On Aug. 6, 2009, Raul Arellano, Jr., a boy excited about starting the eighth grade, died from complications stemming from a solo bicycle accident. As the anniversary of Arellano’s death draws near, a memorial mass is scheduled on Aug. 5 at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at 6:30 p.m. for friends and family.
For his mother, Mireya Villegas, and father, Raul Arellano, Sr., the past year has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs punctuated by an ever-present shadow of grief.
“There aren’t many words you can use to describe the loss of a son,” Raul Arellano Sr., said. “You have to roll with the punches but losing your son is not an adjustment you can make in your life.”
Both Mireya and Raul got tattoos dedicated to their fallen “June Buggie” but the loss is something that both continue to struggle with as they try to pick up the pieces of their lives.
“Losing Junior…it opened my eyes. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore,” Raul said. “But I still lie to myself and pretend he’s just at his mom’s but I know he’s gone.”
Mireya hasn’t had the heart to touch her son’s room. It’s just as he left it that day. Mireya said she isn’t ready. At night, she turns on the television because Raul liked to watch television before he went to sleep. Hearing the sound of the television from Raul’s room is a comfort — small as it may be — but she clings to rituals that were part of her son’s life.
One year may go by quickly to some, but to a parent who has lost a child — it’s excruciatingly long as each day is punctuated by the loss.
“I try to go day by day,” Mireya said, as just talking about Raul Jr. causes her eyes to well up. “If it wouldn’t be for my two (younger) boys I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
In the year since his son’s passing, Raul Sr.’s life has unraveled as grief and anger took its toll, ending the relationship he had with the mother of his youngest son. But he’s trying to put the pieces back together. It’s a slow process but he’s not giving up. He feels Junior is there with him, helping him. When he visits his grave, he feels his son is near.
“I have his pictures everywhere and in my phone. I have his football helmet and jersey. He was a special kid and he was really loved,” Raul Sr. said.
The junior high gave both parents a yearbook and graduation tassel in remembrance of Junior, a gesture, said Raul Sr., which meant a lot.
“Thank you to everyone who helped out. It was really appreciated,” he said.
Mireya nodded, adding, “Without our friends and family we wouldn’t have been able to get through this.”
Raul Sr., said, “I want to give special thanks to my parents, sister and brothers,” he said. In particular, he wanted his brother Ireneo Arellano, Jr. to know how much his contribution meant to them. “He paid for Junior’s headstone and it was really expensive. It meant a lot for him to do that.”
But even as the sadness is a constant companion, there is joy in his memory for as everyone who knew him said, Raul Arrellano, Jr. was a happy kid with a perennial smile that was infectious.
“He always came up with different things to make people laugh,” Mireya said, smiling. “He’d always make us crack up.”
Raul Sr., added, “He was a goofball. The class clown.”
But beneath that quick laughter beat the heart of a boy who loved to draw, said his parents.
“He was very artistic. He picked up drawing pretty quick. He always carried around a notepad and it was full of sketches. He loved to doodle,” Raul Sr. said, adding when he went through his son’s school papers, he always found something drawn on the back.
A budding artist, a loving son, a boy who loved life in all its complexity — family and friends are invited to share their memories of this special boy and how he remains in their memory — someone sorely missed.