By Jose Macias
If earned paid sick days had already existed before the Senate passed SB312 this week, my mother, Tomasita, might still be alive.
She had no paid days off, though, even after being a dependable and loyal employee at a Nevada company for more than a decade — earning $8.25 an hour. One of her biggest fears was getting sick because taking a day off was never a real option for her. When you’re living on such low wages, have no access to paid sick days and have a family to support, there are no breaks.
That was the situation when my mother started feeling sick one day. As the days passed, her illness progressed. Day after day of feeling weak and terrible, she again put on her uniform and went off to work. She had no choice but to hope it would pass, just as she did with every other illness she’d ever had.
Little did I know that one of those days would be the last time I would hug my mom goodbye. Not long after our parting, she collapsed during her shift while cleaning toilets. She had a stroke and became unconscious. She never woke up.
Losing a mother at such a young age — I was 25 and my siblings were 21 and 24 — is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to endure, especially knowing in my heart that it may have been prevented if she would have had the financial choice to prioritize her health over her job.
My mother spent a lifetime dismissing every pain she had, because to stay home and rest for even one day meant we wouldn’t have enough money to pay our bills and put food on the table. It was not unusual to see her literally dragging her feet before heading off to work because no matter how awful she felt, she knew that taking a day off was truly not an option. My dad had been laid off from work, and my mom embodied the ideal of the strong matriarch: to provide for and support our family at any cost.
It is also perhaps worth remembering that my mom not only could not take time off to take care of herself, she also couldn’t stay home with us or take us to the doctor when we were sick as children.
I guess it is inevitable to feel guilty that my mother literally worked herself to death for me and my family.
After her stroke, my mother was in a coma for a month. I visited her daily, hoping to hear her voice, even if it was just one last time. After many weeks and no hope from the doctors, I was forced to say good-bye and kiss my mom one last time.
Losing my rock and my best friend was deeply painful.
I know having earned paid sick days will not bring our Tomasita back, but maybe it can help prevent another child from losing their mom, or another spouse from losing a partner, for choosing work over health because they simply can’t afford to be sick.
Jose Macias has lived in Nevada since he was nine years old. He is an organizer with Make the Road Nevada.