Saturday, December 15, 2018

Dios ti kumuyog. Agyamanak, Trining!

Beauty is useless but character is the best
Trinidad Ancheta Toto

When my mother-in-law’s age hit the 80’s mark, there had been a sudden influx of witticisms or sayings and a number of songs or jingles that she began to blurt out of nowhere.   I can only guess these were adages or songs learned from her youth, probably from her Filipino elders during the American period, as these were all in English.  I do not recall exactly when it started but we just started hearing her recite these phrases or sing these songs that we never heard before. 

Everyday, everyday, brush your teeth the proper way
Toothbrush it, toothbrush it, brush your teeth we say

Soon enough, these were caught by my children and they would either be reciting or singing these to her when her Alzheimer’s began to worsen.  She would catch the phrase or song and she would join them and  finish the sentence or the song by her lonesome much to everybody’s delight… until ten years later when she can no longer remember them and all she would do was to stare at us and wonder. 

It is believed that nobody is pure and that everybody has a skeleton kept inside his or her closet.  There is also a saying that there is an exception to every rule.  If both could be considered as true, I guess my mother-in-law shall fit the bill .  She hid nothing from anyone and she was true through and through.  I don’t think she has any secret tucked inside the recesses of her brain.  In her later years, she just sat quietly at the table, fixing her gaze at her dolls, feeding them,kissing and talking to them just like she did with her grandchildren.  Old habits do not die! It was  just like when she was stopped from feeding solid food, she would go through the motions of picking up food with her fingers and slowly bringing these to her mouth, feeding on air.  

One time, one dinner, during her more lucid days,  I asked her jokingly, Mamang, what would you do if there will be an American suitor interested in you.  Her reply brought us crying on the floor with laughter.  I will tell him I am not a virgin anymore, was her reply.  Amidst the guffaws, I just realized to this date that the response has a lot of historical significance.  (1) She grew up in a time when virginity was of prime importance…that it would be the best gift a woman shall give her husband and she believed that were so  - (2) the fact that the American represents the liberating hero that everybody looked up to and that his satisfaction should be served, and that (3) he is the epitome of a handsome guy .

A peculiar trait she had, being an Ilocana, was her penchant for vegetables and the stingy way a dish of left over fried fish shall find its way to a new  recipe of bagoong and vegetables.  Practically every meal time was accompanied with a long litany of promoting the consumption of vegetables more than of meat - for long life, she would say, and I believe her now!  Not so many people have been blessed with a life lived until their 90's.

I remember that we would be at odds on many things simply because I did not believe most of what she believed in or the practices she has grown up to. A true Ilocana by heart, she grew up with a lot of superstitious beliefs none of which I adhered to.  To my young mind, these were all none negotiable  I cannot surrender my principles thinking that it is not true that we could follow the belief even if we do not believe in them for after all, nothing is lost if we succumbed but plenty to gain if it were true. Unfortunately I was not a follower of this thought.   My thinking is that something big is lost-- like advancing towards progress, for one thing.  And yet, we managed to survive without any real animosity towards each other.  We have learned to co-exist and I have learned to trust my growing children to her care – which she did a spectacular job. 

No, there was no animosity between us. As a matter of fact we lived harmoniously in all the 33 years that we lived together and that I am more than thankful that my children grew up with her caring for them and teaching them her values.

We always celebrated her birthday with a bang.  My brother-in-law, Abet, would design t-shirts that bore a design testifying how we adored her. Designs like We Love Lola would be worn during the party or sometimes to  the point of having a theme like being dressed up in  Hawaiian clothes or bearing the Mickey and Minnie Mouse ears.

On December 9, 2018, we were gathered at her hospital room which the children decorated to perk up that depressing place  with her feeding on tubes and being aided by an oxygen tank to breathe .  We sang happy birthday, ate cake and prayed the rosary to her withering body, her feet locked and crumped as if she wanted to be small and enter the womb again -  a process of rebirth, I guess. She turned 95 years old.

The following day, as we were about to go with our daily routines, my eldest sister, Linda, who was with her, called and told us that the doctors discovered that her heartbeat was weakening and  that  her BP was dropping.  She was told to call the relatives as the time for her to leave the world is at hand.   We all rushed to the hospital and true enough, she expired. The time of death was 10:25 am  having succumbed to infection in her blood.  We all bade her  goodbye for the last time.

