Lina: No One’s Little Girl

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Growing up, Lina Martinez treasured holidays spent with her family. She remembers the food, the ornaments, the dancing, and — above all – her dad, who made everything warmer and brighter. Year round, her dad Luis was her person, her best friend. But when Luis fell ill shortly before Christmas, Lina could already tell her holidays were going to look different from then on. Lina shares with Stephanie what it was like to receive and lose the most important kind of love in her life, and how she makes space for her grief, even during the most “wonderful” time of the year.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to shortly after the air date.



Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Lena Martinez

Lena Martinez  00:02

I opened the car door to give him a goodbye hug and tell him I love him. And he’s like, are you okay? I was like, Dad, I want you to know like, I’m okay.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  00:11

It’s 2016, Lena Martinez is a 22 year old college student getting out of her dad’s car after celebrating Thanksgiving with her family. She’s at that point in life where you’re in between childhood and adulthood. You’re still figuring things out, but you want to be seen as a capable adult who’s independent and responsible and able to make it on your own. But what she doesn’t know in this moment looking at her dad is that soon, she’ll feel one of the heaviest adult burdens falling squarely on her shoulders.


Lena Martinez  00:49

My thing was like I have to love him, I have to love him more than he loves me, I have to do more than he already does for me because this is the time where you show up he showed up every second of my life, this is the time.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  01:09

This is Last Day, the show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. Today’s story is a familiar one. It’s about losing the purest form of love you’ve ever experienced and how to keep that love alive even after the person who gave it to you is long gone.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  01:42

Many of our guests are new to the show, Lena is not, in fact, she is behind the scenes every single week. If you follow us on Instagram, you are likely familiar with Lena’s work. As our social media associate Lena does all of that planning and posting so that, I thank God don’t have to figure it out myself. And along with being very good at her job. Lena is the light of every single one of our multi squared zoom meetings. She is our pop culture Queen and the fastest talker in the West. Trust me I would have been more than happy to hand over the reins to her for an entire episode. Lena do you want to host the show? Why don’t you just host the show? You got it? You got


Lena Martinez  02:25

No no no, I got posting I press the button. You remember that song guidance school is like I work at the button factory. That’s what I explained to my nephew for my job.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  02:35

If you’re wondering, Lena is talking about the song Hello, my name is Joe and I work in a button factory which you may have heard in school or at summer camp. And in the song Joe introduces himself by saying, Okay, let me I’m just gonna sing it for you. Hi, my name is Joe and I work in a button factory. I have a dog and a house and a family. I’ll just leave it there. Anyway, Lena works at a podcast factory not a button factory even if she does press some buttons. And as you may be able to guess she has anything but average.


Lena Martinez  03:10

I was born on June 28. My mom was watching a TV show and it was a commercial break and I said time to go kick me out get it out baby is not comfortable here anymore. And I came out to at 9am and my mom was sick and ever since then I’ve been a hard and difficult child from birth you know, you know I gotta keep it original. And I didn’t talk to I was three and a fun family fact I haven’t stopped talking since.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  03:34

Before she became the firecracker we know and love. Lena was born and raised in Connecticut. Her parents met there and by her account, made an unlikely pairing at first glance.


Lena Martinez  03:45

My dad was born in Puerto Rico but then emigrated I guess it’s immigrated it’s from like the US I don’t really counted the word but he moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut and then they like live like a street over from each other. It’s funny because my dad I don’t know if I got it from him but like he like talked to my mom in a church bus and he wouldn’t shut up so my mom like when on day with them because yet she wanted him to shut up. So I think made him a little lot in common, just like a lot of talkers.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  04:10

Besides their love of gab, Lena and her dad share a deep bond as she’s growing up. Louis is her confidant and the person she turns to for help with her problems big and small. And ugliness eyes. He is an average guy in the best possible way.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  04:28

As she got older, Lena’s connection with her dad grew stronger because they just genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. And Louis wore his heart on his sleeve with his daughters. They never had to guess if he loved them because he made it clear every single day. But unfortunately, Lena only felt that bond with one of her parents. As Lena puts it, while her dad always wanted to be a father. Her mom didn’t always want to be a mother. And these dynamics sometimes created a lot of friction in the house.


