I’ve lost countless tennis matches, arguments, debates. I’ve lost many possessions, from trivial items, such as a bobby pin, to substantial things, such as money. I’ve lost my pride. I’ve lost my way, literally and figuratively. I’ve lost many friends. I’ve lost a few suitors. I’ve lost a lot of things in my life, but I have never lost a loved one.
Today, I spoke to my grandmother probably for the last time in our lives. She’s been battling sickness for as long as I can remember, and she has been bedridden for a while now. I don’t quite know exactly what’s going on because my mom doesn’t really like to talk about it, but whatever it is has gotten very serious to the point where they recently called in a priest to give her final blessings– the final Catholic sacrament named “anointing of the sick.” I guess we’re at a point where we’re just waiting for the inevitable because it’s something that basic medicine in the islands can’t cure.
I grew up differently from most of my peers; I only spent seven years of my childhood with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and other relatives until I had to move to the United States and leave my whole extended family behind. I don’t remember much prior to being seven years old, so I can’t say that I’ve experienced spending Christmas and Thanksgiving with my relatives. I never had the opportunity to go to their weddings or to even meet some of my newborn cousins. I never was around the commotion of family drama, exciting moments, of struggle and hardships. But if I could choose one thing that I wish I was able to have, it would be growing up with the convenience of visiting grandma and grandpa and being treated like a grandchild. I’ve always been envious of those that have the luxury to go to their grandparents’ house and be spoiled with cookies and menudo and boring yet priceless stories that they forget they’ve told a million times. I wish I had that bond growing up, to have a refuge from fights with my parents and even now, to have someone tell me words of wisdom that nobody from my generation can share with me. I wish I was able to be around them and that they could have watched me grow to be the ambitious person they’ve always wanted me to be. I wish I had the chance to beat my siblings and other cousins to being the favorite grandchild. I wish I had the opportunity to be openly loving towards them instead of conveying minimal emotion through phone and video calls. I yearn for that connection… I always have and I always will.
So when I spoke to my grandmother on the phone today, I cracked. It had been over a year, maybe even two, that I had last spoken to her. It had always been difficult to contact my mother’s mom because she’s our only relative that doesn’t have a cellphone, so the times that we spoke were always rare and brief. Today, lola’s voice sounded unfamiliar and distant. She couldn’t hear anything that I was saying; I had to say over and over that it was Pechay (my childhood nickname) and my heart felt so relieved when she finally heard me and remembered who I was. Maybe it was the emotions of my mom, the strongest person that I know, breaking down in tears that set me off unexpectedly. Or maybe it was the dawning, creeping realization and acceptance of the fact that this is actually going to happen… the inexperience of losing somebody. Or maybe it was the sad, desperate feeling of helplessness that I could not simply go, board a plane to my home country, and take care of my dying grandmother. I wish I could be there for her. I wish I was by her side. If I could, I would.
Memories flood back to me– the happiest moments of my childhood was with her in San Pablo Park in Laguna. Every single day during vacation from school, she would take me, my brother, and my cousin/uncle Joey and we’d eat pan de sal with liver spread as we walked to the park. She never failed to buy us taho, this Filipino sidewalk snack of silken tofu with boba. A lot of the days I spent in Laguna were rainy, and in the villages, it was customary to play with your shirts off in the rain and it was a grand affair of fun and sheer pleasure that is incomparable to anything else…. I’ll never forget that it was at her house that my brother and I watched the very first aired episode of Pokemon when Ash gets Pikachu, and the many nights of watching Dragon Ball Z. I’ll never forget these two loveseats that she had that I’d push together for a makeshift bed; somehow I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I’ll never forget this one time that I got in trouble because I misbehaved and my grandma locked me up in a room where I bawled and pounded on the door for what felt like hours, until I learned my lesson. And that was probably the last time that I cried with lola, more than fourteen years ago… before today.
In her drowsy, detached state of mind, she wistfully told me that she will board an airplane so she can see us again… my heart sank at her childish idea because we both knew that it isn’t possible. Then she told me that she has been waiting to hear my voice, and that I’m so beautiful now, and that she is so glad that my brother has a job… and the whole time that she was speaking, I knew she didn’t hear much of what I said, she soon forgot that she was talking to me, and she sounded like she barely knew me. I succumbed to tears as I apologized to her that I couldn’t go to see her. She repeated that it’s been so long since we last called her… and she asked me to call her again soon. But I knew that that was probably the last time we’d speak. Sometimes, you just know…
Even though she hasn’t passed away yet, I’m finding difficulty writing this. My whole body feels numb and I’d like nothing more than to sit on my bed alone in silence. My heart feels like a ton of bricks. As soon as I gave the phone back to my mom, I retreated to the gym because I couldn’t stay in the house where the air felt heavy and laced with premature mourning. This is definitely a foreign plateau for me and I need to learn to be strong about this whole situation for my mother’s sake. I can only imagine how much her heart has slowly broken over the years of being separated from her own mom. And I can’t even begin to fathom how much it must hurt for her to be unable to help or simply be in my grandma’s presence. I’ve got to put a brave face on for my mom and lift her spirits up as much as I can… I need to accept the situation at hand, let the Lord take the wheel, and let Him guide us all to have peace in our hearts, especially in lola’s. God knows best.