I have had  close encounters with Alzheimer's disease.  My first encounter  was with my mother who passed away in 2006 at the age of 87. Just recently, my mother-in-law had the same affliction. Alzheimer's disease  is commonly  associated with old age although there are cases of younger people having it.  It is a progressive disease where dementia symptoms gradually worsen over a number of years.   In its early stages, memory loss is mild, but in its later stage, the  afflicted  individual loses the ability to carry on a conversation and respond appropriately to the environment.

 Such a clinical definition does not capture the essence  of the disease and what it does to both the  sufferer  and the loved ones.  It does not capture the extreme disappointments experienced by everybody involved. The despondency becomes  lighter with the afflicted person coming up with many funny situations but the pain of not being able to communicate with a loved one just like before becomes painful when one realizes that the person is no longer the same.

I have a more positive take on the affliction,  though.  Having seen this natural phenomenon first hand, I am beginning to believe that it is a coping mechanism, an anesthesia  if you would, that drives away the pain of knowing that one is at the final stage of his/her life.  That soon enough one will not see her loved ones anymore, that the person will no longer be able to do what he or she was capable of doing before and just watch as the world pass by doing its own business, enjoying the company of loved ones.   Much more so, it is a numbing of the awareness of the possibility of having to survive with the use of painful tubes stuck in one's body, that one shall be fed using a tube or being able to breathe by virtue of a respirator.  This was a realization after having witnessed how my mother-in--law was survived until even the doctors advised the family that she probably has had enough and to just sign a waiver that she would no longer be subjected to all the hassles of keeping her alive through artificial means.

Two to three weeks prior to my mother-in-law's passing, the doctors asked a very painful question to the surviving children.  Should we resuscitate her if and when she has a seizure?  Thinking that my mother-in-law has lived a full life at the ripe old age of 95, her children decided no more.  They signed a waiver and let nature take its course rather than subject her to a grueling experience of being poked with a lot of tubes, needles and a life with a  machine.  The question of should one fight nature and try to extend life as possible always come in when a loved one is at the brink of death.  In 2006, I wrote a poem that  summarizes my thoughts about the issue of either fighting for one's life or no more.

A simple request

Oh Hipocrates, save me
please, but only
if you believe
I have yet more years.
But if these be spent
to suffer and shed more tears
spare, let me be
and let my spirit free

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Memories kept in my heart

Finally, the day that I have to say goodbye to the US has come. My fifty-day stay is over and I am due to fly home from the JFK airport in New York.  Just when the day turns into another brand new day, I shall be aboard an aircraft waiting to take off and take me home to my country and my family that I miss terribly now.

I shall be bringing home with me wonderful memories of my stay here in the US.  I shall forever remember the beautiful scenes along the highways of Southern California, Portland, Oregon, Maryland and Virginia.  I shall remember the traffic in interstate and local highways which is really not so strange a phenomenon coming from a land where traffic has been a problem since the 90's stepped in or maybe even earlier. I shall remember the beautiful paintings at the Getty, Norton and the LACMA, even the naked dancers at Sinn in Hollywood.  i shall have etched deeply in my mind the awesome paintings of European and American artists - from the Renaissance till the modern period noteworthy of which is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci followed by Rembrandt and the impressionist painters.

I shall remember the rain that got me soaked as I was dressed in formal attire, vest included, as two of my friends are being married in  Oregon.  I shall always remember that very brief stay in Seattle and the casino where I lost $20 and when my baggage and bags were left open at the hotel in Portland that prompted my good friend to fix them and had me checked out just because I could not make it on time.
I shall remember the sites and sounds and the hustle and bustle of New York, the ubiquitous wailing of sirens in contrast to the tranquility of Maryland and Virginia.  Who can ever forget that wonderful Thanksgiving celebration knowing that my gratitude towards the bountiful blessings bestowed upon me by God.

I shall always remember that surprise, almost off-season snow that fell for one whole day, thinking that it was God's plan to have me experience how it is for snow to accumulate  almost a foot deep as fast.  And I shall always remember that chilling, icy cold feeling  whenever I have to go out of the house that got me wearing several jackets to protect me from frost bite.