Lena Martinez  04:28

He’s the most ordinary Hispanic man you can ever meet in your life. That’s what made him special were like he didn’t like cure cancer. He didn’t like fine like go to the moon or whatever. Like I asked what his dream job was. He was like being a father. Like that’s always what it was. I think I heard him say I love you more to me that I heard him say my name. Like say anything to me like it was just it he like breathed and said I love you and we had nothing in common. I know we I said we talk a lot but like homeboy, like sports, I was a little girly girly, I pretended once to like sports so he would like me like I remember took out the newspaper, yes newspaper let’s talk about that y’all, let’s go back in time. And it was like Connecticut post and like he loved basketball oh, I thought he did so I pointed out the girls basketball team was like, I love this girl, Nicole Wolf number 21 he goes you do is like, yeah, she’s the coolest basketball player ever. So my dad stayed up, watch the game. And the next day told me all about who he was, we should go to one, and we never really went to him but like we watched it every day is like after like all the timest here were games he was watching it, and he didn’t like basketball, I didn’t like basketball we like basketball for each other though. So it was like a very fake sort of friendship. I wouldn’t say like father do, I think we became friends. We were just friends with each other.


Lena Martinez  06:09

My mom did not show me love. So my dad did show me love. So it was very like, oh, I’m not getting it. So what’s overcompensate kind of thing, a seesaw. I think I love my mom’s I want her to love me too. But it wasn’t very much like, I love her in a sense that like, she’s a mother to me. Like, that’s why I do talk over people I don’t mean to I think like it was taught to me that like, I will be expressing my feelings and someone will talk over me. So to tell them, I will tell them shut up, they weren’t Shut up, so I have to keep talking higher and higher. I think that’s also why I talk fast, because I want to get everything out. So someone can like hear me and like I can get my emotions out and stuff like that. So I can be like, well, they know something’s wrong with me let me just say what I’m feeling right now. Okay, got it let’s go., that’s it so.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  06:53

Lena also spent a lot of time alone as a child. Besides hanging out with her family, she didn’t have other kids to talk to. So instead, she spent her days watching TV, absorbing all the characters and their mannerisms, media became her primary window into the world. These feelings of loneliness coupled with the constant fighting in our house, made for some difficult times for young Lena, but it wasn’t like this year round in the Martinez household because for a few weeks, each winter, the mood got brighter.


Lena Martinez  07:28

Hollies are so fun because that was a time we weren’t fighting in my family, I would wake up and the house smelled like the food. And then we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and my mom would like watch it together. And then my dad would kiss me and my sister and I would like laugh together. And like yeah, she makes fun of because I’m the younger sister but like it was like fun and ingest. It wasn’t like in meanwhile, like I wrote about and cried about it. It was a cool one, you know, like, and so like, it was like that was just really nice. And it was just, I think about those moments a lot and just how happy I was.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  07:56

What about Christmas? Like was that a big thing?


Lena Martinez  07:59

Christmas is huge, we love it, we will do this thing where we add a new ornament every year. So like we would so we would go the next day to like Macy’s or the next couple of weeks, go to Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s and get like a nice ornament. And that will be our ornament of the year which is so cool. And it’s fun to unwrap, like that’s maybe why I’m so sentimental because it’s fun to unwrap something you had the last year like a time capsule in a sense was like I haven’t seen you in so long as they sing old friend. And then my student I would divide it to like whatever ornament had her like had her favorite one and it would be her side to her get to be on that side this year. And then my side would have my ornaments on it. So like sometimes if that gift was good, we like silly each other like it was on my side, you know to be a little funny.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  08:37

For a while holidays offer this window of normalcy for Lena. She goes through middle school and high school and makes new friends. She has more people in her life. But Louis is still her bestie she’s really coming into her big personality and interests. And as a 15 year old girl in 2010. One of those interests perhaps the primary one is, of course, our girl Taylor Swift. And just as Lena is figuring out what she’s all about and what makes her tick, her family decides to go on vacation to Puerto Rico.


