As 18-year-old Rebekah waded into the waves at Waikiki Beach, one hand full of orchid lei and the other grasping her sister’s, she began to pray. Scattering the lei into the ocean, she prayed first for her sister Sarah, next for her father and the rest of her family, and then for herself. She saved the final prayer, and the last handful of lei, for her late mother, Alma, who unexpectedly passed away earlier this year.
Coping with her mother’s passing over the past seven months has been unimaginably difficult for Rebekah, who was in the midst of her own battle for her health at the same time. For a while, it had seemed like things were getting better. Rebekah had finished chemotherapy for her lymphoma, and doctors called her quick recovery from one stint in the ICU a “miracle.” When Rebekah went back to the hospital for a check-up the next month, she wasn’t expecting to be admitted once again. She also wasn’t expecting her mother to be rushed to the emergency room with an unknown illness. Rebekah’s family arranged a “sneak-out mission” for her to see her mother for what would be the last time. She fights back tears as she recalls seeing Alma with breathing tubes and later being woken up in the middle of the night, back in her own hospital room, to be told her mother had passed.
When Rebekah and Sarah think of their mother, they imagine her happy, calm, and full of hope—just as she was in life. They laugh over stories Alma had told them about being in high school, teasing her friends and dreaming about the future. Alma had also frequently recounted stories from a trip she’d taken to Hawaii. She had told the girls how beautiful the water was, how moving it was to visit Pearl Harbor, and how someday she’d take them there too.
Rebekah feels the loss of her mother every day, and she wished to honor her memory by visiting Hawaii herself. “I just feel like since we’ve been here, her soul is present with us,” Rebekah told us during her wish. She also shared that her mother’s name, Alma, fittingly means “soul” in Spanish.
To honor Alma’s memory, Make-A-Wish Hawaii arranged for cultural expert Aunty Kehaulani Kam to lead a private memorial ceremony on Waikiki Beach. After a stormy, rainy start to the morning, no one was certain if the wish would take place that day. With faith, Rebekah, Sarah, their father Jose, and Make-A-Wish staff and volunteers took to the beach just after sunrise, as the rain began to clear. They sat in the sand and listened as Aunty Kehau described the interconnectedness of the world, the symbolism of the water, and the trust that Alma’s soul was with them.
Afterward, Rebekah told us just how significant the experience was in her journey toward recovering and coping with the loss of her mother. “I feel at peace now, like I’m closer with her,” she said, once again holding Sarah’s hand. “I haven’t felt that since my mom passed away. I was able to take a deep breath.”
Mahalo to Aunty Kehaulani Kam for leading this ceremony and to Tommy Pierucki and Abe McAulton for capturing it for Rebekah and her family.