100 Days in the Life of Mama
Dedicated to the World's Best Mom
Walden - Mar 20, 2018
Today, March 20, is Mama's birthday. She should have turned 86. We should have all been wearing red, and by having special dinner with her in perhaps her favorite Phoenix Restaurant in San Gabriel.
It is sad to note that this will be the first time she is not with us on her birthday. Yet, we rejoice and thank God that Mama will be celebrating her birthday with Papa and Jesus in Heaven.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful life with us, you will be in our hearts forever!
In remembering Mama, I made a recollection of the 100 days of Mama that I wish to share with you.
An Uninvited Guest
Early in the morning of June-9, 2017. I heard a loud “bamm” coming from behind the living room. I went out and saw a pair of fiery, devilish eyes staring straight at me. The animal was small, but for a second, I thought I saw the eyes a California bear!
“Why are you here my friend?” As I felt a little chill, not from fear of the animal, but, from the thought of “the thief comes in the dead of the night” - 1 Thessalonians 5:2. It turned out to be a raccoon.
Those few seconds abruptly flashed before me very sad thoughts about Mama’s health. It exponentially multiplied my fears of losing another love one again. We had a very good dinner the night before and Mama was feeling quite well, yet I feel a very troubling sting in my heart.
Papa’s Day (Father's Day)
For more than 1 year, we regularly attend church at Faith UMC with Mama. John would go to the Sunday school and befriends everyone, while Matthew would sit, not minding anyone and seriously play with his (Angkong's) phone. That Sunday, Jun-18, 2017 was Father's Day, Mama was specially joyful and was playful with John John. Pastor Matthew preached about Father’s Day with Auntie Maria translating.
I cannot help but get teary eyes remembering Papa. A year earlier in 2016, we were celebrating Father’s Day at the 6th Avenue home. Papa was so healthy as he prayed for the fathers in our family over the evening meal. John John also shared something in Tagalog for the fathers. Unexpectedly we lost Papa 5 months later.
Mama almost never mentioned Papa after his passing, but I can sense that she is avoiding to look back and tried to show us that she is strong and she is ok. After all, her whole life has been dedicated to taking care of her family.
A Bad Fall
On Jun-25, 2017, after attending our English church service in West Covina, we went to the BMC Pho in Azusa for dinner. While walking back to our car, Rene tripped over the irregular parking ground. It was a bad fall. I called 911, and were brought to the Queen of the Valley Hospital, 2 blocks away from where it happened.
It took us more than 3 hours of waiting to finally have the X-ray results. Her right femur, the largest bone part, broke. On the X-ray results it shows 90-Degrees! I thank Chiak-Chiak for coming with Johnson to pick up Matthew and John. Both were sitting outside in the cold. The hospital staff refused to let them in to the emergency room with me.
Finally by a little past midnight, we were given a room. Sharing this with a Hongkong lady who kept whining and complaining and non-stop talking loudly on her phone. Surgery was performed the following day, and a metal rod (probably titanium) was inserted and “screwed” into the existing bone part to hold it together. The surgery that was supposed to take 1 hour lasted for more than 3 hours. It was terrifying. I later learned that it was due to Rene not being able to recover from the anesthesia and was vomiting. For the next few nights, Matthew and John stayed 2 nights with Ama and Johnson at the 6th, and the latter 3 nights at Palm. I described to both the importance of a mother in our life, and really in everyone's life.
43 Days of Bay in Arcadia
On Jul-16, 2017, Bay Bay arrived from Manila for what she thought was a quick short visit. Unknowingly that the quick short trip lasted 43 days!
I remember Bay saying she would not want to miss this chance of taking care of Mama. For indeed, was it all well worth it beyond the asking. Bay spent every single day, seeing Mama through her ups and downs, through much sorrow and pain, joy and happiness. I know and she knows, no silver nor gold can ever pay to achieve.
In the morning of Jul-20, 2017 Thursday, we noticed Mama feeling weak, although she was trying to act strong and tried to show strength, yet we feel something was very wrong. She was not eating well. Late that morning, we decided to bring her to the City of Hope ETC, the emergency department. We were led into the tiny ETC clinical cubicle. Mama was very uncomfortable and kept complaining. it took more than 5 hours to determine the illness. By the early evening, the doctor on duty reported that they found UTI. She recommended (insisted) to have her admitted. They gave blood transfusion. That day, Mama lost her Rolex Watch. We were not really sure if the “lost” happened during the "gulo-gulo" at the tiny ETC clinic. All these time, only 503 505 and 507 went in and out of the ETC. I wanted to believe that the "lost" happened while we were changing Mama to hospital suit, and may have left the watch by the clinical bed. A Pinoy male nurse was extra-arrogant, well he eventually got a good ‘lecture’ from 505, and became overly friendly and nice. A lady nurse nice took care of Mama for the blood transfusion.
