Sunday, December 31, 2006

Grief comes in very huge packages

Tell me, what are the odds of a blogger posting entries about the passing away of a loved one twice in a row? It's practically nil, right. That was what I thought until I realized I have not blogged anything since my friend's, Arlene's, death. Now, I have to post this painful entry over the loss of my mother and realized I am wrong. But then, I have been wrong all the time about my mother's passing. You see, she has been suffering from alzheimer's and arthritis a long time that I thought the news of her death would not come as a surprise to me anymore. She's 87 years old, did nothing else but lie on her bed or sat on her wheelchair. She would not recognize anyone, much more, me, who could only come on Sundays for a visit.

My eldest sister would often call the house to tell me our mother has been looking for that bald, big man sitting by the tv. She can only surmise it was me she was talking about. Who really knew?

At any rate, that morning of the 23rd still came as a shock as I received a text message from my nephew that my mom has gone. I immediately went to her home in Marikina to find out what happened. She was no longer there. My only brother has taken her to the morgue. It was my sister and her grandchildren who greeted me. They were waking her up and she would not respond. They tried everything to revive her to no avail.

It was a long wait. My nieces and nephews and their families started to come and we all helped in cleaning the house for her arrival.

I couldn't find the tears when she arrived. I watched her peacefully lying in her coffin assuring myself that that was the way to go. Die in my sleep. No struggles, no painful goodbyes. We have been deprived of a memory of a doting mother, strong-willed, assuring for a very long time. She was deprived of her dignity, being bathed, clothed with diapers which probably irritated her as she continuously divested of them in spite of our incessant demands not to. She was tied in the hospital or she'd hurt herself getting rid of the dextrose, tubes stuck in her nose to feed her.

And yet, during the interment, it finally hit me. She will no longer be with us and she's buried six feet below the ground. Nobody could ever go away from there. The coffin entombed in sealed cement and buried with thick dirt. I cried. The person I loved most, the person that brought me into this world, the person that cared and nurtured me is no more. All I have left are memories of a distant past. Memories of me growing-up, being taken in front of the tv and fed with landing airplane spoons just so I would eat my food, being taken to and from school, watching plays I was a part of, a memory of a loving, responsible mother, who did her very best to rear her children the only way she knew how. Memories of my teen-aged years which were barely a parent's pride. How I wish alzheimer's did not touch my mother that robbed her of her dignity, her pride. She was robbed of her talent for cooking, baking and all that stuff that mothers loved to do. My only consolation was, she probably did not realize how much in pain she was in. It would have been more painful knowing her children suffered with her.

When she arrived in her coffin, I thought the box was too small. Her legs were bent like as if she was made to fit the coffin. And then I remembered, even her toes were bent. Her toes were all curled up, the big toes landed on top of the other toes and yes, her legs were bent that way causing her too much pain everytime we straightened them up. If you could bear with me for much longer, I would like to share two poems I wrote (not the only ones, you know) about my mother as a tribute to her.


She wouldn’t have minded
the stranger for he feeds her,
helps her bathe and dresses her up,
puts talcum powder on her back

But he ties her hands…

Moves her every two hours
just when she is about to fall
asleep. Says he has to
or she will wound herself scratching

her itchy body. Her healing wounds
feel like a thousand ants
crawling, biting, nibbling her flesh.
He may look nice.

But he ties her hands…

She wonders who he is.
He seems to know everyone.
Talks to them, laughs and tells jokes.
By her count, there are at least
five adults, two children
and a frequent visitor.

And he ties her hands…

“Who are these people?”
she wonders. They say this is her house
she sleeps on her own bed
eats off her own plate,
but strange as it may seem
she feels she is
the stranger...

a stranger in her own house

Is She Really?
(Working title)
This is where alzheimer finally takes me.
My mother - alone in her bed

with neither memory nor care.
She is nothing but a shell

fleshy mollusk meat gone
the soup down to the last gulp.

Like the debris found in the morning
of a full night's revelry

confetti strewn thick on the pavement
amid trash of firecracker paper.

A birdcage without the bird
or a flower without the scent.

This is what she finally seemed to be

With probing eyes and withered hands
she held my face!

Nay, goodbye for now and always remember, I love you very much!!!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Parting is never sweet!

We have cheated death once. When my friend, Arlene Lawson, accepted my invitation to come over to the country in 2000, little did I know that she had a prostethic heart valve. I only knew when we went swimming and saw the scar on her chest Little did I know that she caught a virus enroute and would soon be attacked with a serious case of pneumonia. Hence, on our way to Villa Escudero, she experienced chest pains and hardness of breathing. Alarmed, my wife suggested that we turn back. Having felt sorry for the postponed trip as we were with the whole family, and Redjie, a close friend, she suggested that we ought to have lunch in her hotel instead. We obliged but insisted that we take her to the doctor thereafter. (she said what she was feeling would go away and all she needed was to rest). After lunch, she asked permission to go to the comfort room to freshen up while we waited. It took her awhile until I asked my wife to go check on her. Suddenly, I heard my wife frantically calling my name. And our nightmare began.

