Noe’s Heart Was Big Enough To Handle Anything. But Cancer.
Noe was always around when the boys rode motorcycles, fished, worked on their cars. She was always there. Mike Santos couldn’t imagine not being around her.
When are you going to marry her?
It was Uncle Joe who asked.
“You don’t have forever.”
The wedding was huge. Local-style. Family everywhere. Mike and Noe bought a place in Waimanalo. He worked as a mechanic. They went from one kid to two kids, two kids to three kids. Noe volunteered at the elementary school to be near them.
The fourth kid was a surprise.
Things were already tight. Noe wasn’t worried. She had her family. Waimanalo Elementary hired her to clean classrooms, help out around the campus. She loved the school. Loved having her kids close by. And they loved her. Everybody did.
One day Mike came home and there was a fifth kid at the house. A girl. A foster child that needed a place to stay. Just for a little while. Noe wouldn’t say no. And Mike couldn’t say no to her.
The little girl had a brother.
And another sister.
Noe opened her heart to each of them. There was no difference between them and her own kids. They were all her children. The social worker who placed the kids in Noe’s care came back, like she promised she would. Nobody could handle three foster kids. Especially a family that already had four kids of their own. The foster kids would have to be split up.
These aren’t foster kids.
They’re my kids.
Nobody is taking my kids.
When they found out there was a fourth foster child? Noe’s heart could handle that too.
What it couldn’t handle was the cancer. When she was diagnosed with colon cancer it was already stage four. Terminal. Noe fought for two and a half years.
She made Mike promise that when the time came, he wouldn’t put her into, as she called it, an institution. Noe didn’t want to be cut off from her family. They were her life.
When it came time to find Noe the care she needed, she chose Hospice Hawaii’s Kailua House. Her family was there every day. The staff rearranged her room so she could watch her kids swim in the pool. Noe was surrounded by family and laughter, with aloha.
And by the staff at Hospice Hawaii, who treated Noe like family and quickly became part of her family.
Noe’s heart refused to give out, even when the rest of her body did. She wanted to be there. For Mike. For her kids. For the nieces and nephews. For just a little longer.
Noe tried to hold on, struggling to breathe. Gasping. One of the staff members took Noe’s hand and whispered to her that the Hawaiian word for breath is Ha.
Life’s breath. Love’s breath.
Noe calmed down, breathing slowly and deeply, and passed in peace with her family around her.