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CHICAGO – When someone immigrates to the United States from a Third World country like the Philippines, he or she aspires to find a greener pasture that would  boost his/her pursuit of a better life, liberty and happiness.

But in the case of my niece, Anna Melisa “Honey” L. Lasala who came to the U.S. at age 16 together with her big brother, Denise “Dhenz” L. Lasala, and their mom, the late Victoria “Vicky” L. Lasala, when their family visas were issued in in 1993, it was entirely different. Honey and Dhenz put on hold their pursuit of a bright future when they decided not to pursue college education.

Their mom, when she was still alive, their aunts, uncles and cousins were reminding them to go to college if they wanted to succeed in America. But they never listened. They seemed to be happy doing odd jobs that pay a minimum wage.

Unlike the DREAMers who have to stay in the shadows for fear of deportation and for lack of work permits, my niece and nephew have green cards, which could qualify them apply for student loan or join the military. Their green cards could have been their ticket to pursue their American Dream.

Raised by a single mom (their dad, an overseas Filipino worker in Angola, had refused to join them in the U.S.), Honey and Dhenz could not blame their parents for not  reminding them to go to college.

If they did not want to heed the advice of their relatives, who kept on egging them to enroll in college, all they have to do is to look around so they could see their neighbors with good jobs. They could have told themselves that these people must have attended college, and this enabled them to have good jobs.

Last Dec. 27, Dhenz called his relatives to break the grim news that his little sister, Honey, suffered a fatal heart attack.

When I asked Dhenz what could have triggered the heart attack, he told me, “lagi lang kasi kaming pagod sa work.” (We are always tired of working.)

If the difficulty and stress of manual labor had indeed caused Honey to suffer a  heart attack, Dhenz could suffer the same fate.

At age 37, Honey was gone too soon.

Although Dhenz should now be pushing 40, it is not yet too late for him to go back to school as a working student and learn skills that could give him a better-paying job.

Honey is survived by her father Ruben F. Lasala, Sr. (of Gubat, Sorsogon), her brothers Dr. Ruben L. Lasala Jr. (of San Pedro, Laguna) and Dhenz L. Lasala (of Fort Worth, Texas), her only sister Ruby L. Mercado-Azucena (of San Pedro, Laguna),two nieces — Regine May Mercado and Ruth Daryl Mercado, three nephews, Rex Brandon Mercado, Robert Jasper Azucena and Robert Russel Azucena, and grandnephew, Rikimaru Dennis de Jesus.

Honey may not have found a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in America, where she outed herself as a man trapped in a woman’s body, but I think she died a happy death because she found love in Angela Udtohan, her lover.

Besides, despite the short notice, her three cousins – US Air Force Officer Ronnie L. Rey (of Panama City, Florida)  and wife, Contessa, and their children, Angel, Ashley and Aeden and Ronnie’s little sister, Dorothy Joy R. Estrada (of Chicago, Illinois) and U.S. Navy Officer Nino L. Villamor (of Norfolk, Virginia) – were able to console Dhenz and Angela in their hour of grief in the wake at Baumgardner Funeral Homes in Forth Worth, Texas last Jan. 3.

Thanks to Facebook, some of the relatives of Honey in the Philippines and the U.S.  were able to view the funeral services in real time as Honey’s cousins took  footages of the ceremonies and instantly posted them on Facebook. This made it possible for their relatives to watch the prayer services and know Honey’s wishes, like her fondness for Superman, and for one of her favorite songs, Because You Loved Me (Love Theme from “Up Close And Personal”).

Honey’s sudden death, however, created some kind of controversy. A tomboy, Honey intimated to Angela that if she died, she wanted two things to happen: 1) She did not want to be cremated, and 2) she would like to be buried beside her mom at the Catholic cemetery in Chicago.

Unfortunately, Honey could not have both.

Because she did not have a burial plan, Honey’s remains could not be transported from Fort Worth, Texas to Chicago because of the expensive transport cost. But even if Honey were able to buy burial plan, she did not find out in advance where in the cemetery her mom is buried. This would have made it was impossible for her remains to be buried beside her mother.

Her relatives could fulfill only one of her two wishes – to be buried beside her mom but she would have to be cremated.