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My nanny's sadness is also my own

By Rose Arce, CNN
updated 2:30 PM EDT, Thu October 20, 2011
Franklin
Franklin "Gomito" and Rosanna Gomez, center, with their family.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rosanna Gomez, a caregiver, has had a positive influence on Rose Arce's life
  • Arce credits Gomez with helping her daughter, Luna, to grow
  • Luna has also become a part of Gomez's family

Editor's note: Rose Arce is a senior producer at CNN and a contributor to Mamiverse, a website for Latinas and their families.

(CNN) -- Franklin Gomez is dying.

His ribcage heaves up and down as a machine forces air into his lungs, screaming and beeping as it synchronizes with bags bringing him fluid and morphine. His four kids watch over him.

His wife, Rosanna, squeezes my hand and says through tears: "He is going to die and I can't do anything."

I first met Rosanna weeks after our daughter, Luna, was born.

My friends Mirta and Maite had employed her as their caregiver and adored her affectionate way with children. Luna was lying in her playpen screaming, her eyes freshly opened. I raced around the apartment in my pajamas at 4 p.m., trying to figure out how to breast-feed. Luna became calm almost as soon as Rosanna picked her up.

"A baby is a like clean slate," she said, smiling at our daughter. "I get to fill the slate. The only thing I ask is that you not get upset if I fall in love with her. Some parents get mad, and I just can't help it."

She fell in love with Luna. And my partner, Mafe, and I fell in love with Rosanna, who brought so much more than help with diapers and cries of distress. Luna learned to eat and crawl, then walk, all on her watch. Then she began to talk in English and Spanish, thanks to Rosanna.

Rosanna formed this big happy crew with all the other Latina caregivers. Luna and Jackie and Sydney and Sofia and Ana, a string of little ones right behind them, went on adventures to the water park yelling "agua, agua" and eating loads of rice and beans. Suddenly, this little person emerged who had adopted our caregiver's thoughtful, shy, demeanor, who ate more vegetables than we could provide and had this delicate humility that is missing in so many little kids.

Rosanna had left their own babies behind in the Dominican Republic to come care for the babies of families in the United States.

It's a typical story line in the Latino immigrant community. Rosanna and her husband, Franklin, wanted their children to have more opportunities, so they suffered a wrenching separation. Rosanna helped the babies of more privileged folks thrive while hers remained on an island, struggling with poverty. Franklin worked in restaurants, and eventually, they brought four children to this country, all of whom are now on the brink of citizenship.

Luna was just beginning to talk when she accompanied Rosanna and her children to a critical appointment with their immigration lawyer.

I still remember the story of how each of them identified themselves one by one -- Luis Franklin, Nicolas, Nathalia, Laura -- and Luna would say "Luna Gomez, too." She had truly become a part of their family. When we were finally able to tear ourselves away from our little girl, she spent a few weekends at their house and was indignant to find out that Rosanna and her husband shared the same bed. She wanted to sleep in between.

Luna called Franklin "Gomito" and adopted a Dominican accent.

She credited them with her first trip to Chuck E. Cheese's and talked about the Yankees since they lived in the Bronx. Rosanna and Franklin's grandson is close to Luna's age. So when Luna got into a great private preschool, I arranged for him to attend as well. How could I ask her to take my child to this great preschool when her grandson, Julian, didn't have a school?

Franklin had no health insurance and didn't qualify for government programs. So when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the prognosis was grim.

I put out a call to the Latina Motherhood, that ethnic network that activates when there's trouble in a family. I called Ana and Evelyn, Soledad and all the Marias. If they didn't know someone, they knew someone that knew someone, a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse, or a guy with a big van who can move a wheelchair. Or they offered money to a family that has none. Soon, this ailing man with no health insurance was sitting in Lincoln Hospital getting chemotherapy and kind words.

Everyone did everything they could, and then some.

Her kids really hustled. The two boys and youngest daughter increased their work hours even as they struggled to pay for college. The other daughter trekked her son and newborn daughter over every day to help care for her father. Still, the cancer spread and their finances deteriorated.

Franklin feared dying alone. All the families whose children and sitters were connected to Rosanna stepped in to help cover her hours and help with finances. Family members were able to take shifts, sitting by his side. Rosanna cared for him all night and all morning, before caring for my child and two others. She picked up every hour of work she could bear to make up for his lost income and prayed and prayed and prayed.

On Wednesday evening, we sat our daughter down to tell her that "Gomito" had died.

That her beloved Rosanna and her children will be very sad, and we will need to give all the help we can. We told her, as she cried softly, that every person is born and that every person dies, you just don't know when.

That it's sad, but that all you can do is live your own life well and remember them fondly.

We also told her that we are all in this life together.

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