In memory of Janet

0715_hernandezrby Rocío Hernández

I’d never experienced the pain that the death of a close friend or family member can cause – until last summer when I was an intern with the Bay Area News Group.

I hesitated to accept an internship in California, having never left my home state of Nevada. But my mentor, Paul Mitchell, recruiter and professor at the University of Nevada’s Reynolds School of Journalism, told me that leaving home would help me grow as a journalist and person. I knew he was right and decided to take the chance.

I’ve never cried more than I did that summer.

On my third day of work, someone broke into my car. I already lacked enough money to pay for my rent, and now I had to replace a car window. I spent my first week in the Bay Area crying myself to sleep.

Five weeks passed. My internship grew more challenging. One day as I worked on a story draft, my phone kept buzzing in my purse. When I could no longer ignore it, I saw that my fiancé Roy had been frantically texting me.

He had bad news. His mother Janet had an asthma attack. Someone found her outside her house. She was currently in the hospital, unconscious. Doctors suspected that she hit her head on the front steps. They weren’t sure if she was going to regain consciousness.

Roy had remained in our college town that summer, working. I told him to go home as soon as possible. “Don’t worry about your rent,” I said. “I’ll find a way to pay it.”

I was more than 500 miles away and halfway through my internship. I decided to have faith that Janet would make it through. She had always been strong.

That weekend, I stayed glued to my phone, waiting for updates. Three days passed and she still had not woken up. Finally, the doctors gave us the news. Her head had suffered too much damage.

The family prepared for her cremation, as she had wished.

Meanwhile, I had to make a choice. I didn’t have enough money for last-minute travel from the Bay Area to Las Vegas. If I left work to offer support to Roy and his family, I thought I probably would not return to finish my internship. I would be quitting an opportunity I had worked so hard to win and letting down the mentors who had recommended me. But the deal-breaker was money. I couldn’t leave my job. If I did, Roy and I would lose our college apartment.

So I stayed. And I still feel guilty about that decision.

I wanted to find someone or something to blame. I wanted to blame my mentors for encouraging me to challenge myself, for making me think I had to leave home to become a competitive job candidate.

Mostly I blamed myself for having aspirations that took me far from those I love, for having chosen California when I might have found an equally good internship at home.

I called Paul for some guidance. He’s always been straightforward with me. He told me that death was a part of life. Death is just one of the many challenges that will hit us throughout our lives. Challenges won’t ever come when it’s most convenient for us.

I want to believe that I made the best decision with the cards I was dealt. I’ve learned we have to keep going because life won’t slow down for us. I admit that Paul was right; my experiences made me grow into a different person, one who is stronger and more confident. I just wish the life lessons weren’t so harsh.

Although I will always regret not having been with Roy and our family to support them in person, I can only hope that our sacrifice will mean something in the long run. I want to make the best of the personal and professional experience I gained last summer, and so I’ve applied to other internship programs. Some are not close to home, but I know that it is those kinds of internships that will push me out of my comfort zone and force me to be a better journalist and person.

As I fill out applications, I am reminded of the great lessons working for the Bay Area News Group taught me, and the stories I wrote and the community I influenced through my work. I can’t help but feel proud of all I accomplished despite the events of the summer.

Rocío Hernández (Summer 2015) is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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