My heart raced fast as we approached the Binan Doctors Hospital. My daughter and I had just landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and asked to be driven straight to the hospital where my 89-year-old mother had been lying in bed for 19 days.
My brother had e-mailed me two days earlier to suggest that if I planned to come home, I should do the trip earlier as our mother, whom we fondly called “Inay,” had been calling my name for the last two days and that she might not last long.
I had to finish work on that week’s issue of the newspaper I was editing in Los Angeles and booked the first flight available after the printing deadline. All my brothers and sisters, including those living in Australia and Saudi Arabia, had been by her side in the last few days.
She clutched my hand as soon as I sat by her bedside, looked at me straight in the eye and muttered an unintelligible word as tears fell from her eyes. That afternoon, we had her moved to my brother’s house as she had wished, and for the first time in days, she slept soundly that night as my brothers and sisters, some grandchildren and her youngest brother gathered around her.
The next day, she gasped her last breath as I and a brother held her hands and all her children gathered around her. Our beloved Inay was gone. She had held on until all of her children were with her in her final moments.
Inay, who never had any major sickness in her 89 years in this world, was rushed to the hospital for pneumonia, the scourge of persons her age. Perhaps she could have fought on and lived longer. But she was visibly tired and wanted to join my father who had passed away 17 years ago.
When I last visited her in March, I told her to stay healthy and maybe if she was strong enough, she could visit me again in the US as she had done thrice when she was still strong.
“Galit ka ba sa akin?” she snapped in her usual punch lines. She was joking as she had always done in her happy years on earth, but I sensed that there was some sense of truth to her words. She was having difficulty walking in the last few years, and I realized that she wanted to rest and didn’t want to be a burden to her children.
When she visited my brother in Melbourne last year, she was too weak to walk but resisted any attempt by my brother to push her on a wheelchair. He had bought a wheelchair for her two-month visit, but she never used it. She was too proud and wouldn’t be caught riding on one.
Inay was a fulltime mother all her life. All she did was take care of her seven sons and two daughters, and later when we had our own families, our children, too. She faced all the problems that usually confront big families by her own self while my father worked to provide for our needs. When there wasn’t enough, she found a way to fill the table, and provide for other needs. She was there when we had personal problems. My father was the disciplinarian, and my mother balanced it with her charm and understanding.
Although we always had a maid, Inay helped wash our clothes, cook our meals and attend to other chores. She was always there for us and was always willing to sacrifice for us and our children.
For all these, we loved her unconditionally. My only regret in life is that I couldn’t be there with her and my father in the twilight of their lives, when they needed our loving and caring the most. All I could do from a distant shore was call her from time to time, send money to help in her needs, and visit her occasionally.
Last Sunday, my five brothers and two sisters, her 25 grandchildren, several great grandchildren, her many friends, our other relatives and former neighbors gathered at the memorial chapel of San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Quezon City, where she had served as volunteer for many years, to celebrate her life.
Even the lavandera who washed our clothes when we were still kids growing up in Quezon City was there to pay her last respects to her “Tiyang Adeling.”
We all had fun recalling the old days, exchanging news about family and friends, sharing food and pleasantries. It was a time to both grieve and celebrate the long and happy life of my mother. I know that Inay, who never missed family reunions and made sure everybody was happy during these events, loved that we gathered not to weep for her, but to celebrate her life and our own lives.
Inay’s presence will sorely be missed when the huge family that she and my father raised with selfless devotion meet again for a reunion on Christmas Day as we had done through the years. She had known the importance of moving on, having lived for 17 years after the passing of my father in 1996 and for six years after my brother died in 2007.
I grieve for the passing of my mother. But I know that the grief will soon fade and only fond memories of those years spent with her will remain. Farewell, my mother. I love you with all my heart.