Ten Months and 4 days after my father’s departure (on Nov-21, 2016,) my mother followed. Mama joined him on Sep-25 at 9:13 pm. It was heavy and hard, yet deep inside I had to let go. I know God only takes the best. To me, they were the best parents that I can ever ask for!
In 1962, at a young age of 4, I experienced a harrowing accident involving my mother. That night, as we heard Papa’s arrival with his jeep’s “beep-beep”, mother and I came running down the 3-story house. She grabbed the wooden door pole “protector” (2”x4”x10’) and placed this leaning to the wall, pulled open the huge double folding door, and wham! The 2 inches by 4 inches thick pole came straight to her forehead. Mama fell, and as I ran to her, I see blood oozing down her head, I cried. Papa brought her to the hospital. They came back in a few hours, her head bandaged. To this day, the scene plays vividly fresh in my mind. The experience continued to trouble me with fear of losing my mother.
At that age, I remembered loving my mother more than anything in the whole world. I would sit by Mama’s bed early every morning while she sleeps, and hold her hand, stroke her hair, and touch her cheeks. I guess that 1962 accident pierced my heart so deep and imposed upon me to love my Mama forever.
Fresh out of Chiang Kai Shek College (CKS) in 1954, my mother was offered a job to teach in Surigao (a small city of barely 48,000 people.) At age 22, Mama never travelled farther than a few miles off her home, much less to sail across the islands. Yet, with only a day’s notice to her father, she sailed 700 miles down south to an isolated remote city to be a teacher.
Perhaps it was destiny, or coincidence, or luck. For a year after she started teaching, she met my father and were united to become lifelong partners. Everywhere Papa goes, Mama follows. They moved further down south to the battle-ridden Jolo. There, my brother William was born in 1956. By 1957, they moved back to Manila, then to Davao, to Hong Kong, and finally to California in 1989. Life was never a bed of roses, as we witnessed life’s turmoil and turbulence. Yet, through the years, my mother stood firm and tall. I admire Mama’s faithful love and commitment to Papa and her family. We celebrated their 61st Anniversary with a simple Hamburger meal at Jack-in-the-Box on May of 2016.
By the early 60’s, my parents changed careers. Starting as a 2-man garments factory in 1961 and growing this into a business enterprise in the mid 80’s. Mama was always around, her dedication is exceptionally unmatched. By early 1977, as the business expanded, my father asked me to help in the business. I dropped out of college, flew back home, and started my daily routine with my mother. We had to leave the house at 8 every morning and stayed in the business until late past 10 at nights. Every day we rode in an old bus-like yellow, very uncomfortable, very noisy and dusty truck. Yet through the years, I never hear Mama complain -- never about work, and definitely never about any difficulties. The business flourished mainly because of mother’s dedication and persistence. Her stamina was infinite and energy limitless. Mama taught me what it meant to be responsible, being dedicated, persistence yet conscientious. I owe it to Mama, a great deal of my being conservative and cautiousness. In great contrary, I must have gained my sense of being aggressively ambitiousness and overly self-confidence from Papa. Yet, many-a-time, I get “burnt” when getting over-ambitious. I know: Mama knows best.
As Papa was the rock and the foundation, my Mother stands tall as the strongest pillar that held the family with love and compassion. Throughout her life, Mama played the most critical role as the authoritarian that kept things in the right places, the comforter when things go wrong, the sympathizer when life seems to be in shambles, the pacifier when contradictions flare up, and the friend that showers us with endless love.
In 2008, Mama was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Papa decided to pursue aggressive treatment. Although it was his strong determination to have Mama treated, it was our youngest brother Winston who was with them most of the time. Every 1-2 weeks, Winston would accompany them to the City of Hope. I was not there, for more than a hundred hospital visits, I can recall only once that I went with them, the thought continued to haunt me to this day. Sister Ibin insisted to move the treatment procedure from USC (or was it UCLA?) Hospital to the nearby City of Hope Hospital in Duarte. This move had made things so much easier. The family doctor then gave us 2 years to a high of 5 or a deadline of 2013.
On Jul-24, 2017. We (Walter, Wilda and myself) had a meeting with Mama’s head doctor, she said “At this stage, she is really weak. This can be the best condition she can ever be, she will not get any better than this.” I immediately asked, “How long are we expecting?”, she understood and said “Could be days, could be a few weeks”, I asked “Month? Months?”, she answered “Maybe 3 weeks, maybe a month, we cannot tell”, I said “We have a Manila trip to happen on Oct-30”, and she answered “You are stretching your expectations too much”, then continued “If you need to go, you better go now, right now, buy a ticket today, fly tomorrow!”