Lena Martinez  09:12

So it was the day that Taylor Swift released mine, I’m speaking now. I was in the hotel room in Puerto Rico listening to her listen to the song of my sister and I was thinking wow, my life has changed a little did I know. My dad like had like a bloody nose and like was showing up with bruises. And I watched Degrassi growing up illegally my mom told me not to. And one of the guys that dad I forgot the bald guy, whoever not Drake, not Drake he had a bloody nose and he had leukemia. So when I saw my dad have a bloody nose literally I’m listening to Taylor Swift, he’s like bothering me I heard the bloody nose but again, like my best friend, don’t give a crap about him, ‘m like 15 at this point. And I’m like, dude, you have cancer bye like, leave me alone, like I just knew he had cancer and my mom was like, what are you talking about? And also was like, what are you talking about my sister? And I was like he does has cancer I saw on TV. And they’re like, no, he doesn’t don’t say that blob blah. So I go back to the Taylor Swift minding my own business, we go home, he gets checked out because it gets getting rid of the nosebleeds are getting worse, the bruises are getting worse. And not to make this about me but I was right.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  10:13

What did the doctors actually say? I mean, when did he go to the doctor? And what did he say?


Lena Martinez  10:18

They told me he was gonna die. They said straight up, like, we don’t think you’re gonna make it you have low blood count. We don’t believe it’s gonna happen, like start saying goodbyes. And my dad said, No, thank you, he’s like, no, no, no, I’m not doing that. And he went to chemotherapy it wasn’t the kind of use your hair. But it was the one we use, like sit there and stuff like that. I never went I wasn’t allowed to go. He would work from 5am to like 1 and then he would go to chemo and then come home and cook dinner. I think it was like probably six months. And the doctor said, you’re not going to die.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  10:49

And he doesn’t. Louis promises Lena he will be there to see her graduate high school. And he is his condition improves, and his cancer goes into remission. A few years later, in 2016. Lena decides to move two hours away to go to college in New York and even after she leaves, Louis is always there for her.


Lena Martinez  11:12

I moved from my apartment in Brooklyn to a carpet on the Upper East Side, and then my dad to help me move. And at one point, he was like moving stuff up the stairs and he was getting a nosebleed again. And I was like, why are you getting a nosebleed? Like, I was like, why are you a nosebleed whoa, like come on work, like let’s go. And he was like, okay, hold on he like took a breath. And it was just looking but I didn’t notice it then because it was very stressed that day moving is very stressful in general, it was clear that he was getting sick again. And we didn’t know.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  11:38

The month after Louis helps her move. He gets in a car accident. He’s okay but shortly after he comes down with pneumonia. And as the holidays get closer, Louis is still recovering from these two setbacks. And even though Lena is no longer able to see him every day, she can tell that his health has taken a hit. It’s all compounding and getting worse.


Lena Martinez  12:01

So the last time I saw him alone, just the two of us was him driving me back from Thanksgiving that year. And it was the most ordinary trip of your life. He bought me like oranges, he gave me money he gave me like $50. And he was like so upset you can give me more money. And I was like, this is enough trust me thank you. He couldn’t if he bought upstairs because again, I lived on such the higher end of my apartment or whatever that like it will take too long. So I said stay in the car. I’ll move everything and don’t worry about it. And in that moment, I felt so proud of myself, I’m like, oh my God, like, I’m like taking care of my parent, like I was 22 at this point, I’m like, oh my God, I think you’re my parents like I’m so cool. Like, I want adult little can we live in the city like my dad, like, doesn’t have to help me all the time, I’m so cool, I’m so awesome, whatever and you know, me bringing back to TV, the last episode of Gilmore Girls, where he’s going off to work for Obama and stuff like that and her mom’s like running around and stuff like that and she’s like, I need more time, you need more time, and where he’s like, no, you gave me enough and I was like it was such an important moment. And so for some reason, I looked at my dad, I thought this is the time to tell him that like I haven’t graduated college and I’m like, I’m, I’m so broke. I need you so bad.,I want you to know I’m okay. So like he goes, I opened the car door to give him a goodbye hug and tell him I love him. And he’s like, are you okay? I was like, Dad, I want you to know like, you give me everything, I’m okay, and he kisses me and kiss him. I just think oh my god is love this man so much as my best friend is my dad.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  13:36

