The Delgado family in the garage of their Morgan Hill home.
In front are Esther and Armando, in rear are their grandchildren, from left: Corinna, 17, Celeena, 13, Devonna, 17, Leanna, 10, and William, 12.
The family suffered tragedy when about a year ago Doreene killed herself in the family garage.
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(Patrick Tehan / Mercury News)
After the tragedy, the Delgado family of Morgan Hill tacked a black, mesh cloth the kind nurseries use to protect flowers from the harsh sun across a wooden ceiling beam in their garage. But it didn't help.
"I won't go in there without someone else," said 17-year-old Corinna Delgado. "I still don't like to go in there at all."
On a calm first day of June last year, one of her sisters, Doreene, hanged herself from one of the beams. She was barely 5 feet 2 inches tall and only 13 years old. Corinna, along with an uncle and his two young children, found Doreene some hours later.
The trauma was so devastating, social workers put Corinna and her three sisters and little brother in grief counseling immediately. A year and a half later, they have come through it as well as can be expected, but there are ways that Wish Book readers can help the family continue healing.
"They're getting to the point where they're OK, but the pain is still there," said Brandi Pereira, a case manager with Community Solutions, a nonprofit health agency.
Life was already difficult for the Delgado kids, according to their grandparents, Armando and Esther Delgado. Doreene was 3 in 2000, they said, when Santa Clara County authorities took them away from their drug- and alcohol-abusing parents and placed them in foster care. The grandparents decided to adopt the children, all five of them, ages 8 months to 6 years at the time. They adopted another, Leanna, who was born in 2001.
A wall of photos of the late Doreene Delgado in her family's Morgan Hill home.
(Patrick Tehan / Mercury News)
But authorities wondered if the grandparents were up to it. Diabetes and kidney disease were attacking Armando's body. Esther toiled at a low-wage, fast-food job. The grandparents were barely getting by.
At one point, Armando asked Esther if she really wanted to raise another family, "Babe, you do know this is forever?"
After six months in family court, the couple won custody and, with foster care payments in hand, moved into a five-bedroom house in one of Morgan Hill's newer neighborhoods. They decorated their living room with colorful, geometric area rugs, photos spanning three generations of a Mexican-American family, and two wall tiles emblazoned with words: "Believe, Dream, Imagine, Faith, Hope, Love."
"The hard part of it was, I was so used to having a clean and new-smelling house," Esther said. "But now it was, 'How do you maintain your house, how do you cook, how do you change diapers all over again?'"
Eventually, the children adjusted to life with their grandparents. But Esther said Doreene seemed to have more trouble than the others understanding her parents' absence; they had mostly dropped out of the children's lives after the adoption.
As a photo of Doreene on the dining room hutch shows, she stood out, with long, straight black hair, bronze skin and deep brown eyes. She loved to customize her clothes. She'd cut the sleeves of blouses lengthwise and cross-stitch them back with colorful yarn, ribbon or bows. She dreamed of becoming a fashion designer when she grew up.
She also sang and played organ, becoming a soloist at their small, Christian church, where she often sang, "Oh Happy Day," a 1960s gospel-pop hit.
Doreene rode skateboards, played basketball and earned good grades through elementary school. She showed no signs of trouble until middle school, when she suddenly got into fights and brought home failing grades. Spotting the urgency, the Delgados enrolled her at Community Solutions. But Doreene missed too many pre-therapy appointments, and her case was closed.
Esther still blames herself.
"I just keep asking myself 'Why, why, why?'" Esther said, breaking into tears. "What was it I didn't see? Why didn't I see it? I know you can't really know why it happened. Only God knows that. I can't help it. I'm trying to understand."
Joy Bess, a Community Solutions therapist who treated two of the children after Doreene's death, said there was nothing in the family's accounts of Doreene's behavior to indicate the girl was suicidal. Everyone in the family wanted to move away after Doreene's death, but they couldn't afford the cost. Stuck, they avoided the garage as much as possible.
As time and the therapy sessions passed, the children gradually came to terms with their sister's death. Devonna, the oldest sister, baked a cake on what would have been Doreene's 14th birthday in February. Even their mother, Esther Rodriguez, appears to be turning her life around and visits the children whenever she can.
"That was a crazy time in my life," Rodriguez said about losing custody. "I still can't give them a home, but I can be around and do whatever I can."
A brown dove appeared at the Delgado's doorstep on the anniversary of Doreene's death. To this devout Christian family, the dove was Doreene's spirit. They feel better these days about staying in their house.
"Our memories of Doreene are here," Devonna said. "We don't want to give them up."
Most of them, however, still avoid the garage. Community Solutions nominated the Delgados for Wish Book in hopes that readers' donations can help them transform the garage from a reminder of Doreene's death to a warm family room for games, homework and hobbies. And Esther Delgado could use gasoline cards for the mileage that adds up driving to schools, medical appointments and counseling. The kid-heavy laundry load has worn out the old washer and dryer, and the family constantly needs new towels, bedding, pillows and clothing. Each donation of $50 will help the family give the garage a makeover, and donations of $25 or more will pay for gasoline cards, new laundry machines and household items.
Doreene may have left something to help them heal, too a recording of herself singing "Oh Happy Day" on Esther's cellphone. The family discovered it after Doreene's funeral and has sent it by email to everyone who knew her.
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