One would think that I’ve written to you and about you extensively over the past two years. But I have always feared that if I stopped, my mind would betray me and I will forget. I always hope that I can retain all our good memories. You weren’t perfect. I wasn’t either. But we did our best. Even though I always felt like I could have done better.
There’s still so many things I wish I could have said, and things that have happened where I wished you were there. But words always stay at the tip of my tongue. The rare chance when they do come, words never seem enough.
“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”
I have always been terrified by the idea of death. Even as a kid, whenever I start thinking about closing my eyes, losing consciousness, and of leaving the world behind, I scare myself silly and I start calling out for my mom. She usually explained how death was inevitable and that someday, we all would need to welcome it with open arms. It was a concept I had a hard time accepting, and remained quite foreign to me even when people I do know passes on. It wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer that I actively started contemplating about death and how it works.
Dying is one thing. But going through second-hand pain, and knowing that there’s nothing you can do about it is another. The fear of the unknown and of dying gave me a couple of sleepless nights on the rare times it pops up in my mind. The knowledge that Death can come knocking on our family home’s door was like living in a beach house built too close to the sea. A relentless sea of anxiety, frustration, and, questions. Strong waves that keep slamming on glass walls overlooking the ocean, every day of every week for three years. Most days the waves are harsh and high, high enough to reach the roof and harsh enough to rattle your foundation. The days where the sea is calm is few and far in between, but you take it as it is and appreciate the view. However, no matter the weather, the thought remains oppressively constant. Is today going to be the day our walls are overcome, and this entire thing is swallowed into the sea?
It wasn’t until I learned how to operate an oxygen tank and its mask while the beeping of a heart rate monitor play in the background that I realized, a life well lived is worth dying for. Living trapped in your own body is not living, and how I would rather welcome peace if it would stop her suffering, even if it comes in the form of death. I am betting nothing else can quickly rearrange your life’s priorities than the prospect of losing the most important person in your life. The fear of death and of losing her comes only second to the fear of seeing her in more pain. And when Death finally came, it was embraced fondly as we said goodbye to her anguish, and, to Death, “see you again”.
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
It’s been a year since you’ve been gone, but still, you are everywhere.
You are in everything I eat.
I judge sinigang based on how yours tasted, and Tin has been left craving for the acidity we’ve tried to replicate this past year. The pot filled with kangkong, which you announce as you prepare the dining table, “o, wag nyo na pagawayan yang kangkong, dalawang tali na nilagay ko diyan“. You always put gabi in it, even though I was the only one who liked gabi in my sinigang.
We also haven’t had any birthday carbonara this past year. Restaurant quality carbonara always tastes bland after being acquainted with your salty recipe for years. Tan even joked that our taste buds are so used to salty, we couldn’t even finish a good batch of carbonara.
C enjoys reminiscing about your glaring favoritism. I have had so many birthday dinners where you refuse to cook the chicken dish until he arrived, and he goes home with chicken-filled Tupperware (of the rest of the chicken dish that you kept aside for him) as well as pans of gelatin. You even have backup chicken in the fridge for whenever we have him over for meals. Maybe all those packs of hopia C liked to bring for you worked its magic.
You are in everywhere I go.
3-day sales and Divisoria have been ruined for me. All throughout my childhood, you have been stern about going to all my classes. The only time I was absent during grade school was because I got hospitalized. As long as I could stand, I had to go. Imagine the surprise a few months into my first job when you randomly convinced me early in the morning, while we’re having coffee, to call in sick for work. We spent the day in the shopping haven that is 168 mall (and Divisoria mall, pre-fire), bought baking supplies, and ate our way through Binondo’s Chinatown. Those were happier times of using my sick leaves, prior to using it because you were sick.
I sometimes wait for the text or the viber message that I know will never come while traveling. We are always in constant communication whenever I go out of town or I fly out of the country. You know my itinerary (you even help me make them), and would often call to make sure I have already woken up in order to not miss my bus or the train or to make sure I have already packed. When I got scammed in Hanoi, you were the first person I called after getting out of the situation. I was so ready to book a ticket out of there and head home, but you talked me into finishing my trip. When I was in Pingxi Station [almost cashless] in Taipei, all I wanted was to be able to call you and ask “mom, what do I do?“.
I see you in everyone.
I try not to be angry. I know people don’t do it to offend anyone, but every time I hear or read someone even just slightly complain how their mom has been nagging them to do this or do that.. I couldn’t help but get jealous. Why do they get to keep their moms and I don’t? I would meet a friend’s mom and she would gamely embarrass her child, and I would remember all the time you used to do that to annoy me for fun. And I realize that no one else is going to make all these inside jokes about my childhood anymore. Because you have my childhood memories.
