Judy Ojeda died suddenly last October of an undiagnosed and untreated brain infection, leaving behind her husband and six children.
In our Youth Radio Series, Ojeda's 16-year-old son Antonio Gonzalez examines how his family is doing seven months after the sudden and mysterious death of his mother.
Life without mom
My mom was the breadwinner for our family of eight. There are moments every day I think about her, but I try to keep myself occupied. We all do.
Our house is a busy place. I'm the second oldest. My sisters Tacita, 17, and Lita, 14, and I try to help our dad out with "the babies" as we call them. Jesus is 10, Thalia is 9 and Noah is 6.
My dad has always stayed home to take care of us. That hasn't changed.
"Well they did get lucky," my dad likes to say. "Because I've always been the chef of the house."
Of course, he's kidding about the lucky part.
My dad's name is Antonio, too. He's Big Tony. I'm Little Tony. Before my mom died, our life wasn't perfect. But we always stuck together as a family, even when our house went into foreclosure and we had to move from St. Paul to Bloomington and finally to Brooklyn Park.
My dad's doing the best he can to take care of us. But he's kind of lost without my mom. They fell in love as teenagers. My mom was 15 when they had my sister Tacita.
We don't always know how to talk about our mom, even though we're all thinking about her.
In September of last year, my mom thought she was coming down with the flu. My dad took her to the emergency room three times and each time she got sent home. "Oh, it's nothing," the doctors said.
Finally, she couldn't walk, couldn't move her jaw and couldn't talk. The fourth time they admitted her. They found 18 spots on her brain. She was fading fast. She flat-lined for 20 minutes but they managed to revive her. She hung on for about two weeks but she didn't make it. She died October 19. We were in shock. In some ways we still are.
"There's a lot of unanswered questions as far as I'm concerned," said my dad. "It's just the most messed up thing that you could ever think would happen."
After my mom died, they did a story about her on the TV news. People knew her because she worked in public health. She taught HIV/AIDS prevention at Neighborhood House in St. Paul, and worked with pregnant teens.
I ask my dad how he thinks the family's doing.
"We could be doing worse, but everybody in the house is pretty strong," he says. "Of course, we're not going to be normal anytime soon but the world would never know, because we're good at hiding our feelings."
It's true. When I try to interview my little brother Jesus about our mom, he says he doesn't want to talk. I finally give up and leave him alone.
My sister Lita also doesn't know how to put it into words.
"What else am I supposed to feel?" she asks. "How else would you expect a 14-year-old girl to feel that lost their mom? It's not something you can explain."
Maybe it's not. My family doesn't like to talk about our feelings, but I do in my songs. Music is my thing. I already have my own label and publish and perform around town.
My mom always supported me in that. She was a singer, too, when she was young. She was the one who encouraged me not just to rap about fighting and bad stuff. She said, "That's not all of who you are."
I wrote a song for my mom when she was sick in the hospital. I was hoping and praying she'd make it. The song was halfway done when she died. I wrote the last verse after she passed.
It's weird having shows, going on stage and performing when the person who went to all my shows is gone. I'm used to her being right by the stage, and when I get off stage, I'm used to her being there. It's different now that she's gone.
I want to reach out to people and be a storyteller through my music. My mom taught me to write about what was going on around me and what we've been through.
She told me, "You've got to be vulnerable. You've got show your weaknesses. Your weaknesses are the things you're scared of that you don't want other people to know. What's left to be scared of if everyone knows your weaknesses? It only makes you stronger."
My mom was a fighter and so am I. Every day I'm learning to live with the pain that she's gone.