Mama was admitted. The hospital staff were kind, however, it seemed like they were not in proper coordination. Some of the medicines that were supposedly given were not available or were stopped. Bay Bay and Abby stayed for the night, the hospital stay lasted for 9 days.
(Last February 2018, 113 went to the ETC to query about the lost watch, of course they would answer that they did not receive any Lost and Found item during the period).
Decision Time (Jul-23 - 9 pm Davao)
Early Sunday morning July 21 at 6 am, the family had a very serious meeting. A meeting was called and we were to discuss whether to proceed with the chemo treatment. Four of us (503 505 507 Ibin) were in the hospital conference room, while we connected 504 and 506 over the internet. After more than an hour of deliberation, the decision was to proceed with 505 and 507 on the negative. While 504 agreed to proceed, he later that day called me to say that at anytime during the treatment if Mama is having difficulties, he will vote for no. It was a long and hard decision, with 4 of us wanting to extend treatment, and still hopeful to see Mama get well.
Without asking for approval, I started texting with Pastor Ann about the condition. By 2:00 pm, Pastor Ann came to visit Mama. They prayed over, and although Mama was very weak , I can feel that she was very happy. We were glad Pastor Ann visited and prayed over. It was like candy handed to a hungry child -- our Mama.
Large Meal Portions (Jul-23)
Since her admittance, Mama ate almost nothing. A pinch of the bread, a tiny little slice of banana or a half-spoon of rice, but the morning of Jul-23, it was like magic. When Bay started feeding, she cannot wait. She finished her big breakfast, everything that came with the hospital tray! She was eating very well, and was even asking for more.
A Deadline (Jul-24, 2017)
Late that Jul-24 morning, Doctor Krisnan walked in again, she usually stays for a few minutes (the most 15 minutes). This time, she pulled us (505 507 503) to the changing room, and asked about our decision regarding the treatment. 505 said, “yes, we have decided to proceed”, then she immediately continued as if trying to tell us NOT to proceed “At this stage, she is very weak, and this condition that you see now, is the best condition she can ever be. She will not get any better than this. If we proceed. I can assure you that a day after the first treatment, you will be back at ETC…”, I butted in, “How long are we expecting”, she understood and said “Could be days, could be weeks”, I asked “Months? Month”, she answered “Maybe 3 weeks, maybe a month, we cannot tell”, I said “We have a Manila trip to happen on Oct-30”, she answered “You are stretching it (expectations) too much”, then continued “If you need to go, you better go now, right now, buy a ticket today, fly tomorrow, or latest by Sunday.”
We were in shock. The shocking news however, just magically faded away, when we see Mama walking again. Mama walked around the room, and seeing her regained strength, Chiak pushed harder to let her walk past rows and rows of rooms and back. It was as if a signal to say that Dr Krishnan is totally wrong about her test and prognosis. How can Mama be sick, when signs were clearly showing progress.
That's What Friends are For
With Pastor Ann’s earlier visit the week before, I was more convinced that seeing her close friends around will cheer her up and can bring much needed colors to the dull and sequestered hospital room. On Jul-25, I started to invite close friends. MeiSan immediately arrived with SiokHua, and also brought Genie to pray over Mama. The visits lasted about 30-45 minutes, and in that very short time, we can feel Mama so happy. That night, late past visiting hours, Auntie Esther and John (her son), came in to visit.
8 Long Days (at the City of Hope)
We checked out of the hospital on Saturday, Jul-29. Went straight for an early dinner at Papa’s favorite restaurant, Garden Cafe. That night, Mama was feeling very well, as if nothing happened. She was back to usual self and was complaining about the food taste at the Garden Cafe. The action of 'complaining' brought so much happiness to all of us. Seeing how well Mama recovered, it was back to normal. We discussed about her going to church the next morning, and that got her even more excited.