I can also see you in everyone who has lost their moms or any of their loved ones. I see their eyes sparkle a little less, or that barely noticeable flinch and cringe when variations of the word ‘mom’ gets stuck upon their lips. We can talk about our moms all we want, but nothing will bring you back.
I see you in my siblings, and in how we’ve hopelessly tried to recreate the standard of living you have set for us. I see you through our neighbors’ eyes as they recount afternoons you wiled away outside. I see you in every member of our extended family, as we all cope in different ways.
You are in me.
It sounds like I’m going crazy, but I hear your voice in my head. Not in the sense where we have an actual conversation, but in a way where I would imagine how you would react. And I would wonder if I’m doing you justice. If the voice I remember is your real voice or if the things that I’m doing would be something you would be proud of. There were days I believe I am the legacy that you left behind. But there are more days where I wake up alone at home at 2 PM, and I end up crying my eyes out. I would think this isn’t how you wanted my life to be when you passed on, but I couldn’t help it. I try to be strong most days – I’m the eldest, and I know wherever you are, you are depending on me to be the strong one.
You are in the future.
I was in the queue for an ultrasound that my doctor required when a mother-daughter came out of the room teary-eyed. The pregnant daughter had this bulging belly her mom kept giving adoring glances to, and it sunk in that I would never have that. There may come a day where I possibly get pregnant and have kids, and you would never be the mamita who spoils her grandchildren rotten. There were days where I like to take out the children’s jewelry you left me with the instructions to give it my future children. Heck, I’ll someday get married and you wouldn’t be there to tearfully walk me down the aisle. You will miss so many milestones that are yet to come, and none will pass without us wishing you were there to physically be part of it.
I just hope that wherever you are, you are painless, happy, and, proud of what our lives have come to. 🙂
I feel tears running down my face, wetting my pillow and I know that once again, I’ll be crying myself to sleep tonight. I’m sorry if I’m making you worry about me wherever you are. On most days, I feel okay. The stress is getting a little bit to me with managing the household, making sure all our bills are paid, that the sibs and Rox are eating, and the rest of the things that you used to singlehandedly do. But tonight, I will shamelessly shed tears and mourn your loss in my solitude one more time.
I still cannot tell what’s the trigger for all of this. It’s quite sneaky if I dare say so. One moment, I’d be having completely unrelated thoughts and the next, my eyes start to pool as I realize that you’re not here to make me feel better. You always managed to do that before..before everything else happened. We’ve had a good 20+ years together, but somehow it does not feel enough. Heck, it does not seem fair at all. Sorry, I’m rambling.
I actually tried looking at photos of you when you were still healthy, wishing that it may bring me some comfort that in heaven or in a parallel universe, you’re happy and well. While the thought is a great one, old photos cannot detect sadness. It is unable to knock on my bedroom door when I pass on dinner and head to bed at 7 PM, so it can lie down in my bed beside me with no questions asked. It does not have the ability to tuck me into bed, or cook my favorite meals to cheer me up. Photos are inanimate ‘things’ that will not stay on the phone with me as I spent the night in the emergency room. It’s just immortalized memories. And I’m afraid that’s all I will ever have left of you.
They say that eventually, time will heal all our suffering. But when I think of you, my heart cannot help but break into more pieces. Nothing can fill the huge gaping hole you left behind. And I wonder how people who have lost a loved one even survive it. Right now I don’t think I ever will, or will I want to, knowing that when I wake up with swollen eyes tomorrow morning it is still going to be the same. But I have to – survive this, I mean. You did leave me a letter, to “live a long and happy life”. It’s just incredibly hard to do so without you in it.
It’s Day 40 today.. and honestly, it doesn’t feel like it. Did time really fly that quickly? Even when mom was sick and we knew that she was dying, death seemed like a vague concept. Me and the sibs were even discussing about what we dubbed as ‘the incident’ (mom’s eventual death), and how unpredictable everything is. We didn’t know how we would react, or what will happen after. I’m sure this is different for everybody, but here’s a list I came up with post-incident because nothing can ever fully prepare anyone when it comes to losing a loved one.
