By Nathalie Mairena
Michelle Romero was passionate. She immersed herself entirely into every minute of every day, squeezing out every second of life, relishing in her great loves: family and her pursuit of career. She took every moment — good and bad — and lived through them, dreaming of a happily ever after.
‘Passivity’ was not in Michelle’s vocabulary. She was feisty, spunky, a fiery presence. If life gave her lemons, she threw them back at him, demanding a refund. Then she’d come back with a new business plan that’d get them sold for sure.
An alum of MLEC, Michelle was a prominent member of the Entrepreneurship strand. She helped bring back the DECA fashion show to its current glory and helped form the Credit Union. One of the last students to meet and learn from the late Michael Bevilacqua, a dedicated Entrepreneurship teacher, Michelle was the embodiment of an Entrepreneurship kid: tenacious, not afraid to take chances, determined to succeed.
A One Directioner, a Demi Lovato fan, and a lover of good food, Michelle lived life to the fullest.
“If she was your friend, she was your friend forever. If she was family, she was your family for forever,” said John Moffi, a history teacher at MLEC who was close to Michelle during and after her time in school.
And Michelle valued friends and family. Her last text messages were to her closest friends. Her last post on social media was a dedication to and appreciation for her family.
“This is my world. I was blessed with the family God gave me. He didn’t give them to me without their faults but they are perfect in every which way,” Michelle wrote on April 9, a day before her last surgery. “…My entire family is my life. Cherish yours through everything, thank God and the universe for what you have.”
Michelle simultaneously balanced her day to day life — school, work, friends, teenaged struggles — while battling Lupus, an autoimmune disease which caused her body to attack itself. Diagnosed six years ago, Michelle had to deal with chemotherapy, steroids, and frequent trips to the hospital. But everyone who knew her will tell you the same: she never let on that she was sick. She didn’t want to. She wanted to be treated and seen like everyone else, to be seen as normal. She didn’t want to be pitied. She wanted to experience life, the same way that everyone else did.
“Nobody could truly understand what she went through,” said Ricky Romero, Michelle’s younger brother. “She never complained of the pain she went through, it’s beyond inexplicable, but she was always able to stay strong through everything she’d been thru.”
Through thick and thicker, Michelle kept a strong, smiling face. Even when she felt bad she cracked jokes and took jabs at the disease that caused so much strain. Even when she felt sick, she would always, as her boyfriend Ricardo Guerra, would say, “want to leave you feeling a little bit happier than when she found you.”
On Friday, April 10, Michelle went in for surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital. It did not go well. Complications from the surgery kept Michelle hanging in the balance over the weekend.
On Monday, April 13, she passed away.
Michelle was studying at FIU, majoring in Accounting. She dreamt of moving to New York City, of starting a family. Michelle had so much life left in her. And, at only 19, she had already given so much.
Now is a time of mourning; but, most of all, of remembering — remembering Michelle as the girl who loved Chinese Food, who watched Frozen every single night in the hospital, who could be counted on for homemade birthday cakes and Christmas cards each year.
As fiercely loyal in death as she was in life, Michelle’s memories live on in those she touched.
“When we were at the hospital, maybe five days ago, my family sent me to go pick up dinner… we picked up one large pizza, half with cheese half pepperoni. And Michelle… she’d been eating a really strict diet. She sat up and she looked at my father and me and she asked my mother if she could have a slice of pizza,” said Ricky.
Michelle may have been sick, but she never let her illness stand in the way of what she wanted.
“… Michelle knew she could always get away with everything no matter how sick she might’ve been… She looked at everyone smiling like ‘C’mon’ and she picked up her finger and said “Just one slice…” I knew for a fact she was going to get that slice of pizza and she did.”
And like this, there are so many more memories: of Michelle wearing a crown to prom, despite not being prom queen; of laying on the grass at the park, looking up at the sky with Ricardo, having long conversations about love, life and the future — all of these memories blend together into a rich mix of the good, the bad, and the funny.
She was a nail-biter, a reality show watcher, a hopeless romantic, a lover of good food and good music. She could be spiteful, be in pain, and cry. All that — the smiles, the tears, the silliness — comes together to create the unique person that was Michelle Romero.
Not all of Michelle’s moments were happy ones- some were painful. But, they are all familiar, tapping into the sincere, and complex, human experience. Michelle would tell us that everyone suffers. But she chose to live and to thrive throughout her life. She would urge us to do the same.
An open-casket viewing will be held Friday afternoon, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Vista Memorial Gardens. Michelle will be wearing her Snow White costume, a testament to her love for Disney, and a crown, a tribute to her diva personality.
Anyone who knew Michelle is welcome to attend and share in remembering and celebrating a life well-lived.