TESTIMONIAL: How my mother’s death led me to Sac State


Photo courtesy of Cory Jaynes

Me and my mom at Lisa's Coffee Shop in Covina, California. I would later use this photo to announce to my friends on social media of her passing.

After my mom’s death, I didn’t let myself truly cry, ugly cry, until the band started to play at the end of her memorial.

I was home alone with my mom when she collapsed in the kitchen. Believing that it was another fainting spell due to low blood sugar, I helped her onto the living room couch and, at her request, poured a glass of orange juice. She had just grasped the cup in her hand when my mom’s body went limp.

Immediately I knew what was happening and made calls to 911 and my dad. I felt helpless, unsure what to do as I listened to my mom’s last breaths. The paramedics arrived first and began their multiple attempts to resuscitate my mom.

The paramedics were almost immediately followed by a family friend, Sister Karen Carnes, a nurse and visiting teacher from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who would be the one to help me through the day. By the time my dad arrived the paramedics were preparing to take my mom to the hospital. He left with them, on his own.

As my mom was taken away, we were joined by Bo Beatty, a former co-worker of my mom’s who worked at the elementary school across the street and rushed over, much like Sister Carnes, to the site of the ambulances.

I was with Sister Carnes, Coach Beatty and my second-oldest brother, Jeremy, when my dad called Sister Carnes to ask her to deliver the news to us and have us come to the hospital.

In truth, the call and the trip to the hospital had only been formalities. It had been obvious that my mom was dead when she was loaded up into the ambulance. Still, hearing the words overwhelmed me with emotions before their sheer abundance left nothing but the single thought to go to the hospital.

With that, my mom’s 58 years of life ended, her cause of death was ruled as a heart attack. I never got to say goodbye.

That was April 27, 2017.

A few weeks later, family and friends gathered in a banquet hall overlooking Covina District Field for my mom’s memorial. My dad opened the ceremony by sharing what he could of my mom’s story.

My mom was born Catherine Anne Cantero on April 7, 1959. The daughter to a 16-year-old mother and a father who would go on to serve in Vietnam and eventually leave his family, taking any cultural influence his Spanish heritage would have had on my mom with him.

When my mom was five years old she spent six months in the Shriners Children Hospital in Los Angeles from Legg-Perthes disease, a hip disorder caused by a lack of blood flow leading to the femur which stops the bone from growing correctly.

I likely never would have never known about my mom’s childhood health issue if not for two things. The first being a photo of my mom wheelchair-bound in front of the Disneyland train station on a trip with her grandparents. Second, her hospital roommate’s love for scary movies and nightly viewings of them would lead to my mom’s life-long aversion to them.

Photo courtesy of Cory Jaynes
From left, my mom, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother pose for a family photo. Currently all but my grandmother are buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Covina, California.

By the time my parents met, my mom was known as Cathy Herbert, taking the last name of her sister’s father.

Their relationship started with a conversation at the West Covina mall. My mom’s mother, Anne Herbert, and my dad’s aunt Betty worked in neighboring stores and would stand out front and talk when they could.

Photo courtesy of Cory Jaynes
My mom and dad before attending Northview High School’s winter formal. My parent’s would stay together for 40 years before my mom’s death.

One day, the topic of their discussion turned to my mom not having a date for her senior winter formal dance after a recent breakup. The conversation between the two eventually led my dad, Garry Jaynes, to ask my mom to the dance, as well as a date beforehand to get to know each other better.

My parents often told me the story of their first date. They went to the movies to see “Young Frankenstein,” but my mom was so nervous she didn’t laugh once during the movie.

However, despite initial nerves, that date was the start of a lifelong relationship.

Photo courtesy of Cory Jaynes
My dad and mom on their wedding day. My mom’s ashes would be entombed on the same day in 2017.

My mom’s memorial filled the banquet hall at district field. The room was wide rather than deep, with the chairs arranged to face the center of the room where the podium stood in front of the eastern wall, a floor-to-ceiling window that looked over the football field.

As I sat among a room full of friends and family mourning my mom’s death, I was overcome with a sense of failure.

Though I had heard the voice in the back of my head that claimed I had failed that day, a voice I still hear from time to time, it was my own personal failures that haunted me.

I felt that I had failed by not going straight to a four-year university out of high school and then staying at the local community college for over two years. I felt like a failure for never having held a job before my mom passed, for never getting a driver’s license, for never introducing her to a first girlfriend.

All the things in life that you’re supposed to do with your parents — to show them that you’ll be OK without them — I felt like I had never done.

It was the person I was the most horrified to see walk up to the podium to speak that helped me overcome those feelings.

Brigette was a friend of mine that had never met my mother. We knew each other from serving as editors together for Mt. San Antonio College’s student media publication.

I don’t remember the exact words anymore, but I remember Brigette standing up in front of everyone and explaining how, in a way, she knew my mother. Though she had never personally met her, Brigette knew the caliber of woman my mom was because of our friendship. Because the type of person I am reflects how my mom raised me.

While her words were simple, Brigette helped me accept not only my mom’s death, but that I wasn’t a failure. Her words had empowered me with the knowledge that no matter my path forward, my mom would be watching over me.

It was this feeling that inspired me to move out when I transferred to a four-year university.

My family home was filled with memories of the day my mom passed and among the sad and happy memories, it was obvious the house was changing. My eldest brother, Geoffrey, started dating a long-term girlfriend and eventually moved in with her. My dad started to date as well. I felt like it was time for me to move on.

Having the need to move, but not wanting to go too far, I eventually found my top two transfer choices: Sacramento State and San Francisco State. Of those two, I immediately had my heart set on the latter.

Despite my preference for San Francisco, I still planned campus tours for both locations. Doing so led to my decision in coming to Sac State.

I was able to meet face to face with The State Hornet’s adviser Stu VanAirsdale and editor-in-chief Claire Morgan. While making that personal connection helped in my decision, so did the connection my parents had to the region.

After my parents were married my father was inspired by one of his relatives to move up to Stockton and live on a houseboat. While they only lived in the Delta region for three years, it was that part of their history that I could connect with the most thanks to visits to the area every summer.

The area had been a place for my parents to set out on their own. The delta became where they grew into themselves. When I came to Sacramento, I realized that it was already a home away from home and would provide the space I needed to grow into my own person.

I moved to Sacramento not to run away from the changes that occurred after my mom’s death, but rather to accept them and continue her legacy.

Starting out on my own in Sacramento and being the kind soul she raised me to be is how I honor her and her memory.