“I’ll try.” At first glance, two seemingly simple words. But this particular pair, strung together in Sandra Espinosa's last text message to her family, held the colossal weight of both the hope and fear behind her fight, the tentative undertone uncharacteristic of her typical steadfast strength.
Just two weeks after her 61st birthday, Sandra surrendered to the devastating effects of COVID pneumonia after 12 days in the hospital.
Beloved wife, sister, mother, and lola, Sandra is survived by her loving family: her husband, Leo; her siblings, Suzanne and Carlos; her children, Ryan, Cheryl, Sophia, and Samantha; her children-in-law Kimberly and Adam; and her grandchildren, Raeden, Alex, Kaeli, and Armani. In eternal rest, she reunites with her beloved mother Norma, father Cesar, and brothers Cesar Jr. and Christopher.
Suzanne somberly states, “I will miss her terribly and there's no way around it.”
Many would liken the gravity of losing a loved one to a nightmare, longing to wake and find it was all just a bad dream. Those who had the opportunity to know, love, and be loved by Sandra might say, rather, to be in her presence was the dream, her departure the sobering reality.
Ryan describes his mother saying, “Her smile was always so genuine and you could feel it from the moment she stepped in the room.” Eldest of her grandchildren, Raeden, adds, “she's kind, sweet, and I wouldn't think she's ever done anything wrong in her whole life.”
Her story started in the Philippines, where Sandra was born in Pasay City to Cesar Espinosa and Norma Desvarro, third born of their five children. Adventurous and independent, she often recounted her youth in stories about playing with tadpoles in ponds and puddles, waking up before the sun to go to market with her grandmother, making pretend soups in clay pots using water, sticks, and leaves, or enjoying sweet and tangy fruits picked freshly from the trees.
As she grew, Sandra went on to study music at the University of the Philippines, where she was a Madrigal Singer, a prestigious chorale of gifted vocalists. Through fellow classmates, she later took an opportunity to perform in venues around the Philippines with Filipino artist Imelda Papin, and was invited to tour with Papin as a backup singer. One of the tour stops landed Sandra in San Francisco, where she caught the eye of, and would soon after meet, Leo, her husband of 40 years. “I remember,” he says, when I asked her [to be my girlfriend], she said, we'll give it a try. The rest is history. I wish I did more for her; I feel I took her for granted.”
Marriage promoted her into new roles that she proudly filled: wife and mother. She wholeheartedly embraced Ryan and Cheryl as her own children, along with Sophia and Samantha. Cheryl adoringly recalls once upon a time believing that all four of them had come from Sandra's belly. She says, “I owe a lot of [my] strengths to how she raised me. She was the living book to being a mom.”
Sandra worked to help provide for her family, taking jobs at Loehmans, then Trimline, to Oroweat, and more recently, Primerica. But the longest stretch of her work life was spent in Human Resources for Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes. “When she'd get home from work, I'd love to hug her long and tight, getting a nose full of her perfume and the fresh bread smell,” recalls Samantha, her youngest daughter.
She retired from the company after 15 years, at which time Sandra fully leaned into life’s simple pleasures. She spent her days nurturing her inquisitive and playful spirit, playing puzzle games, watching trivia game show marathons, and playing card games like Black Jack and Pai Gow. She would even coach her youngest grandchild, Armani, in winning a few rounds of mahjong. She collected elephants, and favored the color green; a favorite she shared with son-in-law Adam. Music never left her heart either some days, she could be heard singing along to Barbra Streisand or a Disney song that had been stuck in her head. And despite being against having pets when her children were growing up, her mothering nature was undeniable in her love for all the family dogs, even having special songs and nicknames for them. Of Sandra's limitless heart, granddaughter Kaeli says, “Her presence alone could ease any negative thoughts and emotions. Anyone that ever got the chance to meet her loved her immediately.”
Sandra practiced Catholicism faithfully and encouraged her family to keep God in their lives. She was especially proud to be blessed with her first goddaughter when daughter-in-law Kimberly was baptized in 2014. Kim says, “from her laughter to her amazing smile, her sense of humor, her kindness, her mouth-watering cooking, and her love of our family I feel so incredibly proud to call her my ninang, my mom, my friend, and blessed to have had her in my life.”
Sandra always made her love undeniable, and is known for saying I love you more, often times even before you'd yet said I love you. Unarguably, Sandra's joy and love truly shone through in her cooking. The kitchen was her playground, all the flavors and spices and pots and pans, her most beloved toys. She often lovingly teased her grandson, Alex, that he was her biggest food fan when he would peek under all the pot lids to see what she had whipped up. Every holiday, birthday, and special occasion featured a delicious concoction from her kitchen; a warm, comforting embrace from the inside out. As described by her daughter, Sophia, “[She has an] eager willingness to move heaven and earth to make sure I, or anyone who asks, has nice meals on their birthdays, even if she is in pain.”
It is her inherent perseverance through pain that makes losing her an especially brutal blow. Proud yet humble, fierce yet gentle, strong-willed yet ever the peacekeeper; regardless of her suffering, her harmonious presence is immortalized in all those who were fortunate to know her, and now treasure her in bittersweet remembrance.
Though difficult to lament those memories left unmade, and while she may feel seemingly out of reach, may we find solace in finding her where she now resides: the warmth of the sunrise that slants through the blinds, the silky steam as it rises from a boiling pot of sinigang, the melodic thrum of a flitting hummingbird, and, win or lose, she is there.
The very pride in our chests when we try.