Christmas Day, 2012
Exactly 10 years ago, I woke up with a smile not because I had a good dream but because Christmas day is just so different from the rest of the days of the year. The air has its own unique crisp, the sky a peculiar blue. The breeze jingles and faces of strangers become familiar and soft. It’s just really a happy day and at the time, I already experienced a dozen Christmases to prove that. Needless to say, it is an anticipated day and prior to 2002, of those years I have lived to celebrate it, I had no bad memories of Christmas at all.
I remember that the first thing I did when I got up and went out of my bedroom was flip our TV remote. CNN blared. I looked at the table and food was set. Then I started to wonder where my parents were. The only place I imagined they’d go to at such a day was Church, but I knew that there wasn’t Mass that early. So I walked to our computer area where my brother was and asked him where our parents went. He told me that they went to the hospital because grandma Lety had some kind of emergency. It was sad enough that grandma had to spend most of her December days confined in the hospital and now she had this situation. For so many months, she had not been herself. She doesn’t talk at all and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say she turned mute. She walked funny, too, headfirst like her forehead was heavy. I’d often catch her staring into space with the expression of a rock. She slowly deteriorated and aside from bringing her to a renowned psychiatrist, we couldn’t do anything but watch her digress. Most of the day, she would just be in bed, dormant. Feeding her became a challenge, too, and just before the doctor ordered that she be admitted to the hospital, her meals had to be osterized. She didn’t recognize me nor my mom. Predictably, the only person she did recognize was grandpa, the love of her life. I remembered that the last lucid conversation we had was almost a year before. Her room was dimly lit with only the bedside lamp on and I was nestled comfortably on her big bed. In her trademark daster, smelling like her kitchen, she lay beside me. I watched as our shadows moved slowly as if dancing on the walls as she stroked my hair and kept doing so, her hands like soft porcelain. She stared into my eyes when she spoke, “Respect your mama and papa. Don’t disobey and don’t give them a hard time. Love them because they love you so much.” Failing to hold back the tears that have gathered in my eyes, I gave her my sincerest nod. Thinking about it now, those aren’t words I haven’t heard before so I wonder why I cried so much during those last tender moments I spent with her. Maybe it was because we had a real grandmother to grandson conversation, and in my heart of hearts I knew that that was already our goodbye.
The sound of our front gate opening interrupted my thoughts. The hum of the car engine became louder as I walked through the front door and out to our terrace. My mother got out of the car and even now, I could vividly recall her face as she looked at me, with eyes so swollen you’d think someone pepper sprayed her. “Grandma’s gone.”
The following days were surreal. After learning that my grandma Lety died due to cardiac arrest, we had to execute the heartbreaking task of informing our relatives and loved ones of the sad news. Holiday cheer turned to shock and shock turned to gloom. It seemed too sad, too depressing, and too tragic that she would die on Christmas morning. We tried to understand her—the muteness, the expressionless staring into space, the seemingly indifferent way she lived during the past months and now she was gone, like the flailing flame of the advent candle hit by the swift December breeze. Gone. Together with all the unanswered questions.
It wasn’t until the following years after her death that I came to understand her more (we found out that she had vascular dementia), her situation, her life, what she had to deal with as a wife and mother. She had a troubled marriage and combining her innate take on things, she didn’t have a very constructive way of dealing with her issues. I suspect that she may have lived depressed for most of her time, and yet I have so many fond memories of her being happy. I even have mind photos of her smiling all the time. She lived the life she received, and she, like every single one of us, wasn’t perfect. She had her shortcomings and she had her bright moments, too. But what she had was her spirit, and no sickness or life situation could have taken that away from her. It was a maternal spirit, forthcoming with warmth and love; nurturing, genuine, wholly devoted, surrendered, and loyal. And she lived with that spirit and death couldn’t even touch it, of that I am certain.
Maybe God took you on Christmas day and not during any of the other 364 days of the year because He never wanted us to forget. To forget you, the grandma Lety who welcomed us, your grandchildren, with open arms; you who bought us Happy Meals every time you ended up victorious at a game of mahjong and snickered as we gobbled our fries; you who untiringly lifted us up when we were babies and even toddlers as evident in your presence in all our baby photo albums; you who are the most domesticated woman I know; you who got mad at us for being talkative while your favourite soap was playing; you who fell asleep on your rocking chair praying the rosary; you who taught us to memorize our address and phone number in case we got lost in Southmall; you who stamped in our minds the arigajing-ganjing lullaby which we thought was the only tune you knew; you who lovingly cooked us breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, ham, sausages and salted fish too many times; you who hugged us ferociously with your soft arms and convivial heart; and, you who got us smitten by your infectious smile which easily lit up the room. But then, grandma, how is it even possible to forget all these?
A decade after, I realize that there was nothing tragic about your passing on Christmas day. God took you in His arms that Christmas morning, your earthly body too weak for your enduring spirit. You and God chose a very different day, with its air having its own unique crisp, its sky a peculiar blue. You left this world for a better place this day 10 years ago. It’s your birthday in heaven, as your daughter, my mother, would always say. When the cool northeast wind gushes in, when the lights begin to number—dancing and sparkling like multicolored stars in the darkness of this holy night, and when parols are hung and lit gloriously around me, I am reminded that I am anticipating two birthdays. And we remember, grandma. More than that, we celebrate.