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.
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.
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