It's been an expensive and trying ordeal for one grieving Lakewood family, but they'll finally get to pay their respects to their matriarch on Saturday.
Constancia Cruz’s husband and six adult children will spend the weekend mourning her loss, just days after celebrating the success of an online fundraising campaign that helped them bring her remains home from Korea.
“It’s been such a roller coaster of emotions in the last few months,” Anna Marie said Friday. “It’s just such a relief to know she’s home and that we can grieve.”
Cruz died April 28 at a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, after battling septic shock for 76 days. She had been en route home to Southern California from her native Philippines when she fell ill.
But when the family tried to make arrangements to fly her ashes back to Los Angeles, they were stunned to hear from hospital administrators they would have to settle a staggering $157,000 medical bill before her remains could be released. They had already paid $90,000 for her on-going care.
“We didn’t even think of the bill at that time,” daughter Anna Marie Cruz said. “We knew we would have to pay something, and we’d already paid some of the bills, but we didn’t think about that much.”
Hoping for a little help, Anna Marie set up a page on GoFundMe.com, and sent out a note about the family's plight to close friends.
"I sent it just to my close friends at first. This is a tough ask. It requires a lot of boldness to ask for help," she said.
Word spread beyond her circle, and in just 11 days, the family raised $56,000. Even former students of Constancia, who had been an elementary school teacher in the Philippines, donated.
One of Anna Marie’s sisters showed the funding website to hospital administrators in Korea, who agreed to release her remains in exchange for the money already raised and the promise to pay off the balance.
Constancia’s ashes arrived in California earlier this week, and the family will hold a memorial service at Forest Lawn in Cypress Saturday.