I never had the chance to write this ... or maybe I never had the courage to do so.
It has been more than a year since my mother left us.
She was 101 years old when she joined my father. Yes, she was a year over a century. And I am in awe of that.
My Mama had a most interesting life.
She would tell me with such sadness about how she was the eldest of more than ten children. All of the siblings that followed her died. Most of them would succumb to some illness by the time they were teething.
This was the reason cited by Mama about the frailty of my maternal grandmother.
My Lola Tating buried more than ten of her babies. Only my Mama survived. And she lived through all of that in the final decades of the early 20th century. She would get pregnant, bear a son or a daughter ... and bury the child even before the infant was a year old.
My mother inherited the strength of her mother. She never complained. She kept quiet, dealt with fate and played the role she chose to perform.
My Mama was beautiful and that is no exaggeration.
No, she was not just beautiful ... she was stunning. Her photos when she was only 15 years old showed an exceptionally beautiful girl on the eve of being a woman. Her studio photograph when she was seventeen or eighteen years old already revealed why she was such a prized possession of the family. My Mama should have had her face blown to a size that warranted the admiration of a greater number. She was just so ...beautiful.
Her father died when she was but a little girl and during those times in the first and second decades of the past century, widows with little daughters did not receive the best of opportunities. My Lola Tating and my Mama had to live with the Andrades comprised of old maids and bachelors residing in, of all places, Intramuros where my great grandfather worked in what I recall as some kind of Weather Bureau.
It was only later that the entire family moved to a street called Tengco, in Pasay City.
My mother had so many unrealized dreams.
My Mama wanted to go to college but she told me that her aunts and uncles did not allow her to do so. There were not enough funds to send her to higher education. Even in her later years, she recalled how she so wanted to take up nursing ... but there was no money for enrollment and no one in her family wanted to sponsor her education. Even in her middle age she lamented the fact that she never had the career she wanted to pursue.
She was expected to be only a housewife and mother. That was why she discovered reading.
Oh, how she loved to read.
That was something I knew I got from her.
And she loved music.
Mama used to play the piano ... but she would attribute years of being a housewife and mother of young boys as the reason why the ability to make music with her hands left her. She would tell me that her fingers have gone stiff, losing their dexterity in playing the keys to years of neglecting practice. Yet never she never lost her love for music ... for she would lighten up when she heard Chopin, delightfully recounting that she and my father loved Jo Stafford's No Other Love because it was actually an etude from her favorite composer.
In her 101 years, my Mama went through a lot.
She was 42 years old when she found herself pregnant with who would turn out to be her youngest child --- that's me.
In the mid-1950's women in their forties took great risk to bear children. My parents used to joke that Mama thought she was undergoing menopause only to be surprised to find out that she was actually pregnant.
My eldest brother was 17 years old at that time ... and my second brother was 15. In the entire brood of cousins, I was literally the baby. I was the afterthought.
Her middle age pregnancy was threatening.
It was a fragile and critical phase: Mama became sickly and it was advised that it would be best not to go on with the pregnancy. My Mom persisted and insisted --- and she said I almost killed her. She was bedridden for most of the nine months I was growing inside her.
A few days before I was due, it was revealed that I was in the wrong position inside her womb. There was panic because Cesarean section would have been required. During those years, such operations were still very, very dangerous for the expectant mother. Worse was the fact that Mama had a heart condition --- and the doctors were worried that she would be unable to withstand the procedure.
Mama said that she dedicated the next few nights in utmost prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
She said she promised Our Lady that she would dedicate her child to Her if she was spared of the need to go under the knife to bring me to the world. Even the doctors believed that it was some sort of miracle that I somewhat heard Mama's prayers and decided to go into the normal position.
Only my closest friends know that indeed I have been dedicated to the Virgin of Baclaran Church. My second name is Maria Socorro.
What struck me most was what my parents would always tell me as a child.
There was fear that I was going to be mentally challenged because women of that age giving birth took the risk of having a defective child. My father said that they were somewhat apprehensive that I would be what is now politically called a special child. "The moment the nurse brought you into the hospital room, the first thing we did was to check if your eyes were too wide apart." I did not understand this when I was young ... but now the mere thought still sends me to peals of laughter,
My Mom took pride in calling me her menopause baby. And, well, I guess that is what I am.