You basically have no time for mourning. Let me tell you how my day went the day mom died. I received a frantic call from my dad while I was at work to tell me that mom has passed. I admittedly burst into tears, but a few minutes into it I went into planning mode – called up C to ask if he can pick me up from the office (he left in the middle of his meeting), my brother, my best friend, and one of my cousins (so he can disseminate the information to all our relatives). I called my sister’s school to inform them that we will be picking her up. Upon picking up my sister (she is studying in Cavite and we work in Makati), we proceeded to the chapel and had to pull out mom’s body to transfer her to a better memorial chapel. C and I then rushed to the grocery to buy necessary supplies. People are calling both my numbers (I had a work phone and a personal one) and people are coming in and you had to entertain them at all hours. I managed everything from the chapel – flowers, food, masses, cremation schedule, creation of the tribute video, payments to all the vendors, etc. I delegated C as the runner, with either of my siblings who did not have guests at the time. I was just so busy the entire time, I didn’t even get to cry during my mom’s wake. I even had to solve emergencies while mom’s mass was ongoing.. The urge to scream at people was constantly set to high, and it took an even higher amount of effort to not do so.
With everything going on, a check list is a must! With my mom’s death, I instantly got a promotion to head of the household. It’s the most stressful role I have ever had – I swear, everything else pales in comparison.
Holidays are the worst time to die (same goes for the long weekends, etc). Aside from dying of old age, fulfilled and surrounded by loved ones, there really is no ‘right’ time to die. But there are least favorable times to do so. Mom died on a Friday – which coincided with the start of a long weekend. Do you know of any government offices that are open during weekends and holidays? Answer: None. Mom didn’t want a lengthy wake, so we wanted to hold the cremation on a Tuesday. In order to do that, you need to make sure all the necessary documents have been filed with relevant government agencies. The florist is only open on Saturday mornings. The office of Manila Memorial is closed on Sundays and holidays. You get the gist.
There are A LOT of forms. I didn’t know you need a lot of documents to prove that you’re dead. I literally had to fill out so many forms, for so many things, it’s not even funny anymore. You need to fill out the death certificate and get a coroner to sign it off. There are so many permits out there that you have to acquire just so you can bury or cremate people – as if the non-breathing body is not proof enough that they’re dead.
Life Plans are important. Do you know how much four short days in a decent memorial chapel costs? Hint: a lot. My mom didn’t have a life plan, so we had to pay the full amount for the memorial chapel. Cremations cost Php 22,000 at a minimum – you have to pay more for weekends and if it’s late in the afternoon. Yes, life plans are that important.
You meet a lot of.. strangers. Aside from all the distant relatives, we didn’t know we had, friends of my mom came as well. I knew my mom was a good person because I lived with her for 24 years. I made the announcement of her passing via Facebook so I was not expecting an influx of people I do not know to visit and pay their respects. I met so many people whose lives mom has touched – she helped parents put their children through school, she lent money without expecting anything in return, she set people up (oooh mom’s a matchmaker), and a lot more. I knew my mom could love unconditionally because that’s how she raised us, but I was not aware of the depth of her generosity.
Nothing can prepare you for losing a loved one. My mom has been in and out of the hospital since 2012. Mom and I have had so many discussions about death, heck, she even left all of us letters (even C got one). The sibs almost had nightly sessions just talking about a motherless future and what it meant for us. But losing my mom still hit me hard. I know she’s in a better place now – where she’s not in pain anymore and she can freely move around. It’s selfish to wish she didn’t have to go, but there are moments where I wonder why God couldn’t have just chosen someone else to send to heaven. There are so many things I still wish my mom could have been there for – graduations, weddings, grand children.. and this brings me to my next point.
Wakes are for the living. They may say that it’s the time to celebrate the life of the person you just lost, but it’s also a ground to collectively comfort everyone in mourning. Pretty self-explanatory.
Blood makes you relatives, loyalty makes you family. It’s true – death puts everything in perspective. I realized how much I took the people in my life for granted. Without the sibs, family, C and my friends who spent their long weekend helping me out, running errands for me, or braving the heavy traffic just to be there, I would not have survived with my sanity intact. My mom may not be around anymore, but I still have a family who earned their right to be there.
Eulogies are hard AF. I remember watching the scene where Marshall’s dad died in HIMYM and thinking that themes for eulogies are a bit weird. But when it was my turn to deliver one for my mom, I didn’t know what to say. It was so overwhelming, I ended blubbering. So yeah, it’s not something my public speaking skills can handle.
It does not really sink in until days/weeks/months after the interment – and it’s okay. The sibs and I were mostly at peace with mom passing as we were the ones with her while she was suffering from cancer. However, there were days wherein my mind instantly goes to her when I have a dilemma and I needed someone to talk to. At first, I felt guilty that I wasn’t as sad as I thought I would be – but as C told me, there’s no right way to mourn. It’s different for everyone and it’s okay.