There she was, all black and blue, holding her chest, crying for help. Redjie immediately called for help at the hotel's clinic while I took her outside and laid her down on the carpeted floor. A doctor and a nurse came rushing with my friend. He held an oxygen tank, put the mask on her and opened it. Empty! We rushed her to the clinic where two tanks were. Both were not functioning. We were already cursing the hotel, the doctor, the nurses. He decided we had to bring her to the hospital.

At the emergency room, I could feel the fright on her voice as she called for help. Imagine being at the brink of death in a foreign land with a friend you just knew from the internet. I would have been scared, too. She was administered medications while she continuously called my name. I held her hand telling her I was with her, assuring her that the doctors were good, that everything would be alright. My head was spinning. A lot of things ran through my head. What would i do should the worst happen? Who do I contact? How? I asked her who in Canada can I call? She wouldn't understand. Then I remembered she showed me a list. There was a friend who had an email address.

When the sedative she was given took effect, I was called to sign something. But before I did that, I was asked if she had any relatives here. I said no. They informed me that she would be taken to the ICU and that their ICU would cost around Php30,000 a day. I said I understood. I blindly signed the contract. My mind was floating. Where would I get the money, if ever? Added to this would be the doctors, the hotel...

Thus went Arlene's supposedly ten-days of fun in the country turned into a month's stay at the hosptial. Knowing how lonely she would be, we made sure we visited her everyday. My wife, sometimes, sleeping over to keep her company. On Sundays and holidays, we took all the children to her room for some sort of a get-together. In spite of all these troubles, this story made us very close. Too close, as a matter of fact. We began emailing each other practically everyday. Feeling that she owed me her life, she showered me with kindness and love. I kept assuring her that any Filipino would have done what I did but she would have none of it. When she was going back to Canada, she whispered to my friend, "Rolly's going to Canada soon. I wish you can go with him!" I brushed it aside when my friend told me that.

A year later, she invited me to come over. Nitz and I went. She also invited our American friends and we all gave out a poetry reading at Steveston. Since it was May, she decided to give us an off season thanksgiving dinner. The Americans went along with it and everybody contributed to make it as close to the original. She took us to different places like Victoria, Banff and Calgary. It was an experience that never occured even in my and my wife's dreams. And this trip to Canada was repeated again. Twice, as a matter of fact. Everytime, I would hesitate knowing that it is very costly. She argued that it would be just like her going abroad to see her friends and since she couldn't do that anymore, she asked her friend to see her.

Yesterday morning, as was my practice, I turned on the computer to while away the time, waiting to wake up the kids. I know she would have an email for me as it is not very likely that she wouldn't. There was none. Instead, I got a strange email from our mutual friend Gwen. The title read "horrible news about Arlene". I opened it and was surprised to learn that my good friend, Arlene, has passed away. I couldn't believe it. I gasped and tried to read it again hoping I read the message wrongly. But much as I try, the words would not change or go away. She passed away! "But I was just on the phone with her the other day.
I reasoned. She called because she was worried about the typhoon. She wanted to make sure everybody was safe. Since I was not at home when she called, I returned her call the following day. We talked a long time and she was her usual bubbly self, laughing at my jokes, exchanging banters. As she always say that my call would have caused me a fortune, it was she who hinted at saying goodbye. She never did that, though. She would say it might be costing me a fortune but still would wait for me to say adieu. If I only knew, I would have protested and suggested we talked some more.

I knew she was going to try a new medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis as she had suffered from this ailment for a very long time. She had been under every new medication that is being tested and none of them seem to work. I knew that she told me there were risks involved, even deadly, but she decided she's going for it anyway. But I never expected news like this would come - and real quick. I immediately called her daughter, Trudy, to confim it. She was about to call me and was just waiting for the proper time as she knew I would have been still asleep.

Arlene is not just a wonderful person to me. She meant a lot to me and my family. The children love her very much. She was Lola Arlene to them. They would always be excited when we call her up to greet her a happy birthday every December 22nd. They would be excited writing down little notes on a huge Christmas card we are sending her way. My daughter Kim cried the hardest at the news of her death. She was very special to her lola Arlene. When she came over, I asked my children to perform for her. Kraiganne sang her a song, Mickey played the violin, and Kim recited a poem. Unbeknownst to Arlene, Kim would be reciting one of her poems. She was surprised when Kim uttered the title and the name of the poet. She listened intently on every word the very young Kim recited. By the end of the poem, Arlene was already in tears. "I've never heard my poetry being recited before," she quipped. She gave Kim a huge hug and Kim wiped out her tears.

