Shock and the Legacy of Love
|by Kim Epp Frenette, November 2013|
That week in February 2002 started mundanely enough at the home of Jackie and Rafael Quimpo: a minor spat diffused by his great sense of humor on Saturday; approved for their first mortgage on Monday; Chinese take out for the family’s dinner on Tuesday, though Raf and their thirteen-year old daughter Victoria were out of sorts with flu symptoms. Things were normal, trending up, for the young Mt Lebanon family of five.
Wednesday morning Raf woke at his usual hour, sat up, made his habitual shout to Victoria to get ready for school, got a strange look in his eyes, and died.
Rafael had suffered sudden cardiac death brought on by severe myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart wall caused by viral infection. Jackie went into a shocked daze and onto auto-pilot. From her surreal fog, she says, “I remember calling my girlfriend and saying ‘I can’t take the girls to CCD (Catholic religious class) tonight; Raf died.”
It was devastating for Jackie. Raf was, in her words, “definitely the love of my life. It was a really strong, strong romance. I had the love that some people never get, even though it only lasted 14 years.”
How does one find strength to carry on in such a situation? For Jackie, it came from her ongoing love. “I have incredible gratitude for what Raf brought into my life. I felt I owed it to him to keep going. He couldn’t raise the girls, he couldn’t be there to have the impact on the world that he would have had. I really believe that is what got me up in the mornings.
A widow at 34 with three daughters aged 13, 11, and 4, Jackie struggled to make ends meet and to stay in their Mt Lebanon neighborhood. It didn’t help that payment on Raf’s life insurance was denied because he had been with his new company 2 days shy of the required 30. But people helped.
Raf’s family was a huge source of strength, and Jackie’s own employer at the time essentially gave her a 6 month paid hiatus before she returned to on-the-road sales. Jackie’s Mt Lebanon community was a critical support. “People reached out. That phrase, It takes a village, I get that now! The village took my kids in.”
Though Jackie claims she was in a daze for over a year after Raf’s death, (looking back she thinks it was her brain’s way of coping) emotionally she managed to hold it together for the sake of her children, particularly the youngest. “Erika was four; she was so needy. I always say she saved my life – I had to focus on her.” Jackie was impressed with her children’s resilience. “My kids had a lot of strength. And nobody’s grades even dropped a bit. I remember thinking, ‘how can this be?!’”
“Granted there was a sadness. I used to think they would never smile again, that I would never see their joy again. Then about 5 or 6 years after his death, a friend took a photo that brought me to tears, the way they were smiling, joy was back!”
Raf’s legacy was always felt. “He was an extraordinary husband…. His parents had the greatest love affair ever. When we were dating I saw that and I wanted that ….he gave me that….My biggest regret was that I wasn’t a better wife in return.”
Jackie and Raf had met at college; his love of education transferred to Jackie and while he was alive he encouraged her to excel in her studies. “Raf brought education into my life…He helped me focus.” Jackie has two masters’ degrees, one in Theology, one in Elementary Education, as well as a BA in Religious Studies.
None-the-less, in 2007, Jackie quit her education related job to start a business – Clean Green Complete Household Management – with a focus on environment and health friendly cleaning. While Raf brought education into her life, says Jackie, “I brought to him understanding and love of people. I get energy from being around people.” It is what she loves about her business, both in taking care of clients, and interacting with her staff. As her daughters have grown, more of her nurturing goes toward the business.
“Now I look at my staff and it is like I am trying to give them a good life. We have 10 employees – I am kind of proud of that. My dream is to hire a chef so that I can send my hardworking staff home at the end of the day with a good healthy meal!”
Still, Jackie calls her girls “her greatest creation.” They are flourishing and seem to have inherited their father’s love of learning. Her oldest daughter, Victoria, now 25, (of whom Jackie says, “her determination never wavered”) is currently in medical school. Maria, 22, (“the funnest person you will ever be with”) will soon graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in Industrial Engineering. Erika, 16 – who Jackie credits with “a precocious sophistication the rest of us don’t have!” – is an honors student and a varsity soccer player at Mt Lebanon High School.
Nearly 12 years after Raf’s death, Jackie is still grateful for the lasting impact he had on her life – and she still celebrates his birthday. “His birthday, his coming into the world, changed my life in an incredible way,” she explains. Decidedly still single she says “I don’t want to die alone – but because our love was so great I have never found anyone else I have considered marrying.”
Jackie now knows how one carries on in the face of tragedy. “I think you never realize your inner strength, and I know now I am a strong person. Raf I think knew it. He saw it in me. I think that is what he fell in love with. I just didn’t see until much later.”
Editor’s note: Careful readers will have noted that Jackie’s company, Clean Green, is sponsoring our November 18 “Strong for the Holidays” event. We are grateful for the support, but we thought people should know that behind the successful business is an impressive woman who has overcome her share of grief and trials to get where she is today. You rock, Jackie! You are not just a survivor, you are an inspiration.