To the lost people in our lives, we have all somehow clinked our glasses in their memories. Their passing have stuck knives in us all, some more painful while some are more numbing. It is the numbing that is worse and to remember them by their deaths somehow defeats the purpose of their lives.
In the last remaining months of my Tita Mila's life, I have been more than apathetic of her pains and hardships in life. Growing up seeing her yell and scream at her home slash workplace, I have always seen a woman disgruntled by the different pains of life. She was alone, being the top brass in their family business: leading it to the success it has painfully reached through the years. She was a screamer, always looking like she's about to blow her top off. Nevertheless, I along with my cousins, was rewarded with crumbs of her earnings. How sweet and tasty were the countless ice cream sundaes and fries from McDonald's.
As I grew older, unmindful was becoming more of an understatement. Apathy was more like the word to be aptly used for this phase in my life. I went to a different high school, far from the urban sprawl her world belonged to. Still a dalaga, my tita never took care of anything more than her work and her siblings. They lived in a love-hate world. Loving each other so much to the point it drove themselves into hating one another in return. The hell did I care about that? It was all too noisy, they were all earth shakers in their own accord. The more I get to see them, the less I had wanted to stay. Though, the sundaes and fries kept on coming. Served hot but nevertheless continued losing flavor.
"Had I known" is a painful phrase up to this time. Had I known back then that she was funding my schooling. Had I known she was battling this disease, I would be more than a passive pamangkin to my Tita Mila. Alas, no one ever really knows what happens these days. That's what exactly happened for the next years to come.
Then I leveled up into college. My parents would have then told me about my Tita's support for my schooling. Ungrateful is not the word to properly describe my attitude towards her. I continue to be non-existent in her world, or, rather, she continues to be in mine. I continue my "studies" in a faraway university in the north, only remembering important things in our family calendar thru my parents. "Happy birthday Tita!" was all I said back then, "Merry Christmas" the second thing; that's what I wrote in my script on gifts my mother forced me to "send" to my Tita. I did not pay attention though she never failed to slip me a P500 bill every now and then when I'd see her.
|My Tita Mila, Baguio City, early 2010.|
She was getting weaker by the day. Her once strong voice was replaced by a stirring tremble of an old woman. She was already a double citizen though she was of healthy big bulk. She had a weak body for lung-related sickness but she got back from those. Now, she got too weak to even sit up straight and eat on her own. A nudge made my heart skip a beat. There I saw her, trying her hardest to scan my face to see who I was. My strong, screaming and yelling, rabble rousing Tita Mila was fighting for her life. She was battling something deeper, something that's been sucking the life out of her marrows, leaving her lungs caved in that she could not breathe without the help of an oxygen tank. I held her hand, she gripped back and said "Ang gwapo mo naman, bibigyan kita ng pera." Damn tears, gushing out unexpectedly.
She was then forced to go to the hospital for her chemo. I pick her wheel chair up, help her sit on it and push her to the mirrored building, reflecting the different faces of sadness and hope. We wait, I smell alcohol and the sterile environment. I look at her and see her eyes struggling to scan things around her. Her eye glasses are now a distant relic reminiscent of the time she could still use them. She finishes her therapy. We get out, I help her in the car, pack the chair and set off.
At the waiting lounge, there were more people like my Tita; weak, seething souls hoping for the silver lining in their darkest clouds. Though, some were smiling, laughing even with their family and friends. Wearing different shades of caps and masks, they wait for their turn. One by one they go in and excuse themselves from the companies they keep. Amazing, despite the pain and the life being sucked out of them, they were smiling; laughing at the face of adversity. My Tita wanted to, but she was too weak for that.
Then came the time when she could keep up the fight no more. I was in my faraway land, receiving a text message from my mom saying that my Tita has passed away. In first light of that fateful 26th of November, my Tita succumbed to cancer. The fight was long over before she even knew but she soldiered on like the arrogant woman she was. "Had I known" was no longer applicable for this time, only guilt and disgust for not being there when she needed me. My mom said my Tita would ask for me, wondering when I'll come and visit her next. The next time I saw her was at her hometown in Laguna, peacefully resting, just no more pain in her face. I couldn't even get myself to eat sundaes and fries anymore.
That is why I try my best to remember my Tita everyday in the little things: this education she helped gave me, my dress shirts she painstakingly tailor fitted for me, that Barong Tagalog I wore during my graduation. I miss my Tita not just because she's in her own faraway land but because I never really got the chance to know her.
Why do we celebrate falls? Why do we remember deaths? We do so to not forget what happened, who they were, what they did. We celebrate the lives they led back in the day. No, we don't need dates to remember them, we can do that everyday. My Tita would've been proud to see me receive my diploma, she would have been happier to see me cradle my little boy in my arms, she would've been at her happiest if I just could have treated her to her favorite resto. Sorry Tita, kulang sa oras e. Di bale, inaalala naman kita araw araw tulad ng pag-alala mo pala sa akin noon, kahit 'di mo sinasabi.