Back to Church
By Sunday, Jul-30. Mama was all dressed up and ready by 8:30 am. 2 hours too early. She called me that we need to proceed to Church. With Amber driving, I went with Bay Bay, Rene and Matt and John. At the Church Fellowship group, everyone were amazed, they prayed over Mama, and we attended the church service, although we had to leave early when Mama started to feel weak again before completing the service.
We had quite a struggle when we were boarding the Honda van, Mama almost fell off the wheel chair. The three of us, Bay, Amber, and myself were powerless. We just were not able to bring Mama to the van. Fortunately, Eric came to our assistance. God Bless Eric.
After church, I decided to send a message to 504 and 506 to come visit if schedules allow. It was not really urgent, but thought that their presence can really help with recovery. Both arrived in the evening of Aug-1. That evening, it suddenly look and feel gloomy, dark and cloudy. 505, 507 and Ibin were saying 'goodbye'. I stubbornly refused to say goodbye. I kept saying to them not to worry, "Mama will be with us for a longer time, not today - not tonight." I assured them with a strong front. My brothers and sisters have tears in their eyes.
I went home with 504 and 506 to Palm, and the next day, Mama was back in her almost normal condition. Joking and smiling. Watching TV, again, saying her usual comments about Trump. It was like magic. Prayers really help, God always hear our prayers.
Around 8 in the morning of Jul-31, I came to 6th Avenue as usual, walked in through the garage door, and heard a “thug”. I hurriedly ran in and found Mama, hanging by the bed rails with one hand, with both feet balancing on the floor. She was trying to get out of bed by herself and lost control. It was scary. The whole day saw Mama very weak. Her left shoulder was hurting, it was gloomy the whole day.
That morning, we decided to move the adjustable hospital bed out to the living room. Mama strongly opposed. I know deep inside she remembered a year ago, Papa was moved from inside out to the living room. She was sad, and yet she has no way to saying she dislikes that. She kept silent almost the whole day. At times, in tears, and a few times, we started to hear her calling "Mama, Mama..."
Saku and Auntie Neneng (Aug-3)
On the evening of Aug-3, 2017, Saku and Auntie Neneng arrived. Knowing that Mama’s time is short, Bay Bay had tickets rushed to get them. Saku took this last chance to come for the visit. The trip took a toll on his health. He had flu and was not feeling well. He looked like 10 years older than his age.
I can feel Mama was very happy seeing Saku, although, a few times, she asked who he was. Saku meanwhile had to stay at Palm, we did not want Mama’s condition to worsen if she contracted flu. The next few days, Saku was trying to cheer up his only living sister. Outwardly, Saku was a projecting a strong front, yet deep inside, I feel his softened heart, gloomy and sad.
Aug-6 2017, Communion Sunday
Pastor David and Pastor Ann came with Elder Eddie and PJ, Genie and Shiao Huang (Praise and Worship Song leader) to pray over Mama and had communion.
Through Pastor Ann, I requested the Happy Age group to hold their regular Wednesday Bible Study time at Mama’s home. For three consecutive Wednesdays, Mama’s home was filled with joy. Seeing her friends, I know, kept her looking forward to a new day. It help Mama kept her faith alive.
Siku, Diku, Angie and Arlene
On Aug-10, Siku arrived from Davao. His arrival kept Mama's spirit high. Mama immediately recognize him. For the next 45 days, Siku tried his best to take care of Mama's Pinoy-Davao style of lunch and dinner. With her 2 brothers around all day, all week, Mama's spirit were high.
Our cousin Angie also came with Arlene, who was visiting from Italy. That Sunday of Aug-13, Mama was jolly, and kept talking to our cousins. Stories over stories, and happy memories were shared. For a few moments, I felt Mama was speaking to her sister, Chi-Chi, through our cousins Angie and Arlene. The memories shared are forever treasured, I am sure.
One brother that Mama somewhat repeatedly called was Diku. Unfortunately he was not able to come. We have at least got Diku (through his son Jun-Jun) connect with Mama by video over internet calling. It was never enough though, for many times, he asked when Diku is coming.
Pastor Matthew Chong and his wife also paid a warm visit, and spend more than 3 hours with Mama. Pastor Matthew was one of the earliest church friend of Papa and Mama. When Pastor Matthew retired on Jul-1, Mama made a generous retirement gift for his family.