Mama survived the first deadline of 2013 and a second date of July-24 + 30 days = Aug-24. From then on, there was no more deadlines to watch. As time became undoubtedly short, we lived our lives on a day to day basis, mostly hour to hour. On the first Sunday, Jul-30, after being discharged from the hospital, Mama was back in church in a wheelchair, fully equipped with oxygen support. Leaving Church that Sunday, Mama was so weak, that we almost fell to the ground. My sister Wilda, Amber and myself were powerless to bring her back to the van. As we held her hanging by the wheelchair, her church friend Eric came to our rescue and firmly carried Mama back to the van. Throughout the next 4 Wednesday Bible Studies on August at Mama’s home, she was at her most joyful moments. She very much looked forward to Wednesdays and Sundays. We attended 3 more Church services on August. Looking back, after overcoming both “humanly” deadlines, we knew God’s hands were at work -- very much through her brothers and sisters in Christ. All these given, Mama’s will to survive became exceedingly great. We documented every incident, every sadness, every joy and happiness. As hundreds and thousands of pictures and videos were recorded and taped.
The Bucket List
Zhongshan, China (Dr Sun Yat Sen 孫中山 birthplace)
Late March of 2017, upon her return from Manila for her Birthday celebration, Mama mentioned to Amber, her close-in assistant, caretaker, and friend, about her desire of traveling to Zhongshan City, China. More than 20 years ago, I remembered Mama mentioned this to me. Papa visited the place in 1972 with William, and I did too myself in 1992. While Mama was left tending the store, she never had the chance visit Zhongshan. After hearing the story from Amber, we decided to have her go. Unfortunately, during that time, from March until May of 2017, China had its worst H7N9 avian flu season. My sister totally objected to the idea and with her persuasive discussion, she foregone of the plan. I know she still wanted to go, but we never tried to bring up the matter. This desire became one unchecked box in her short bucket list.
Onward to Manila, Philippines
A few days after Papa’s memorial services. Mama expressed that if her time comes, she would not want to be cremated. She said cremation was harsh and cruel. (she also mentioned this to close friends Mei San and Su Hua), When I had that moment to be with Mama, she mentioned, that if she needed to go, we should let her travel to the Philippines and to join her parents. We did know that she always loved Manila, (her birthplace). Throughout her time in California, Mama always have ready reason to go to the Philippines.
On Sep-8, at 9:22 am, Mama boarded Cathay Pacific flight CX897, seat number “1K” with Walter, Amber, Valerie (our Niece Doctor) and Kris (our Doctor Friend). The flight finally landed in Manila by 8:06 pm. We were all held in suspense as the flight took off. We did everything we can do make the trip as comfortable and as safe and as pleasant as possible for Mama. She had a special reclining flat-bed enclosure seat.
Arriving on Sep-9, Mama was incredibly alert, just as she was the days before the flight. The next day, test from the local laboratories show her up with good results. We prayed and thanked the Lord for the safe trip, as Jojo (Walter’s wife) and myself silently sung “God Will Make a Way”, “God is Good All the TIme” and then “Thank You Lord”.
For 6 days, Mama was in extreme happiness. She met friends, her 3 brothers and all the family members. She sang the CKS Nationalist Song, then sang the full version of Papa’s “He is Like a Tree” song. She laughed, she joked around, she talked, and kept talking. It was almost non-stop. Those 6 days, recorded on tape (thanks to Amber), were the happiest days of her life. Throughout the week, we hear her slightly coughing, uneasy swallowing, sleeplessness, and forgetfulness. Confusion starts creeping in.
On Sep-18, at 9:00 pm, aboard Philippine Air Lines, flight PR102 flew back Mama to LAX. It was 4 days short of the original schedule. For more than 2 days, Mama was losing much sleep, taking less food, missing on medicine, and feeling very weak. It was a great relief, seeing Mama landed in California on Sep-18 at 7:00 pm PST. She fulfilled the most important point in her Bucket List - Manila!
For 9 months you carried me wherever you go, in excruciating pain you deliver me into the world, nurse me and feed me and showered me with your love. As I said my final goodbye that September night, your soft fingers touched my cheek. As I kissed you to say goodbye, your tender hand wiped away my tears. Thank you, Mama. You are near even when I do not see you. You are with me, even when you are far away. You will be in my heart, in my thoughts, in my life - always and forever.
I love you Mama.
Walden, Sep-29, 2017
A Poem for My Dear Mama