We’re back, it’s December 2016 and Lena is working three jobs to put herself through school. One of these jobs with a particularly demanding schedule is working the front desk at a high end New York City Gym. You know, the kind of fancy locker rooms $10 smoothies, the whole nine. Anyway, it’s while she’s juggling school, and checking in fancy schmancy people at the gym that she gets a call from her mom. She tells Lena that Louie is sick and he’s been admitted to the hospital. Lena brushes it off initially, after all her dad has been through much worse but also as a single 20 something she has other priorities.


Lena Martinez  14:19

Okay, me, me let me make this about me. Let’s talk about me. So there was this hot guy, one of my gyms I worked at. I remember meeting him talking at one point and it was a September of 2016. And he told me his mom died and I felt something in my chest. And I had to fix my dad right away, like after I talked to my head, I was like someone I love you. I just had to do it. When my mom called me in December 12 2016 and said my dad was in hospital. I felt the same pain in my chest. And I knew my dad was going to die because I just knew like that was like God it was spirituals Buddha it was Ariana Grande guys, women it was anybody in the world telling me like it was this is this is happening and that was I’ve never felt something like that before for so sure. Especially someone is so anxious and like as I am and indecisive and like, like insecure, I just felt so confident that I knew he was gonna die.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  15:14

Louis is admitted into the hospital just two weeks before Christmas, the doctors put him under to do a blood transfusion. The specifics of why and for what aren’t totally clear to Lena, all she knows is that she wants her dad to be okay. But he doesn’t come out of it. He stays unconscious and Lena starts to go back and forth between New York and Connecticut because she can’t get time off at this upscale New York City Gym. And as the days pass, Louis shows no sign of waking up. So when she visits, all she can do is sit by her dad’s bedside. What’s going through your mind as you’re looking at him, like as you’re trying to sort of come to terms with this and you said like, I knew it was gonna die?


Lena Martinez  16:04

Well, for the what’s going through my mind, it was very much I have to love him more than he loves me. Because I have to be selfish in this moment where it’s like, I’m going to be the bigger person, I’m going to do something to like, like I was even thinking if he does survive the way I’m going to be like, I mean, I said to my mom, I’m going to make sure that like I’m there for him, I’m going to like, I’ll come home or something like that. Like I was even thinking about like, like transferring back to Connecticut schools. I was thinking like, how can I fix this to make his life better? Because it’s that time now, like, there’s like, I think there’s always a moment in a child’s life where they have to be a parent, maybe it’s younger when they’re kids but when it’s healthy, it’s hopefully when the parents are older and ailing. And I even at 22, like I’m living in the city, I’m like, I can do this, I’ll do this for him I need this is a time where you show up, he showed up every second of my life, this is the time.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  16:51

The days turn into a week after work, Lena would watch over Louis as he slept. And even though he’s unconscious, she waits with him and talks to him. She’s showing up for him and all the ways she knows how.


Lena Martinez  17:06

When he was in the hospital, but I went to visit him and it was just the two of us. I told him to let go. I just heard him out night at night in pain because like he was still alive he was on this machine and you heard the beeping machine but then you would heard him like scream out because he’s like trying to breathe still and stuff like that. So I remember thinking I don’t want him in pain. I don’t want him to survive this to maybe be on this again to go through this again, like he deserves he out of anywhere in the world deserves peace. And I I felt very selfless in the moment, I told him to like to go I like held his hands like you can go It’s okay, like I’m okay. And I fucking lie like a dumbass and I and it sounds so mean, but I regret it so much because I want my dad, I want my daddy. And but I am happy I did that because I think he does, like I think that’s real love we’re like, I need you I’m always going to need you but I’m willing to give that up because you’ve done so much for me. You’ve done so much for me. You loved me when I didn’t think that like when I wasn’t getting loved and stuff like that it’s my turn to love it’s my turn to step up and like that’s so I think and I think he needed that because I felt his hand after that have helped him like hold on to me, and so I think he appreciated it.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  18:15

For Louis had gone under he’d promised Lena’s mom that he’d wake up in time for their anniversary on December 22. Alas, he doesn’t, so Lena’s family has to move through the holidays without him while he stays in the hospital. And when Christmas Eve rolls around Lena can feel their version of the holidays shifting many of the things she treasured about this time of year the joy the dancing the good food, the kisses from her dad, it just wasn’t the same.