I shall always remember walking inside a cave without the dangers of spelunking but like I was window shopping inside a mall inside and yet it still was mesmerizing knowing that I was inside Virginia's tummy. Or that magical tour of Harper's Ferry I truly enjoyed as it was like living in the old west and where I experienced John Denver's Coutry Road, Take me Home song.

But most of all, I shall remember that amid the frigid environment, I was enveloped in heat, even warmer than any jacket could produce, caused by the love offered to me by friends and relatives.  These people composed of long time friends who migrated here, grew a family with fantastic children and earning new ones, those with whom I got the pleasure to be with and enjoy their company like we have known each other for a very long time.  I will never forget the warmth of friends and relatives who adopted me and went out of their way to show me their city. These people who not only gave me shelter and food but also embraced me as one of the family.  i can never thank these people enough.

A warm hug to:

South California:  Khriss and Nino, the Del Carmen family, Keno and family, Rikki Avecilla, Annabelle Reyes, Ochie Dionisio, Fr. Aaron Galvizo, Gloria Laven and ther clan, Cesar Chaingan, Becky Cajucoom and Vanessa Lyon

Portland, Oregon: Empol and Evelyn Ferma, Edison and Craig Cabrera Manalo, the Cabrera clan, Angela Moore

Seattle: Tess Niera and her family

New York: Froi and Leovie Diaz, Norman Gutierrez, Oswaldo de la Cruz, Jane Tuatis and her famlly, Bheng Pargas Yenko, Leon Gamboa, Jun Rupaniana and everyoone who attended that reunion party

Virginia: Gil and Rhea Lacqui, Dave and Alona Saturnino Barker, Joon Alfoonso, Bugs Datu and everybody who attended the party.  Bong, Blessie and Rose Tibung

Noel and Janet Encarnacion and Mario and Au Sta Ana and her family and Jojo Santa, his wife and sister and her husband

Lastly, I would like to thank my nephew Ed and his wife Adet for embracing me with love and loving care.

Final Note:
I have always believed that once one has seen one  State, it will be just the same like the others.  Now that I have seen more than California and that I have experienced being in both the East and West Coasts, I can now see the very subtle differences. That each state will have its own glamore and will provide you with a lot of resources, both man made and natural.  While California would be kinder to a Filipino, simply because one can see a lot of Asians and people seem to be just like who you are making me think that the whites are the minority there. Climate wise, it will be a little colder than Baguio but definitely not as cold as those where snow comes during winter time.  New York is close to home in terms of the hustle and bustle of a city but it would be in the small counties in Maryland or Virginia where one can truly feel that one is in the USA! For one thing, it has four seasons and there are more whites than there are Asians. Oh well, these are my impressions, at least.

Goodbye New York

Today ends my New York journey. I will always remember the wailing sirens in the streets, the chilly climate, the trains that serve as the blood that run through its veins, but most of all my friends of long ago that I have reconnected with, all of them eager to show me what life has done for them as they individually braved to live in a foreign world and how they thrived, built a family and successfully adapted to a city that seems to be always busy. Thanks to my hosts who unselfishly shared their wonderful home during my stay - the lovely and kind children, Floyd and Frankie, parents, ama and ina, but most of all, to Froi and Leovie Finis Diaz. To my good friend Norman who tirelessly took the role of being my tour guide taking me to wonderful places, with matching gift of recuerdos, Oswaldo Dela Cruz, for a sumptuous buffet dinner at Mizumi, who thinks sponsoring dinner was not enough, that he had to gift me with several socks and a new pair of shoes. Dinner together with Jong, who, i was told, could not be taken out of his hectic schedule, and Brader Joel was a night of nothing but fun. Bheng Pargas Yenko for hosting that evening of merriment and finally, e cannot view everything the Met has in one whole day,mMary Jane Allam Tuatis and her family for taking me out the whole day yesterday. To all my friends who took time out to be with me, I truly appreciate it and am so glad we met again and be together albeit a very short but a very meanngful moment.
Now, after having seen New York, I can say that I have seen a much different world the US can provide. It encaptulates the life of city dwelling and with all the chaos,large population and all that, it has its own charm far different from all the other places I have been to.
Knowing that I have barely scratched the surface considering one cannot see and know what New York is all about in just one week, like one cannot view the Met in just one whole day, I still have yet to see the MoMa and Guggenheim, for example, I am already itching to find my way back. Once again, thank you New York. I can't wait to share you with my family one day!