For 3 consecutive Wednesdays on August, the Happy Age members spent time with Mama for Bible Study, it was well attended by 15-18 people. Worship and Prayers offered. Amber was always ready with Chinese food to serve. On the third fellowship Wednesday, Mama requested McDonalds lunch packs, instead of Chinese food, which 506 provided. Although MeiSan still suggested to have Chinese food. Everyone were just so happy to be with Mama. The regular visits were from Mei San, SiokHua, Genie, Pastor Ann, Lily, Elder Eddie and PJ, and all the regular members, including the church's oldest 93 year old "old-timer" member. It is heart-warming and gratifying to see how our parents were truly loved by friends.
Throughout the month of August, Mama’s home was filled with never-ending visits of friends and family. We have never seen Mama's 6th Avenue home so alive, so lively. Our ‘funny’ neighbor, was well-cooperating with the situation --- for the entire month of August there was not a single incident from the funny neighbor (This neighbor was so picky during the months of June-July, that Ibin had to call the police to ask her not to disturb us.)
Mama's Biography by Auntie Maria
Twice or thrice a week in the early evenings of August. Auntie Maria and Uncle Charles would come with Shirley and Eric to visit. I requested Auntie Maria to start writing Mama’s life story, which she happily did. I am honestly amazed at quite a few things that I (we) never knew about Mama. Some of her early days life experiences that were never mentioned to us, were shared with Auntie Maria during her regular interviews. It was casual and Auntie made it very pleasant for Mama to speak freely and the result thoroughly well done. Many times, we did have to have Mama repeat what she was saying as her voice became weaker.
Uncle Charles was always around during the casual interview. He was always the life of the group. Mama was fond of Uncle Charles' jokes and stories, Bible sharing, and his prayers.
Not only was Auntie Maria a biographer for Mama, she also cooked and brought food a few times during lunch and dinner. Oh my, how embarrassed was I when Mama, just like the way she always do, say "Phay-Chia" to a beef stew brought by Auntie Maria. I almost melted! Auntie Maria was ever gracious, and said, "its alright. I can understand."
Mama’s One Item Bucket List
During Papa’s cremation service on Dec-5, 2016. She told her close friends MeiSan and Siokhua that it is foolish to have oneself cremated after life. She said it was cruel and she mentioned to me that if she has to go, she wanted to be in Manila, and stay side by side with her Mama and her Papa. She later told me that she does not want to be like Papa who will be "burnt" and ‘thrown away’ to the seas. I wanted to say that it was Papa’s will, and that it was not only written in his book, but on many occasions he mentioned this to us during healthier times. A few times, she repeated her wish of going to Manila. Not wanting to be blaming myself again for the already failed trip to Zhongshan, I called for a meeting of the family about the Manila trip.
Throughout the first week of September, we were in panic mode, trying to decide between Air Ambulance, charter flights or commercial flight. Tempers were brewing hot. Charter flight can take 24 people but would take up to 18-20 hours with 4 stopovers. Ambulance flight takes 16 hours, and can take only 1 additional passenger.
I felt real bad as we have originally wanted to take a charter flight and bring Mama's friend on the flight. With friends around on the flight, the 14 hours would be easy -- it was meant to be cheerful, festive, celebration, fellowship, and a real fun flight. We started gathering friends to come with us. Auntie Maria immediately volunteered, Shirley and Eric were also ready to join, Auntie MeiSan also was ready to go, Auntie Siokhua was against the idea, but said for our Mama, she will go if it needs to happen, Auntie Esther also confirmed, she would leave classes and come with the group. We were all set to go. Finally, the family decided to take the safest and more sensible way - commercial flight.
On Sep-7, MeiSan and SiokHua visited. Followed by Auntie Maria. Later in the afternoon Pastor Ann, with Janet came. The group have a lovely time together. Later in the afternoon, the group prayed over Mama's trip. She was in very good condition, in high spirit, all too well and all too ready to fly to Manila. She have been looking forward to this trip.
Sep-8, Onward to Manila.
On Sep-8, 2017, at 5:30 am, we checked out of the Marriott Arcadia Hotel. (There was a scheduled power outage the night before and had to stay in the hotel.) We left at 6 am. Otep driving the white Van, while I followed in another car with Honey. I have tears in my eyes. This is really happening. Onwards to Manila!
Mama was exceptionally happy, although at some points, she still seemed to be a little confused. But she was extremely excited.