Lena Martinez  18:48

I remember there was no we didn’t have a Christmas tree because to have a tree around like a fake one or a real one it would wouldn’t help his like getting healthy again kinda thing to have all that dust or whatever. So the house was just dark, you know, which to me as a creative writing major. I was like, oh my God, he’s a light of our life like that not having here. That’s no wonder this darkness in our household. No wonder, you know all that beautiful, all that beautiful poetry to make it seem more better and stuff like that but it was just it was very dark.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  19:14

Lena is preparing herself for what feels like a new reality. Her dad is still alive but grief is already around her during what’s supposed to be the happiest time of year, and especially happy for her family. On Christmas Day, Lena once again, gets off work and takes the train to Connecticut to see her dad in the hospital. Nothing changes, Christmas comes and goes when it goes back to work, and then three days later, she gets a message from someone unexpected.


Lena Martinez  19:46

My cousin texted me on December 28 at like probably like 8pm and he said I’m here for you need anything I said who is this question mark question mark. And he was like it’s Darrell my cousin blah, blah like I’m here if you need anything, I was like, why are you texting me? That’s so random, like what’s going on and can I get I don’t know about. So my sister asked me like, my, it’s crazy because like, I think my sister was probably processing it. But so many family people reaching out and saying, like, we’re here for you, we’re here for you and my sister texted saying, like, they think he’s gonna pass away. And I said, should I come in? And like, no, no, like, it’s gonna happen, like later, like you because I had worked the next day. So I was like, sure. He’s like, call out and come take a train and now I’m like, no, no, it’s fine. And I went home, I cried a bit with my friends. And I went home and at 3am I got a call from my sister and he died, and she said, dad’s dead I said, okay. It’s so crazy how anticlimactic is like, I’m such like, as a as a TV film person, you own a reader and like someone that has escapism, you want to be this big, beautiful moment and I can only make it a big beautiful moment, after, like after, right? But in that moment is just so average, and you just take and you’re like, okay, I have to call work. Oh, I have to work, okay, I’ll wait till you just have to do that. Because I don’t think we’re taught to, like, stand up and do this kind of thing, and like, speak and like, no, there’s a death I have to feel this image I have to do that. It’s not something we’re taught to do, my mom told me that, because I wasn’t there when he passed. Like they asked like, they asked him like my mom, do you want to keep trying? Because they because they he was on like the respiratory or whatever. And my mom was like, no, let’s let it go, my dad wasn’t a guy that wanted to be on a machine which no judgement, people do no judgment people live their life. I wasn’t there for that, so I’ve guilt I need people to know that like, I wasn’t there, I wasn’t there to help with my sister […] like, was on the couch crying. And my mom was like, across from her and a different couch crying and they and I wasn’t there. And that makes me feel so awful that I wasn’t there. Because like, I think when people maybe it’s a family thing when people die, you want to step up and like be that person for somebody else and fill that void. And I felt like a failure not to do that kind of stuff.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  21:56

Lena’s dad passes away at 3am, 5am she is supposed to go to work to open the gym. But obviously, she doesn’t feel up to the task. So she cries, she takes a shower, she cries some more. And she picks up the phone.


