Freda Camba LaCroix is reading a love note written on a piece of paper.
“Good morning my beautiful wife, I love you!!!”
She finds this one inside the fridge. Some notes are in places she does not expect. Lawrence knows how to surprise her in small ways.
She smiles and puts it back in the box. Tomorrow, she will read again hundreds of love notes she has been keeping for the past 16 years.
“My husband, Lawrence, is a sweet, loving guy. He never fails to send me love notes every morning since we were married,” Freda says.
Their 17-year age gap was not a hindrance for true love to blossom; not even death can take this love away.
It has been five years since Lawrence passed away after a long battle with cancer, yet Freda always talks about him in the present.
“He is my angel. He never really left me,” Freda says.
‘Where do I begin?’
Freda and Lawrence met on an online dating site in 1999. Freda was a boutique coordinator in an import and export company in the Philippines.
“At first, I did not really want a foreigner. But after chatting every day and talking on the phone almost three times a day, my feelings were developed,” Freda recalls.
They decided to meet in the Philippines in 2000. Unknown to Freda, Lawrence also got acquainted with her employer and friends.
When Lawrence went back to the US, he applied for a fiancé visa for Freda in 2001. That year, Freda came to the U.S., and they were married on November 10, 2001 in New Hampshire.
“My parents were not able to come because of difficulty in getting visas. In a fiancé visa, the couple must get married within 90 days,” Freda explains.
‘And I love her’
Lawrence had a teenage daughter from a previous marriage, but she was not living with them. Freda says that the two were very close. The daughter was 17 years old when Freda met her. However, Freda did not like the way the daughter sometimes talked back to Lawrence.
Like all marriages, Freda and Lawrence had to adjust to each other, but it was easier for both of them because they both knew each other’s pet peeves.
Instead of serving Lawrence like the stereotypical setup in a married life, it was the reverse for Freda.
“He always makes me coffee every morning; preparing breakfast and also my vitamins. He does all the things – taking care of the bills, insurances, etc.,” Freda shares.
Freda says she fried dried fish at home and Lawrence never complained.
“He would say ‘stinky.’ I would tell him “You married me, so you have two choices — stay outside or stay inside,” Freda recalls.
According to Freda, Lawrence understood her culture perfectly, especially the get-togethers.
“Filipinos love to eat. Lawrence always says that it’s always like a fiesta,” Freda laughs.
Whenever friends called her, Lawrence never admonished Freda for speaking in Tagalog or even being in long phone calls.
“Whenever a friend would call, Lawrence would ask her, ‘You want to talk to the Queen?’ So my friends would say, I’m the Queen,” Freda says.
Freda in the beginning got bored staying at home for six months. She first worked in a department store.
“In the Philippines, we usually call our superiors as ‘sir/ma’am.’ At first, I had difficulty calling them by their first names,” Freda laughs.
But not all approved of their relationship. Oftentimes, the comments were offensive.
“When they knew that I’m married to an American and with our age gap, they thought it was a marriage of convenience. There is also a stereotype that you were from near a US military base,” Freda says.
With her husband’s encouragement, Freda eventually adjusted to American life.
‘Love will keep us together’
But not all good things last. In 2009, Lawrence was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Freda never thought of leaving Lawrence. “I told him nothing will change, that we will fight this together,” Freda says.
Lawrence had to undergo four different types of chemotherapy for one-and-a-half-year, and later a stem cell transplant. He had to be in the hospitals frequently.
“My husband eats healthy and exercises. He seldom drinks and never smokes. That’s why we were shocked that he got cancer,” Freda says.
Lawrence had a remission for a while, but things did not go well. He fractured his hip while going to City Hall to register their car.
Despite using a cane to aid his movement, Lawrence still insisted on doing his regular routine – making her coffee and taking her out.
“I let him do simple tasks at home because I don’t want him to think that he is useless. He says he’s doing it because he loves me,” Freda says.
Despite his condition, there was no need for Lawrence to be in constant care. It was only during the advance stage of his illness that he needed to stay in the hospital.
Freda had to learn everything quickly – paying bills, and yes, even making her own coffee.
“Unlike in the Philippines where you can lean on your family members, here, I am grieving alone. I have to do everything now on my own,” Freda says.
‘I love you always, forever’
One day, she looked at the window. The trees were turning, their leaves changing to red and orange. Soon all the leaves fell on the ground; Lawrence passed away. It was September 2013.
It has been four years, but Freda keeps on living with Lawrence’s memories.
“I don’t want to go back to the Philippines. I am not yet ready to leave our memories here together,” Freda says.
“Getting married is easy, but staying married is difficult. Do it for the right reason, which is love. But if you love someone you are willing to do everything and sacrifice everything for him or her. For foreigners who want to marry Filipinos, you have to understand our culture. It is the same for the Filipinos.”
And never forget to say “I love you,” she says.
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