Monday, February 02, 2004

RIP, Mamang
one year after

I wrote this in November of 2002, when we knew Mamang was on the homestretch of her life but was still holding on. She decided to let go on the first of February 2003, one year ago yesterday. During one of her last visions, she saw her son who had died in infancy fetching her.

My father is in the Medical Center in ParaƱaque. A few nights ago he brought their mother home from the hospital: she had contracted pneumonia, and for someone who's 88 years old and whose body is unable to produce hemoglobin, that's tantamount to a death sentence. The doctors had given her blood transfusions and other IV fluids, and her vital signs seemed well enough to warrant the doctors' advise for her children to take her home. Today she had a relapse; my father and his siblings are at her bedside because they fear the worst: at ages ranging 51 to 63 years old, they will become orphans (if you could call them that). My father is fatalistic, with his que sera sera attitude: if it is time, then it is time. Our steadfast, constant Old Lady will be gone.

We all called her Mamang, which was what her daughter and three sons called her. Papang, our grandfather, was the one with the illustrious surname, but he looked more Chinese and Indian than Spanish. My grandmother looked like Gloria Romero and we were thankful that some of her Castilian features had passed on to us. My sister has her alabaster skin and my cousin has her thoughtful brown eyes. Mamang belonged to a different era. She was a true housewife: in all the years that my mother had known her mother-in-law, even from before she and Daddy were married, Mamang never left the house. She was content with holding court in their Pandacan domicile, and later, in Alabang, crocheting, chewing her betel, and humming along to the radio.

My youngest cousin Paolo, whom she practically raised, is her favorite; but she never failed to show us the trademark doting and affection that only a grandmother could bestow upon her grandchildren. She told us about how she never knew her parents and was brought up by a distant aunt; how it was a turn of good fortune that she married the son of a haciendero. She told us how she missed her eldest and only daughter when she left to study in Manila, how it was like she was always parched for her beloved daughter's presence that she braved travel despite her fears and moved to Manila so that she would not be separated from her children. Transplanted to urban Manila, she still retained er 'probinsyana' simplicity and her inherent trust in people. She taught us about acceptance and unconditional love, because she accepted Papang's children from a liaison from his youth, accepting their children as her own grandchildren.

She always frowned, when, as a 16-year-old, I would wear my hair in a severe bun; she told me to look my age. Two years ago, she asked me why I wasn't seeing anyone seriously enough to plan marriage; she wanted more great-grandchildren. She took pleasure in children. She befriended the household help so they were devoted to her. She was lively and wished only happiness for everyone around her.

My grandmother is no longer that woman. These last few months, she has become more hunched than usual; her hair has turned almost wholly white, and her white skin has become more and more thin and translucent. She stopped watching telenovelas; and she could not reconcile her children with the adults they had become. Now she's in the throes of a second childhood. The change came gradually, according to my aunt, but I know that I did not notice until she no longer knew my name. Maybe I was not around as much as I needed to be. We grandchildren were living our own lives, building our own futures and searching for our own identity. We were at school, or work, or with our friends; we were going through adolescence, boyfriends and quarter-life crises; my cousins were bearing their children. Our crowing about her at this final stage is our last hurrah; but thankfully it is not as if we did not know how it was to be her grandchildren. At least, of her five apo sa tuhod, there are two of them who will always have fond memories of their great-grandmother.

Death is always a mystery, bringing both fear and curiosity. I wonder if it is truly just dreamless sleep. Sometimes I dread that she will be leaving us, but I know that with her condition now, she can only be heading towards a better place. That I seem to be eulogizing my grandmother even before she is gone is only my way of dealing with the impending loss. There is no inheritance for us to squabble over: the two haciendas that were Papang's inheritance were sold to sponsor the move to Manila. But Mamang has bequeathed us with an inheritance far more important than land. She has provided us with inspiration from the story of her life; she is the stock from which we have branched out; and it is her memory that will form part of the foundation of my cousins', my sisters' and my spirit.

a celebration of life
while commemorating death

My nephew during Mamang's first death anniversary yesterday. The generations are moving forward, and the world is changing.

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