as I mentioned, Uncle Randy was like a brother to us. When my Kuya Jude passed away, I was 18 years old. Old enough to fully comprehend the loss of a loved one, to feel the pain and sadness, and old enough not to forget what we all went through. However, my memories of him before that are few and faded. I was only a child when I knew him. When Uncle Randy passed away, it was the first time for me to lose someone I felt really close to.
I met Uncle Randy for the first time in 2003 at Nick’s high school graduation party. I met a lot of his family members that day, and most names and faces became a blur. That was the first time I met my brother-in-law, Jerome, as well. Both of them were about the same height, had shaved heads and wore glasses, and they had really similar faces. One was a photographer, and one was a graphic designer. Both of them had two names. Uncle’s real name was Chris, and Jerome was better known in the family by his nickname, Jeff. Initially, I couldn’t remember which one was which! But, Jerome lived in New York and soon I was able to remember that Jerome was the “cool brother” who we would see only once in a blue moon, and Uncle Randy was the “cool uncle” who we would actually see quite often.
Uncle and his family lived in Elk Grove, a city of Sacramento County. Nick and I moved to Sacramento in the spring of 2006 for college. Uncle helped us move into our new apartment, and even gave us furniture and kitchenware to help us start off. We visited their home all the time because they lived so close. Nick and Uncle always talked about food, movies, video games, and technology. I always talked to Uncle about photography and wine. I always looked forward to playing with his daughter, who I have watched grow up since she was 2 years old. I wasn’t even 21 years old when Nick and I decided to live together, but despite that, he and Auntie Deedee always treated us like adults, and they welcomed me into their home and into their lives as though I were already family. I will never forget how kind he always was to us.
I cried hard at Uncle’s vigil when Nick spoke about our good memories of him, especially the time we call “The Best Day at Uncle’s Ever”. Uncle Randy was planning to have a BBQ party with some of Auntie Deedee’s family and some of their friends. Nick and I showed up on time but were really surprised to enter an empty, quiet home…
“Where is everyone?” we said.
“They flaked.” he said.
“Where’s Auntie?” we said.
“She’s napping.” he said.
“… what about Charlotte?” we said.
“She’s napping, too.” he said
We laughed. He laughed. We couldn’t stop laughing.
We walk into the dining area and see that the table is covered with plates, each one piled with burgers, hot dogs, chicken, steak, and side dishes. There was SO MUCH FOOD and only three of us. We couldn’t stop laughing. Uncle Randy starts to open a bottle of red wine, and it spills onto the table. Instead of shouting out in surprise, he just mumbles in a monotone voice, “Oh God.” We couldn’t stop laughing. There was still more food on the grill. The three of us attempt to make a dent on the food when the doorbell rings. There are two solicitors. Uncle Randy was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. The solicitors ask him if his parents are home, and he just shakes his head while saying “uh-uh”, closes the door and skips away with a big grin on his face. We couldn’t stop laughing. He really didn’t look that much older than us, and he never seemed to age even as we grew older.
Uncle Randy was always there for us.
Once, he was hired to photograph a wedding at a huge estate in Oakley with over 200 guests. He asked Alys and I to work with him as second shooters. It was my first time to shoot a wedding, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. It was amazing to work with someone as gifted and talented as he was. He was always teaching Alys and I about photography and we were always interested in what he had to say. Nick would pretend to join in and would spew out terminology he had overheard like “the zone system” and “aperture”. Nick was really upset now that he’s a DSLR owner and he was just getting into having real camera talk with Uncle Randy. I think I am going to buy the 7D just like Uncle told me to, and I’m going to name my camera after him.
Uncle Randy was one of our groomsmen at the wedding. He gave Nick his first cigar. He tied Nick’s tie. He photographed some of the boys’ “getting ready” shots. He partied hard like it was 1999 (oh, how he LOVED Prince), and one of his prescription lenses popped out and he never found it.
When we made a post on Facebook that it was just a few days before we would be moving to Japan, he wrote: I’ll miss you, little brother and little sis.
Uncle Randy was one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known. He was passionate about all of his hobbies and he put in 110% into everything he did. He’s not the kind of guy who would look back on his life and say, “I wish I had done this or that,” but rather, “I’m so glad that I did this and that and then some.” Even at his time of death, he was doing something he loved.
He was an amazing and inspiring photographer; a great uncle and brother; a wonderful friend; a loving father to Charlotte and a loving husband to Auntie Deedee. He touched the lives of everyone he met, and he will be truly, dearly, missed.
We love you, Uncle Randy. We miss you, and we will never, ever forget you.
Rest in Peace
Christopher Randolph Maglaque Austria
January 30, 1969 – June 26, 2011