40 days have passed since you left us mom, and they say that this symbolizes a halt to our grieving and that we should move on. But I think that we will miss you every day, and we will spend the rest of our lives coping. We will never be the same, but I know you want us to be happy, so we will try to be. I will always love you, mom. I hope I make you proud.
I have never had a problem being candid while writing in this blog. It used to be so easy to retell events from my point of view or relay my feelings.. but as I sit here tonight, I feel lost on what to say.
It’s been a while since I sat down, and really let all my feelings sink in. Today is Day 27 without my mom.. and it’s weird that I haven’t gone batshit crazy yet. I’m quite a drama queen if I must say so, and I literally have laid down on our cold marble floor to cry over small things. My mom would usually comment how I’m a picture of someone whose loved one died (’namatayan’) whenever it happens.. and it’s ironic that I have remained composed when it actually happened. Since then, I have not had any chance to feel things for myself. The days following mom’s death had been proof why “can work under pressure” is written in my CV. Before I knew it, I was back at work while juggling my social life, my siblings’ best interests, maintaining our household as all my mom’s duties has been passed on to me (you’re talking to the head of the house now) and my relationship with C. C’s been very supportive all throughout, I wouldn’t even be exaggerating if I say that he’s the one keeping me sane.
Sometimes I just want to be the fun older sister – the one who takes the sibs shopping or encourages them to enjoy their lives. Now that I’m their guardian, I have to step in my mom’s shoes half the time to keep this ‘ship’ afloat. I’ve had to take on so much more responsibility that there are days where I feel like the line between the dream world and real life has blurred that I don’t know the difference anymore. I am exhausted all the time, and I have developed the need to pile on makeup on my face every single time I go out to hide all evidence of distress. It’s funny how people approach me and exclaim how happy they are that I’m coping well.. what they don’t know is that my non-waterproof mascara is the only thing that’s pushing me to hold my shit together.
I have developed an intense dislike for small talk questions such as the ones asking about my wellbeing. Aside from the fact that I have no idea how to answer it, I do not even know how I am most of the time. Yes, I’m getting by, and getting accustomed to the feeling of losing someone.. in bite-sized pieces. I would be looking at the drapes at home, and be thinking about something insignificant until I remember how much my mom enjoyed sewing color coordinate drapes for all the rooms in our house. There are times I would try to imagine how my mom would react to certain things, and how her voice would sound like. Sometimes I wish I can still talk to her, or get her advice. I compare every sinigang, adobo, kare kare, nilaga to hers, and I realize that I will never get to savor those dishes that shaped my palate.
I lost one of my dogs yesterday, Chicken. Is this how life is going to be from now on? Losing all the ones you care about one by one, and spending the rest of your life trying to recover from it. Like most people, I have good days and I have bad days. Unfortunately, today has been an emotional roller coaster ride. I and the sibs will be spending our Noche Buena with C’s family who was gracious enough to include us in their festivity. His family’s always been good to me, and I’m very happy that I get to bring both the sibs along because otherwise, we’d be spending our Christmas by ourselves. We didn’t put up Christmas decor this year. It’s always been mom who does it, and she comes up with creative DIY decors.. Candyland was the theme of the last Christmas season where she was still healthy (2012). This is the first time I’m spending Christmas without my mom, and to be quite honest, it does not feel like Christmas at all. I miss you, mom.
Good restaurants here in Cavite (excluding the Tagaytay area) are few and far in between. When supermarkets and malls started popping up everywhere in the last ten years, a number of local and international food chains followed and before we know it, we had Starbucks and Yellow Cab a jeepney ride away (background: I have lived in this province all my life, where for a good 15 years or so, Max’s Restaurant was where everything took place – birthdays, baptisms, wedding receptions, graduation celebrations, you name it). Finding somewhere to eat is now an easy feat, but discovering gems still took so much time and effort.
One day, while C and I were driving around Cavite, I went on the internet and searched for ‘places to eat near me’ and used my location. Google returned Casa de Celo as its first search result so off we go (thank you Waze!).
The restaurant had a relaxed ambiance, which is perfect for casual dining. The prices were affordable (I could not find a menu online but prices may be Php 150-300/person which is not bad), and chicken boy has mentioned the other day how he wants to go back for their Oriental Chicken. Enough said!
We’re always looking for places to eat in Cavite. Any recommendations? 🙂
(Dear mom, it’s Day 21. I am relatively fine, but there are times where I get so torn. If some magical being grants me a chance to be able to talk to you one last time, I’m not quite sure about the choice I will make. Where do I start? What do I say? I’m afraid there are so many things I wish I could tell you, and so many questions I wish I could ask, but you’re in peace now and I do not want to take that away from you. I know you, you would never haunt us or our house – and if you do, it’s probably to prank us which is something you enjoy doing to your children (remember the tomato juice prank? Happy times.). But that’s not the point of this story.
