I never got to ask you how it felt like to live for almost a century. The last time I saw you, I jokingly said that in three years you would be 100 already. You gave me a big smile as if you were also aiming for it.
You always had that positive, vibrant spirit in you. You would still crack jokes even in your 90s. I guess this is why your death came as a surprise to all of us. Yesterday, you were a happy, healthy, nearly-a-century-old grandma. The next day, you were gone without even a warning. Then I remembered something you told me a couple of years ago, “pag nawala ako ayoko magpahirap.” And you didn’t. You made sure you exited this world without a fuss and at the beginning of a 3-day holiday, too, so we wouldn’t have to deal with traffic.
I have a lot of fond memories with you, Mommy. You were a feisty, energetic, 4’6″ woman who was born in 1920 and had lived through different wars and regimes. I remember how you would recount hiding under your house in a makeshift bunker while Japanese planes flew over, dropping bombs nearby.
You vividly recalled how your husband’s (my lolo) twin volunteered to take his place in the Death March because he was already married and you were pregnant back then. Thankfully, he survived and was reunited with you and Daddy. Rebuilding from war was tough yet you and Daddy worked hard to provide for your four children. You both made sure that they all finished school even if you were barely making ends meet.
At some point, you had to stop working to take care of my mom and her siblings. I remember how you would proudly say that you used to make baby dresses and wrapped candies in a candy factory. You wore the badge of being a factory worker with pride. There are machines that automatically wrap candies now, Mommy. If it were up to you, I knew you would still want it the old way, smelling the sugary goodness of every candy you wrapped delicately. c”,)
Growing up, you were a constant figure in my childhood. I looked forward to your visits and during summer vacations, I would spend time with you in your house in Cavite. At age 65 or so, you would courageously cross a long, creaky hanging bridge connecting your barangay to the market. It was a shortcut and it was called Block 9.
There was a safer but longer route which was totally unappealing to you. Being the brave and somewhat stubborn grandma that you were, you still opted to cross the dangerous bridge every single day. I liked passing there, too. The thrill of the shaky bridge was exhilarating. Maybe you felt the same way. This was just one of the many instances you had proven that you were a tough, tiny lady.
You had a lot of homecooked specialty dishes. Your famous kare-kare was always the star of our family reunions. You made the best champorado, gulaman, and latik. You could cook practically anything and I don’t remember tasting anything off in any of your dishes. Not even a tinge. That’s how good you were.
When Daddy died, you stayed with us. I loved having you around. You took care of me and Ate like we were your own. I was your sickly apo, always in and out of the hospital due to asthma and its variations. You took turns with Mama watching over me. To cheer me up, you would cook my favorite food or merienda. You never forgot to reserve my favorite part of the chicken, the wings.
You never took pity on me when I had Lupus. You quietly took care of me on the sidelines and provided invaluable support to Mama especially during those moments when my relapses were bad. You would touch my neck and forehead to check if I had a fever when you thought I was already asleep. I felt that, Mommy, all the time.
When we moved to the south, you officially became my roommate! I loved our long conversations at night even if I’d heard most of them already. You had a very sharp memory. When I would ask you to remind me of something or wake me up at a certain time, you would always remember it. c”,)
Whenever I did my scrapbooks on the bed, you enjoyed placing embellishments with me. You never glued them, you just laid them out when I went out of the room. Haha! When I came back you would ask with a big smile if I liked what you did. They were always pretty, Mommy. I loved all your scrapbook design ideas. You would also help me clean up because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a place to sleep. c”,)
I know this is embarrassing but even in my 20s, I would ask you to tap my thigh until I fall asleep. I would whisper, “Mommy? Tapik mo ko.” And you would oblige all the time. I guess that was why I never really grew up in your eyes. Sometimes you would even do it without me asking. You were sweet like that.
One of your pet peeves was my delayed reaction. Whenever I got so focused on working or reading, I would often tune out to the point of not hearing you when you called. You would tell me, “para kang tuod.” Haha! Every time I heard it, I knew I tuned you out again. You were always forgiving and understanding when I said sorry.