Lena Martinez  22:15

And I called my job and they said I’m so sorry, can you still come on? We can’t find anyone to cover you. So I went to work until like 9am for someone else to pick up my shift, and I cried at work. I will say this because this is who I am people like are you okay? I was like, no, my dad just died, I certainly said it. Because I didn’t know how else to react, I don’t know what else to do. So I just told them that and then they’re like, why are you still here? I’m like, wll, this job won’t let me leave and like my friend who was visiting me, like hugged me like, are you okay? I was like, yeah, I said I was I don’t know, like, I don’t know how you respond to that, I still know he was more like, I’m fine like, I hopefully will get better and be like, no, I’m hurting but like, I was like, no, I’m fine it’s okay like I’m gonna go to I’ll see my I’ll see my family after and my mom was even like, yeah, you have to work you can’t my sister’s like you’d have to work like, it’s just ingrained in us that we have to work, maybe that’s it, hispanic culture is like the idea like you don’t wanna lose your job. Because technically after my dad dies, like LOL, like I lifestyle moves on, my bills still need to be paid like, unfortunately, I was doing part time work and they didn’t care enough for that so I just had to like, I just had a go, I couldn’t really process it.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  23:22

After the funeral, Lena has to pick up even more shifts at the gym to make rent. She spends New Year’s Eve babysitting for extra cash. There is no quiet moment for her to sit in the profound grief of losing her father and best friend. But that moment comes more than a week after Louis’ passing.


Lena Martinez  23:42

So I told my dad had a text message. He never did it before me, I was 13 I texted him a picture of my good grades. And he said good job and like he never did that before, like it was my first I remember him saying this is my first text message and ever since that day, he texted me every morning and every night all the time. So you know, dust settles and stuff like that and I’m waking up to a no text saying good morning beautiful, I love you. And I will say also it took three years for a man to call me beautiful after that my dad told me every day since I was born. So I remember like my friend Jason who’s like nicest man ever. He like want he like called me beautiful and I literally stopped when he said that. I was like what do you just say it felt slow to me because I never heard that, but I haven’t heard it. And for somebody that heard it, literally for 22 years consistently, when he passed I never heard it. My mom wasn’t someone that gave compliments like that. And my sister loves her, we’re like we’re not we don’t compliment like that. We’re just like, oh my god, you’re so smart but I love you blah, blah, like I never heard it and like I didn’t hear it from and that was a man telling me that too. So it was like it was just so different and weird and shocking. And that’s something I really think about when I think about my friend Jason or other friends that I love that remind me of my dad when I feel him around a sensor it’s like, like, okay, like I don’t get those consistent texts anymore and that’s really hard but like, I do get like these little moments that like bring it all back and the love was so strong that It comes back in a wave, not in like a little sprinkle. Like it’s a big wave that he feel again, and it just is very overpowering and beautiful because that’s what his love was it was overpowering and beautiful.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  25:09

We’re back, Lena lost her dad when she was 22, she’s now 29 and she’s still learning how to live without that unconditional love. That was like a life vest. How did your identity especially, you know, you were so tethered to him and not to your mother? And how did your identity and the way you move through the world and how you saw yourself and how you thought about love? And how has that shifted? In the years since.


Lena Martinez  25:57

I just feel very unsafe now in the world, like he was the safety net, you know, and like, I’m not someone’s little girl anymore, I’m no one’s little girl ,like I’m not a child, like I say I’m a child and like I am you know, but I’m not anyone’s child. Like I’m not I don’t have and, you know, me bringing back to television, Dorothy at one point in the Golden Girls, Sophia gets really sick and her dad already passed and she goes, she’s she’s like, I’m 67 and it’s crazy to think that I will still be an orphan if my mom passes. And that’s just a very powerful statement I think about a lot where it’s like, you know, like, you are a child you are someone’s child until you’re not someone’s child. And my dad was the space where like, I could be so bratty, I like I like I could be so bad you’re so selfish so vent like all this I could be so mean. And I don’t think I can be mean because I don’t think anyone would love that version I mean, I feel like I have to consistently be something else because I can’t be that like little girl that wants to be like those a tantrum, I can’t throw a tantrum because I’m gonna get yelled at and no one’s gonna protect me, I don’t feel protected, I don’t I feel like I have to hold myself and held myself and be my parent tell myself no, no, you can’t do that. I have to like, do that because I don’t have that anymore. Friendship love is beautiful but there’s like the other people can still go back home, I never I don’t have a sense of home. You know, it’s it’s very, it’s very wandering and stuff like that so it’s difficult.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  27:20

Yeah, I think also like, home, the feeling of home is so tethered to traditions and holidays are all about traditions. So I’m sure like dust gets kicked up so much around this time for you.