All through my years, my Mama had always been that quiet yet strong force that glued together our family. All through those years I knew that it was Mama who was so much stronger than my father in being able to endure almost anything that came along the path of life.
My Mama quietly cried when my second brother and his family left for Canada sometime in the mid-1970s. My second brother looked so much like her father --- the original Jose Javier. I knew she took that badly because she would always tell me that my kuya reminded her so much of the father that she only had for such a short time. Now my brother was living on the other side of the world --- and the only opportunity she had to spend time with him was when my father died and I sent her to be with him for more than six months.
I knew she was happiest when she was with the son who left for a better life elsewhere. I knew that was the only way to appease the pain of losing her partner for more than sixty years of togetherness. I saw that immeasurable happiness in her eyes whenever she was with her favorite son who looked so much like her father.
My Mama was strong when we buried my eldest brother. I remember that it was my father who was crying, telling us that there is no greater pain than for a parent to bury his child. Mama was quiet ... as I held onto my Dad at that time. But I knew the pain. I knew so much the pain.
I guess she also lost me too in the latter years.
I remember her telling me that she did not touch my bedroom after I left to spend more than a year studying in the U.S. She said it was too painful for her to see the unmade bed and the clothes I left behind as I left the house for the very first time to fend on my own.
She was also in such great pain when I moved out of the old family house to live on my own, occupying one of the apartments at the legendary South Syquia.
Parents go through that heartbreaking process of letting their kids go. Any which way, it will never be easy ... inasmuch as it is a necessity. Most especially for Filipinos who love to keep everyone within the periphery of the hearth, independence is often mistaken for rebellion not taking into consideration the importance of letting go.
This is something parents learn to accept but not with pain.
My mother lived to be more than a century in age.
In her latter years, it was such a trial to see how time literally ravages the body but never the spirit. When one by one her friends and peers left --- my mother carried the brunt of being the one left behind. She would say that to people: that everybody had gone and she was the only one left.
A few years before she died, we did not inform her of friends or relatives who have gone ahead. We did not upset her more than necessary. She was still lucid at times but there were moments when her thoughts would be in a loop. She would be repeating the same thing over and over again. But that is nothing extraordinary with old people.
On her centennial celebration, one of my nieces prepared a book of her old photographs, chronicling her life in pictures from the time the photos of her parents, Ignacia Andrade and Jose Javier ... to her most recent photographs.
There were pictures of my Mom and Dad as young parents, graduation pictures of my brothers, their wedding photos, my graduation pictures ... the parade of family reunions held annually ... until one by one the cast of characters became fewer and fewer. And there was my mother. Still.
What struck us most was that at age 100, she looked at the photos and named each and every event. She remembered, "Ah, this was taken during Joey's high school graduation. And this one was Mandy's wedding ... this is during one of the birthdays of your Lola Guelay where everybody gathered in her house ..." She remembered all the events. She named all the people in the photos.
In her mind was the memory of 100 years.
When she finally left us, Mama did it her way, in a manner that was so like her.
Although she has been going in and out of the hospital for about a month, there was a no major ailment that would be reason enough for her to go ... except for the fact that it was time to end the journey of a life.
But one afternoon her caregiver said, she entered my Mom's bedroom and found her to be ... exceptionally happy. She was smiling and even singing and did something not quite the usual: she thanked her caregiver. Then she went to take her nap.
My mother never woke up from that sleep again.
All we wanted was for her to have a peaceful exit and that much was given to us. But even in her death, my Mama did it quietly and with her own brand of dignity. She was happy that afternoon because she knew she was going to be with my Daddy as well as her eldest son.
Sometimes it is so hard for us to understand the strength and courage of the women in our family. Sometimes we tend to underestimate what is required from mothers --- and how, through the years, they can be taken for granted or misunderstood.
Parents often say that you will never fully comprehend how it feels or why they think they way they think until you become a parent yourself. But maybe you need not have children to grasp the difficulties that constitute that entire adventure of parenthood and dealing with life.
It is a little over a year since my mother died but there are things I find out about her ... and my father. Before she died, my mother handed me a most precious possession ... perhaps the best legacy she and my Dad could ever leave me. It was an envelope of all the love letters my father gave my Mom when he was courting her.
In neat dark blue Parker pen handwriting are the lives of my parents when they were young.
In the words of my father, I saw the beautiful Belen Andrade Javier come back to life again.
My beautiful Mama.