When you first met Omar, who was my boyfriend back then, you told him that I didn’t know how to do household chores! That was not entirely true, Mommy! Come on, you knew I washed dishes, right? Haha! I’d think you’d be happy to know that I cook now and have been doing so (along with chores) the past seven years. See? I adapted well to married life thanks to years of observing and learning from you and Mama. c”,)
I thank the Lord that you had the chance to attend my wedding and take care of Timmy. My pregnancy was so life-threatening you kept reminding me not to get pregnant again. You would even ask me repeatedly if I already got ligated. When I told you I was too young for that, you said that Omar should be the one to do it instead. Haha! That’s your kind of humor, Mommy. Blunt and often unintentional.
When you found out that we were staying in a condo after we got married, you kept saying “condom” instead of condo. Haha! I would often correct but you would insist that since it was a condominium, it was okay to call it condom. You actually have a point there. It sounded awful, though. We didn’t know if you’ve completely forgotten that it should be condo or you were just saying it because we found it funny. c”,)
Five years ago, you suffered a terrible fall and had a broken hip. You never walked again. Your health started to deteriorate slowly. Even at the onset of dementia, your funny and witty remarks was the last one to go. You were still competitive, playing saw saw suka with Timmy, catching his hand quickly and tightly. You made him giggle a lot. c”,)
When we last visited you, I thought you already forgot to play bato bato pik (rock, paper, scissors) but after a few tries, you remembered and still played with Timmy. Oh, and during your 97th birthday last July, I showed you how Snapchat worked and you enjoyed the filters! You were really a cool granny.
Yesterday, at 6:05 am, you quietly passed away in your sleep. I cried a lot when I saw you lying down lifeless on the bed we shared for many years. I touched your already cold face and kissed your forehead to say goodbye. You looked peaceful, Mommy. Jesus must have personally picked you up. I’m pretty sure you went in a hurry when you saw His glorious face. You were probably too excited to get up and walk. You must’ve given Him your beautiful smile and probably had a quip or two on what took Him so long.
I will miss your sniffing lola kiss, the scent of your Heno de Pravia soap, the big smile you would give me whenever I brought home any kind of popcorn with your matching classic line “Ay salamat! Peborit ko yan!”, and all the little quirks that make you unique and special. I will miss your precious pieces of advice like, “Basta wag ka makakalimot sa Kanya.” and “Di Niya tayo pababayaan.” They were so simple yet so true, Mommy. For someone who lived through wars and all sorts of economic and political uncertainty, you had already seen more than enough to know and prove that the Lord is faithful.
Not everyone gets to live this long, Mommy. You were one of the chosen few allowed by God to watch your life come full circle. You saw your children grow up and you met all your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You left a legacy of integrity and honor. You lived a life of service every single day, from your husband to your apo sa tuhod.
I guess I already I answered my question, Partner. This is how living for a century looks like. It is full of love and laughter. It is definitely not easy but if you have faith in the God who holds your past, present, and future, 97 years can go by easily like a beautiful ochre sunset. Guess what? I am eating leftover champorado while I’m typing this. It’s not like the one you used to make. This is just the instant one I bought from the grocery but it’s the closest one I have that we can share as I look back on the full life you lived.
I love you, Mommy. Enjoy your new body and the eternity you will be spending with our Creator. Are you dancing now? Are you looking for some hanging heavenly bridge to cross? Bask in the beauty heaven, Mommy. Crack those angels up with your witty quips. Don’t go looking for pots to clean or food to cook. I’m pretty sure Heaven never gets dirty and nobody goes hungry there. c”,) Thank you for every single thing you’ve done for us and for the lifetime worth of memories we can reminisce over family reunions.
No goodbyes, Mommy. I will surely miss you but I take comfort in the fact that I will see you someday. c”,) I love you, Partner. I always will.