I worked from home last night since I was on mid-shift and the weather was so bad. I was getting testy because I couldn’t figure something out, and C who worked from here as well approached me to calm me down. He noticed the tension emanating from my siblings when my mood started to go all over the place. Later that night, as I start to pack up my work stuff and go through all my mental notes in case I forgot something, I stumble upon that moment and was surprised that I ‘marked’ it as something I would tell you when I get home. Yes, I was technically already home, and by packing I meant shutting down my work laptop and putting it back inside my work bag. But my day usually ends after our daily talks where I tell you about my day once I get home. You would have laughed and told me to be nice to C, ‘isipin mo yun, kinakaya nya yang nga sumpong mo’, and gently remind me to keep my temper in check.
Only to realize that I will never get those moments back. No more text messages in the middle of the day to ask me about dinner. There will never be a time where I get home from vacation in the wee hours of the morning, to you waiting up and helping me unpack my things while I tell you all about it. No more Viber messages with photos of my dogs’ latest shenanigans, advice about traffic, or when the . We will never have long bus rides to wherever you planned our next destination to ever again, where I will take embarrassing photos of you sleeping with your mouth open. I will never get to tell you all the memorable moments I encounter during the day, the latest gossip, or something C told me that made me really think. Our last conversation will always be “mom, may kailangan ka pa ba?”, “wala na”, “alis na ako ha, papasok na ako sa office”, “okay”, after tucking you in bed and kissing your cheek goodbye. And you will forever close your eyes and I will never get to talk to you again.)
Yesterday, I was on a jeepney to go to the market when I start thinking of something not relevant to this story. The next thought that comes to mind is asking you for your opinion, and that’s when it hit me. I am never going to talk to you again. I will spend the rest of my life having all these totally random questions that I would be meaning to ask you, only to rein myself in because you won’t be able to answer. I usually fancy myself as an adult now, but I didn’t know how much I relied on you now that you’re gone.
I miss you mom. Some days I feel like we’ve been prepared all this time to lose you, but there are days where I just wish I can still talk to you.
We ate in Red Panda after mom’s cremation since according to tradition, one should not head straight home after visiting wakes or attending funerals. We had so much food that we had all the extra packed as take away. The broccoli dish had all the kids (C included) eating vegetables which was nice. There were other dishes I was not able to take photos of (and eat) because I was too lazy and only took portions of those nearest to me.
Dear mom, The past five days has been a blur. I was exhausted and stressed than sad, arranging everything from where your memorial service will be to your cremation schedule, even the flowers to be displayed in your wake, and what we will serve visitors for dinner. I have never understood the need for funeral planners until I have snapped at so many people for asking too many questions – when really, all I want to do is lock myself in my room, curl up in bed and mourn the fact that I have lost you. They asked me to say a few words during your eulogy. As always, I have been assigned to be the family’s spokesperson and yesterday was no different. Even though I spent your wake like a broken record, replaying the same story of how you hugged me (and my siblings) and told me you loved me the night before you died, I honestly had no idea what to say. I guess I spewed out disconnected snippets from the time we spent together. How do I even start to summarize twenty-four years into one eulogy? If there is one thing I am sorry for (aside from losing your physical presence), it is the fact that I only got to take you to one vacation. When I got my first paycheck three years ago, I immediately booked a room at a resort to celebrate your birthday. At the time, I still had no savings and a small paycheck, but you were so happy and grateful. You told me you were so proud of me and that it was your best birthday ever. You didn’t want me to spend my hard earned money that you insisted that I don’t pay for the entire trip. You’ve always loved to discover new places, and I promised you I’ll take you to a new one for the rest of your birthdays. I’m really sorry that I did not get to keep that promise mom. I was on a business trip during your birthday the following year, but you told me then that the best gift I have given you is by excelling in what I do. Little did I know that you’d be too sick to leave the year after that. I still wish I could have brought you with me every time I traveled mom. You adored the fact that I enjoy it (as much as you did when you were younger) and often ask me to take a lot of photos so I can send those to you. I’ve become a cynic while you were sick mom. You do not know how hard it is to believe in anything when I had to watch a kind person like you suffer. I still don’t understand why it had to happen, but I’m thankful that you’re not in pain anymore. And I know you got to see new places for your birthday this year mom. I may be sad that you’re gone, but I’m happy you’re peaceful in heaven.