Lena Martinez  27:34

Yes, so I for the longest time like I could plan when I was gonna get very dark because I knew first of all, it starts with thanksgiving, so I’m like this last time I saw my dad so like, let’s get sad about that, like how long I think is it JLo she was let’s get loud as me let’s get depressed. You know, you have to feel that, and then December 12 come by and like I can’t help but remember seeing him go like that’s one of the memories I remember vividly seeing and then I remember like coming to see him on December 24 and I remember the 29th and stuff like that and like that day I’ll be so sad but then December 30 Oh my God, have you ever seen emperor’s new group? Guys I’m back in the film you guys getting serious lol and like the thing we’re like Cusco comes out it was I’m back baby that’s me like I wake up and I’m so happy and stuff like that because I think I hold in the depression so long and like I’m I can I can make it through April 22 I can make it through random May 1st whatever random day but like I’m gonna hold it all in for this time to like remember and honor his passing on her as her and stuff like that. But I think I do in a way that’s too heavy sometimes so I don’t want it to be heavy anymore. His love was light so I want his memory to be light and airy and to flow out more and other people to touch in reach and get it to I don’t want to feel like it’s a burden because his love was never a burden so.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  28:48

And have you do you still celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family with your mom and your sister? What traditions have stayed the same what has changed?


Lena Martinez  28:57

So I would go home a lot but then we would fight a lot and then at one point I was just dead broke, New York City are so expensive say that louder so I it was easier to work holidays for the gym get to get time and a half no one wants to work everyone’s to go home. So I made my own traditions of like going the movies by myself into like that which was nice because like I felt my dad around a lot and it was it was it was lonely. But it was also nice because like there is something nice about grieving alone in a sense because like when we don’t have people that also we don’t have that community when it’s hard to it’s nice to like be honest with yourself you know and let yourself breathe and let yourself be that and like with my dad I could always let myself breathe so it was like me being authentic with him and stuff. So I had to move back to Connecticut because New York kick my booty Booty boo de and I got a fabulous job called Lemonada now which is fabulous so I can enjoy that but like my aunt and uncle who I live with now my uncle Jerry who was going to help my dad when he was sick, he took me in help me like I live with him and his beautiful daughters and my beautiful nephew and it’s sweet because like it’s so Puerto Rican and so fun and it reminds me of like, it’s a full house and like I know, my aunt my uncle looks like my dad. You know, brothers crazy, you know, so like, it’s just fun like seeing him laugh sometimes we’re seeing my sister come visit hearing her laugh. She’s my dad’s laugh, so it’s just something about it where it’s like, that’s a tradition where like the happiness the love still there, you know, it’s just looks different. It’s 2023 you know, like Christmas 2020 we’re math this year, we just like, we were like a heart, honestly, it’s a different vibe kind of thing, but it’s sad I got out of bed last year for my dad’s dead day, which was really nice, my uncle like, pushed me out, to school. But typically don’t get out, it was it’s very tough. But I also like sometimes not getting out because it’s like, I in my bed, I feel cozy with him like, I feel like he’s in there like letting me cry, like I used to cry with him and stuff like, I can be that little girl that cries about anything in that bed sometimes, too, which is really nice. And I think people as a cancer people underestimate a cry, you know, so like, an a big cry like an honest cry the real ones, eeven a fake one get you some free shit sometimes, so try those two.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  30:56

Oh, Lena. Do you still like do you talk to him?