My children adored her. I adored her. She meant a lot to me. She was my mentor, my muse in poetry, she was my confidante who always listened when I whined, laughed at my antics, my source of energy everytime I felt so-so, my fan who believed in everything I do, my patron who had taken me to places I would not have dared go. As she always say that because we think alike, we were probably bobsey twins. She was my angel. With her passing, I know I have lost all these but most of all, I have lost a cherished friend. She surely has left an empty void in our hearts, the same void she had left in every heart she had touched with her kind soul. Today, I opened my email and true enough, there was no message that came from her. I would miss that terribly. Her emails are my morning breakfast. Like we always say in its closing of each mail, I say to Arlene, "with a lot of love and kisses,", I end this post with "We all love you very much and you shall always be in our hearts."

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Arlene Lawson
December 22, 1935 - December 6, 2006

Buella's Rite of Passage

Here's a rite of passage when
I'm allowed the privilege of toddling
to the privvy

I traipse on wobbled, weathered
boards laid down by the last hobo who
pleaded for sandwiches in trade for work

growing up means sitting on a hole
wide and deep
full of tentacled arms raised to grab me
bared and vulnerable

a pitiful candle protects me
from a fall into the well
I grasp edges of the hole
created for an adult

business done
in a hurry to scoot the thirty feet
from outhouse to back porch

I fall

tripped by loosed boards
the stick I carry in my hand
imbeds itself into my chin

a reminder in white of an
evening I'm big enough
to abandon
"the thunder mug"

Privy enough to traipse the boards

Arlene Lawson

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

States bound

Oil on canvass 30" X 60"

"The Day Before"

Since my last painting of a town fiesta called Too Many Cooks", I have been getting commissions that feature town fiestas. My idea of fun during fiestas is actually not the feast day itself but the preparations that go with it, especially the eve of the actual feast. Just finished this one which I entitled "The Day Before". This is another commissioned work and is bound for the States soon. Hopefully it dries up fast and heals well before it is transported. Hope you like it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A little thought

For those who do not know yet, I am an Art teacher in one of the schools in Metro Manila. I have been an Art teacher for 21 years, the same number of years I have been married. Not that that is relevant but just to give you an idea of how old I am. Teaching has never been my intended vocation, though. I am a Fine Arts graduate with an Advertising major but never got to practice this trade. I worked as soon as I graduated. Meaning I took whatever was available.

Anyway, not having been trained to be a teacher, I labored each day during my first years of teaching. I had to learn the tricks of the trade, sometimes, painfully. I had to learn to deal with each problem that came my way. Slowly, I learned what works and what does not work with my lessons. I kept those lessons that many were able to grasp, threw away those that were too hard to comprehend. Always a hit or miss with my lessons, I tried to come up with a cohesive syllabus, a word which meaning II did not have a full grasp of at the time I started.

Anyway, I have been thinking about showing examples to students. First and foremost, examples that we show the students should always be what we, in the academic world as "authentic material". By this we mean those that are seen in print and has been available to the public. Hence, if say for example that a teacher, who writes poems, should want to show a poem as an example, it should only be those that have been published and not a personal poem, he/she has written. Of course, with subjects like Science, authentic material would be an actual leaf, or whatever material is being discussed rather than showing a picture or a drawing.

At any rate, will showing examples in art, like painting styles, be beneficial to the learner. My theory is that sometimes, they are not. While it is true that examples facilitate in the understanding of a concept being taught and at best, trigger an idea for the day's project, I have the feeling that sometimes, they stand in the way for new creative ideas to prosper.

Showing examples may limit the avenue for the creation of a new style or concept since the learner has fixed his/her standard of beauty based on the example. Hence, the learner might not try to explore new avenues to attack the problem/project on hand. And yet, we must remember that the great artists, especially during the modern era, became what they are in the Art world simply because they did not go with the flow. They rebelled with what was considered as the norm. Remember, too, that art is the pursuit of beauty, which is relative in the first place. This line of thinking, again, posed a big problem for me during my first years of teaching. What if a student submits a mere line on the premise that this is his ideal of beauty? Would you have considered this as creative seeing that he/she diverted from the norm or is this a product of sheer laziness? It took me a while to learn how to parry a retort like this one. First, I should know how a student works in class. Secondly, know how his/her mind works. And lastly, come up with projects that has less subjectivity in it.