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He Only Takes the Best

on May 11, 2013

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As tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you something that I wrote way back in 2009 to honor my mother.

“On August 10, it will be my Mom’s 11th birthday in heaven.

I remember back in UST med school, several of my classmates’ parents died. While waiting for Anatomy lab to start, my group mates and I had a discussion about it. I told them, “If given a choice, I would like to go first before my parents.”  Then a group mate said, “That’s selfish. Think of how your parents will feel if you die? They would be devastated. Would you want them to suffer? It’s not right for parents to bury their children. Think about it.” I pondered over it for a while, then said, “I guess you’re right.”

Several months later, my Mom died.

My Mom was born on January 13, 1941.  She was the fourth in a brood of seven. From what I gathered from my titas, my Mom was shy, quiet and a bit sickly when she was little. When she was a teenager, she moved with my aunt to Cavite to help take care of her nieces and nephews and to go to college. She graduated from PWU with two degrees: BS Accounting and BS Banking and Finance. Yes, she was a math wizard. Side story: My physics teacher in UPIS, Mrs. Yap, once asked me, “Jennifer, what was your mother’s course in college?” I told her. She said, “Oh…”  I asked her why she asked.  She said, “Because your dad, your aunts, and your siblings were all my students and they really were NOT good in math.  You’re the only one who is!”  Going back, my Mom was also a working student. She worked in Customs as a clerk and went to school in the evenings. Little did she know that she would meet my father at the workplace.  My father was as thin as a stick during those days; hence his nickname at work, “butiki” or lizard.  They got married on July 14, 1964 and had the three of us.

Everyone can claim that their mother is the best but I really, truly believe that I had the best Mom. When I was little, I loved cuddling with her before going to sleep. I would look up at her and admire her face. She was so beautiful. I could not take my eyes away from her ‘til I fell asleep. In her arms, I felt so loved, safe, and secure. I always had nice dreams because of her, cotton candy, milk shakes, floating clouds, and Fiesta Carnival. Sometimes, she would tell me of her dreams. She told me, “Jen, when your teacher asks you what you want to be when you grow up, you’ll say you want to be a doctor, okay?” Being only 3 years old, I said yes.

As I grew older, I saw how determined she was to give us a better life than she had. She even had me believe that we were rich even if we weren’t because I never felt lacking in material things. If I told her that I needed something for school or for my Hello Kitty collection, she would promptly give them to me the same day. She always put our needs before hers. The three of us would have the latest clothes, shoes, bags, and toys while I often saw her with worn clothes, torn bags and scruffy shoes. Whenever we ate out, she would not order and would just wait for us to finish eating. Whatever was left, she ate.

She taught me the value of money and opened a Banco Filipino Savers account for me. At an early age, I was already hoarding money into my bank account. I saved some of my allowance and whatever I got from Christmas and my birthday. One day when I was older, we went to Rustan’s Cubao. I asked her if we could go to the shoes section. Thinking that I wanted new shoes, she held my hand and led me there. When we got there, I pulled her arm and went to Lady Rustan’s. I pointed at the pair of black suede pumps with two straps and dainty black ribbons. She said, “Jen, you’re too young for that. Maybe when you’re older, okay?” I said, “No, Mommy. This is for you.  I’m going to buy you shoes.  Look at your shoes, they’re already worn out!”  She didn’t say anything but picked up the shoe and tried it on. She had tears in her eyes but I pretended not to see. She only wore those shoes to work on Fridays and on special occasions.

I was determined to show her how appreciative I was of her. I knew that doing well in school would make her happy. I bagged several medals and awards for her. And even if I didn’t want to be a doctor, I went on to med school. During my first year in med, I had a difficult time adjusting to the commute and long hours of studying. When I got home from school, I just wanted to take a bath and drift off to sleep. She and my sister would occupy the whole of my single bed so that I wouldn’t be tempted to sleep while I was studying. Oftentimes, she slept on my bed. After studying, I would lay beside her like I did when I was little. Our hard work paid off…I became a scholar and was on the Dean’s List. She was so happy!

Just before second year med, my robust mother began having abdominal pain around her navel. She also felt unusually tired, like a “melting candle” she said. Soon after, she began vomiting whatever she ate. We thought she just had gastroenteritis but after this had been going on for more than 2 weeks, we decided to seek consult. She was admitted and underwent several tests, blood tests, barium swallow, barium enema, abdominal x-rays, ultrasound, and CT scans. Diagnosis: Pancreatic cancer with metastasis to the liver. We were in disbelief. “Doc, how long before …?” “At most 6 months. I’m sorry,” he said. “Her management would only include procedures that would make her feel comfortable.” We cried. We cried individually. We cried as a family.

My father, sister, and I “lived” in her hospital room. My aunt and her husband also slept over. My brother, his wife and kids were there every chance they got. Friends and relatives always filled the room every weekend. Those who were teary-eyed excused themselves to cry in the bathroom or outside the room. In the evenings, my sister and I would sing her favorite church songs like “Here I am Lord,” “I love you Lord,” “He is Lord” and “In His time.” We had mass in her room every Sunday. We even brought her to Father Corsie. We prayed for her healing.

Mommy’s health slowly deteriorated. Despite this, she was still concerned about how well I was doing in school, if we had eaten or had a place to sleep in her room, and if we still had money to pay for the hospital bills. Later on, she was no longer able to get up from bed. She lost weight and was in and out of consciousness. In one of her waking moments, she asked me, “Jen, am I dying?” I choked back the tears and said, “Yes, Mommy.” She looked at me and said bravely, “Okay.” We cried.

One time, Mommy had just awakened and seemed to be in a pensive mood. I was studying on the sofa at that time. She beckoned to me. I held her hand. She said, “Jen, aren’t you going with me?” I looked at her curiously. I didn’t quite understand what she said. Then it hit me. I said, “Ma, I do want to go with you but I still have some things to do here. You want me to be doctor, right?” She looked down on our clasped hands and said, “Okay.” Shortly after, she slipped into a coma. At that time, we no longer prayed for her healing but for the Lord to relieve her of her suffering.

On August 9, 1998, Sunday, after the mass, our whole family went to her one by one and talked to her. We told her how much we loved her. We asked for her forgiveness. We thanked her for all that she had done for us and for all the sacrifices she had made. And finally, we told her that it was okay for her to go.

On the midnight of August 10, 1998, I saw her take in her last breath. Just one inhalation…and she was gone.”

I still miss you Ma.  I love you.

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