On the flight of CX881 with Mama were Walter, Dr Honey, Amber and Dr Kris. All three seated in the front rows of Flat Beds, while Amber and Dr Kris were few rows away on the comfortable First Class seats. Mama’s space was enormous, actually more like a mini-cabin, with Flat Bed, and privacy divider. It later turned out to be a risky flight, as Mama would constantly remove seat belts during the flight and try to stand up by herself. As 505 later recalled, Mama slept quite well and was well rested throughout the flight. A stop over in Hong kong and then the final landing in Manila on Sep-9 evening.
Mama stayed with the family at the Shangrila Hotel Presidential Suite in Manila. The next few days were visits from her best childhood friend BinGiok, and her many friends and classmates. Every new day was a celebration of never-ending visits. The seven short days in Manila were the happiest and longest days of her life since Papa’s departure.
Subconsciously I was (most of us were) aware of the disease' continuous advancement. I was still stuck in plain denial. I was hoping that we will be together for many more years. In between celebrating days, Mama started coughing and started losing sleep, and by the 8th day, the family decided it was time to come back to California.
Dazed and Confused
On Sep-18, Mama landed at the LAX Airport with 505, Amber, Ibin and ChuChang. Dazed and confused, yet a dream wonderfully fulfilled.
Throughout the week after arriving, Mama was experiencing pains all over. Most severely hard to take was the pain in her lips, around her mouth and her throat. Blisters breakouts and sores were showing all over inside and outside her mouth. She had great difficulties swallowing and even sipping water or milk hurts. The next 3 days, she took mainly Ensure with almost no solid food.
A few times she would say “What is taking Papa so long in his room? Ask him to come down now - We need to go”. Often, we hear her calling “Mama, Mama”, and she would silently just weep.
Black and blue, bruises started appearing all over her arm, and legs. Deep in our hearts, we knew the time is short, perhaps days or perhaps just hours. With all these ongoing, we tried to avoid talking about it. I refused to admit it and acting normal even when clearly it is not. That Saturday morning of Sep-23, 2017 I sent a short email to BayBay, 504 and 506. I asked them to take the next available flight to California. It was devastating. Even the act of writing those few email sentences was overwhelming.
Above the Clouds and Onto the Light
On Sep-25, Mama had a final visit from her closest friends, Auntie MeiSan and Auntie Siok Hua, Pastor Ann also arrived and prayed over Mama, and by the early evening Auntie Maria arrived and stayed with the family towards the end. One by one, Ibin, Chiak, Amber, Rene, Pastor Ann, Auntie Maria, then John John. Matthew, and Justine said goodbye, each whispering into Mama’s ears. Finally, still not letting go, I whispered into Mama’s ears - “Bay Bay is on her way from Manila, please wait for her”, all of sudden, Mama jerked and voiced something. Pastor Ann said, "she heard what you just said."
That warm September evening was calm, Amazing Grace was sung in its most solemn notes. One by one, we said goodbye to our ever dearest Mama. As Justine played Angkong's "He is like a Tree." To the very last breath, I finally let go. Dr Chris and Dr Raffy witnessed the passing. At 9:13 pm, Mama left to join Papa. Although it was a very sad moment for the family, yet we know that Mama and Papa are both happily together once again, and this time -- for eternity.
Up, up and away -- for your final flight.
Above the Clouds, and onto the Light.
With the Lord Almighty, forever you'll be.
I will see you again, when it's time for me.
The final hundred days were filled with joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, encouragement and depression. Every new day was a new beginning, a new blessing of a renewed life. Yet, by nightfall, desperation emerges without warning, and whatever happiness gathered during the day simply vanished. The anxiety, the depression and the emotional stress that took over the family's day-to-day life many times made things unbearable. Through it all, God took care of us. God took care of our family and lead us. We thank you Lord.
I wish to reach out to thank all my siblings, who were through thick and thin stayed close. Indeed, with whatever differences and disparity, we are just but one family - in our blood forever.
Thank you to Mama's closest friends especially during the hundred days, you all played the all important role of helping us cope and heal. It would have been close to impossible to get through the days without your presence and your support. We are forever grateful.
To Amber, I wanted to extend my special thank you. You have to put up with me, and with the odd peculiarities of each member of the family. Thank you for sticking it out through the end. A special spot is forever reserved in our hearts for you.
To all that I got closer to, I say thank you, and to those I may have hurt or offended, I ask for your forgiveness. Thank you for being there when you were needed most.