Friday, May 9, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

It was nine years ago that I said goodbye to my mother. I remember the day vividly. It was a gray, cool overcast day, not the typical mid-spring weather that one might expect in Seattle. Family and friends were in and out of our house that day, as it had been the past several days, to visit my mother. We had brought my mother home for her remaining weeks and days of living. The doctor had recommended hospice care because my mother’s condition was terminal. As a family, we had agreed that it was best that my mother spend her last days at home. She had been in hospitals or nursing care facilities from early February 1999 until we had brought her home in late April 1999.

I had taken extended leave from work to be with my mother and family members during her ordeal. My father and I took turns to be with my mother at all times. Whether it was at the hospital, rehabilitation clinics, or nursing care facilities, my father or I would be there with her. Most of these locations were considerate enough to provide a portable cot in my mother’s hospital room for either my father or me to sleep in during the night. During her stay at these facilities, her alertness was on and off due to her condition and medications. The times that she was alert, we had talked quite a bit. I am really not a talkative person, so I listened to her stories. I relived many moments from my past, as she related her stories. Because I am the youngest one in the family, I often accompanied my mother on her travels around our area in the Philippines --- when we would visit Artacho or Manila to drop off food staples to my older siblings who were attending schools in those areas, the wedding we had attended in Tarlac where I got to see a few “mountain people” come down to town to barter with the locals, and the many times we would go the markets of Cuyapo, Guimba, and sometimes further out to Pangasinan. She would recount to me how she taught me unrelentingly how to read, under the dim light of a single light bulb in our old house. I never tired of her stories from the past. In between her stories, my mother would give me sagely advice and guidance. When she was telling her stories from the past, it was as if she was reliving those moments also. I would guess this because she would sometimes think that I was the little boy of whom she was recounting about. This is probably why she would provide advice and guidance, appropriate to a young kid, every so often in between her stories.

During her remaining days at home, most of us had accepted the inevitable. It was still painful at the moment it happened. But we knew that we can not be selfish and wish that my mother remain alive longer because the person that had been overwhelmed by illness can no longer live an enjoyable life. I still remember how my mother had gotten used to the miserable and dismal stay at the hospital. When a nurse or doctor entered her room, she would raise her hand up, ready for a finger puncture for the blood sugar test. I would imagine that her fingers were always throbbing with pain from all the short piercing thru them. Finding a “usable” vein to draw larger blood samples or to place shunt thru for dialysis was almost always an exercise in futility. It would take two or more attempts to find a good one. Her quality of life was quickly deteriorating.

Once the battle is out of our hands, if fear and regret are taken away, what’s left is peace. My mother had embraced this position. She had overcome the fear of death and thrust aside any regrets. My mother had already lived an enriching and fulfilling life; she had a life well-lived. I don’t remember exactly how many of my mother’s remaining days on Earth were spent at home. I do remember that her last days were some of her happiest and most peaceful times. She was quite alert and talkative. I listened intently to her conversations with family members and visitors. It was her who had consoled all of us of her impending departure. I remember her conversation with my Auntie Ninay, my father’s sister, a few days before her passing. As my aunt approached my mother, my aunt started crying. My mother comforted my aunt by telling her that she should not be sad for her but to be happy. She explained to her of how a fulfilling life she had already lived, rich among others things, of all the love from her family. As my aunt began to recover from her sobbing, my mother proceeded with countless stories of their younger days together. Even through all the medication that she was taking, my mother’s memory was sharp during her last days, After a while, my aunt had a constant smile and would burst out laughing, every now and then, as she reminisced with my mother. I had witnessed this consistently from my mother as she received visits from family and friends. I found it ironic that it was her consoling us, rather than us consoling her.

My mother had died without pain, at home, with family, and at peace. It was in the early evening. At the moment of her passing, our house was chaotic with everyone approaching her bedside all at the same time. The clamor consisted of all the wailing and crying. Amongst the chaos and clamor, was my mother – her face as peaceful as ever. She would no longer have to endure the ravages of her diabetes and its related ailments; no more pricking of her fingers, continually, to get blood sugar levels; no more placement of shunt thru her veins and arteries during dialysis; and no more countless medications to take. It is not a contradiction when I say that my mother had a “very good death.” It was as if she had chosen her own way to move on --- with her husband, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren beside her.

Later that evening, I had called the hospital and the funeral home of my mother’s passing. They had told me that they would pick up my mother’s body the following morning. The entire extended family had stayed overnight at the house. The small house was full --- from the sofas, to the two small bedrooms, and the living room floor were we had assembled ourselves to honor and remember my mother. That evening, we related to each other all the happy and funny moments with my mother, as she lay peacefully on a bed in our living room. There was no fear at all, not even from the youngest ones.

I miss my mother dearly. Because of my Christian upbringing, I have always believed in afterlife. I am confident that if there is such a place, my mother would be in heaven reaping the rewards of having lived a life of generosity, compassion, and altruism.

I celebrate Mother's Day and honor her on her death anniversary for who she was and what she made of us. To my mother, Inna, where ever you are, I wish you a most happy Mother’s Day.

The following prose was written by Ron:

i remember when she used to walk me across the overpass towards the ferry terminals to bainbridge after my mom and dad dropped us off on 1st ave

when she cooked ichiban for me in the morning when i was still in the 1st grade

when she used to play solitaire in the kitchen by the window

when she worked tirelessly in the raspberry fields after the sun set over the evergreens

when she would welcome you at each family party with open arms and a sniff on the cheek

when she asked us not to cry during the last three weeks of her life

how every single one of us slept in the living room with her after she died

and how she continues to resurrect herself at each family party and in the laughter of her great grandchildren

and i remember why uncle alban initiated the family camping trips 9 years ago

and why i will never forget this beautiful person who we all used to call Inna...

- - - - - Ronald Antonio