Lena Martinez  31:02

Um, I don’t talk I write a lot. I write a lot about him. And then when I’m at my friend’s wedding, Italy, she sent me a table for and my dad and I have like this thing he told me to stay for forever. And so he will then every every card I ever wrote me and stuff like that. So which is really sweet and so like, I sat down there at table four, which was cool, my friend didn’t know that and then we had a song called unforgettable by Nat King Cole, and as I sat down that song played, and I like that was just like crazy. And I was crying, my friends lke, why are you crying was like, because you’re a beautiful bride, and I don’t make it about me but I totally do. Because like, that’s selfish, it’s not good fun, but it was very sweet and then like, when I went see, I saw Taylor Swift in Philly, and my dad was the one that bought me my first Taylor Swift CD. And so like seeing her eras tour, like I just felt him the whole time, like, the whole time. And then why, um, I went to a thrift shop with my friend, and they were playing more than a woman or something, I thought one of the songs that he really liked, and like, I was like, wait, he’s here, and that was really cool, too. And I think like, I think I’m listening more clean, I use like, ear wax drops to get out so I’m listening for him more and stuff like that I think I’m, I’m at a better place where like, I want I want to love him again. I think I wasn’t loving him correctly while he was passed, and that’s very hard to but I think it was hard to love him when he wasn’t there and I wasn’t used to it because he was always there. So it was very much like how do I love you now? It was very a different type of love, I’m not stopping loving him, it’s just how do we progress, kind of thing.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  32:29

Yeah, yeah I when, when this is so tangential, but we went to the Emmys for my, you know, and I know, I know. But the point is, we went to the after party thing, and we were sat at table 420, which was my brother’s birthday. It’s also the day of wheat, but it was his birthday, so it felt like nobody knew like, that wasn’t intentional but like those things, you you try to find those signs when you’re.


Lena Martinez  32:58

They’re real, they’re real like, I really think you think they’re real especially. Oh, yeah. 100% but also, I’m gonna do Lulu girl, never forget that, I know I’m gonna marry Tom Holland, might be the first wife might be the last wife, that’s all a matter of you.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  33:10

Tell me the appeal with him, I don’t see it.


Lena Martinez  33:12

What he’s, he’s okay I think he’s, he’s like a strong man. But he’s also like a dancer so like, I love [..]


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  33:21

Lena then proceeds to explain to me the attractive qualities of Tom Holland. Which I mean, I guess I can see, I’m sure he’s an upstanding young man but anyway, I digress it’s Lena, you always digress with Lena. The point is that grief during the holidays is such a weird, twisted hellscape your pain and hurt can feel so out of place, among all those smiling faces and twinkling lights. You might not even have the space to express it and Lena is this shining example of someone who always thinks of other’s happiness first. But she also knows that there are times when her grief needs to be front and center. What’s your advice to people who who are struggling around the holidays? You know, what do you say to people like, how do you get through it? What’s your advice?


Lena Martinez  34:13

Don’t be like me talk about it. And I’m someone that talks a lot so funny but I think like they you deserve to talk about your grief. I really believe the moment you stop talking about it, you’re holding it back and I get that like I know because it’s really hard when you’re hurting it’s really, really hard to talk about. But you deserve to talk about it, and if you love that person, you they deserve to be talked about. Like that’s just like you deserve, they deserve to still be alive in your words in your movements, in the way you speak in the way you love. Take up space make people feel uncomfortable because you make them feel uncomfortable, it’s going to make them feel better when it does happen to them because death really is the only guarantee in life. And we don’t talk about it enough. We just don’t and it’s so sad that we don’t because, we need to better prepare for it in a way where like we don’t feel guilty and stuff like that we don’t feel shamed.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  35:07

Lena is living up to her own advice by telling me all about her dad during these difficult holiday months. But, you know, she’s also putting her own spin on things. I mean, she’s Lena.


Lena Martinez  35:21

I will say shout out to my dad for dying, because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have this moment together. And that’s a real gift from him, like this man keeps giving gifts like what do you think about that? Like, that’s actually beautiful like that’s cool.



There’s even more LAST DAY with Apple premium subscribers get exclusive access to content like behind the scenes chats with the producers of the show, diving deeper into episodes. Sign up now on Apple podcasts. LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. You can find us online at @LemonadaMedia and you can find me at @WittelStephanie. Thank you for listening, we will see you next week.

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