My mother was a teacher from the earliest days I can remember. As a child, she used to take me to some of her classes, where I would sit in front and listen to her talk about things I hardly even understood at the time. But like the rest of her class, I always ended up captivated by this unassuming dynamo of a little lady with a booming voice and confident demeanor. I was always proud of the fact that my mother commanded respect and admiration from hundreds of students throughout the years for her teaching and speaking skills. I adored her, as I’m sure all her children do even today. In my eyes, my mother was and always will be our very own hero; benign yet all too human in her frailties and shortcomings.
Life was always a struggle for Mom and Dad who had a brood of seven boys and two girls to feed, clothe, educate and keep out of each other’s throats. You see, ours was not your regular kind of a family life; my mother was our provider and breadwinner, while our father was the homemaker for a great majority of our life. And while we never had the kind of luxuries other children had while growing up, our parents never fell short of loving us and giving us as much of their time and attention as they could. Because she was the one who was always out working in the office, Mommy tried to make amends by acting as our private lawyer whenever our Dad felt like whipping us for wrongs done or boundaries crossed where discipline was concerned. She would have made a good lawyer, as countless times she succeeded in bargaining a stay of execution for some of us.
However, because of a profound need to give her family the best things in life, our mother left the country in the late 1980’s to take up a missionary teaching job in Papua New Guinea. Back then, my young mind could not come to grips with the notion of being separated from our mother just so we could live decently and continue on with our education. Our mom lived alone in a foreign land, fighting off endless days and nights of loneliness and fear, in exchange for our stability and a better future. It would take years before we would be reunited.
After two decades abroad, my mother finally came home, battle-scarred, worn and withered from her long years of labor and frantic attempts at making ends meet. Finally, some of us (her children) had her to ourselves. But of course, times had changed. We had gone on to fashion our own lives during the many years she was away from home. We now had our own families to tend to, our own careers and ambitions to carve, and our own lives to lead. Although we tried spending as much time with Mom and Dad as we could, there never was enough time to do the things we’d always wanted to do when they retired.
It thus came as a deep shock to us when Mommy suffered a major stroke in March, three days before my 39th birthday. Just two days prior, I had dinner with Daddy and her, and life was so full of contentment and promise. In a wink of an eye the world suddenly turned upside down, and things were never the same. Mommy lost all feeling on the right side of her body, as well as her speech due to her stroke. She spent two weeks in the ICU, and another one and a half weeks in regular confinement. But even so, we were so full of hope when Mommy got discharged from the hospital on April 8. We were determined to pick up life were we left off before Mommy’s stroke. And for a while, we were on track.
Black Saturday, April 30, 2011 would probably be etched in my memory as the blackest Saturday of all, as this was the date when Mommy was rushed to the hospital again, this time, because Daddy discovered a considerable amount of swelling on the right side of her neck. Four days later, on May 4, we received the most devastating piece of news we’d had since the untimely death of our sister, Ate Juliet, also in May, 1980. Mommy was diagnosed with anaplastic carcinoma of the thyroid, a rare and deadly form of cancer. The statistics speak for themselves the doctors said; 100% mortality rate where patients survive an average of six months before finally succumbing to the illness.
Throughout the days that followed, nagging questions kept lingering in our minds; Why did God let this happen? Why Mommy? Where’s the reason behind all this madness? Would any one of us have gone differently with our lives had we known this would happen? We could very well spend our entire lives searching for the answers to these questions. We may never even find the exact answers. Throughout the ordeal, however, it has become apparent that God is trying to tell us something. Life is so very precious and short, and all of us are truly guilty of taking things for granted while time is surely ticking away. Every day, every minute is a blessing in itself that should never be wasted.
In a way, we may have been blessed to, at least, have the opportunity to prepare ourselves for what will surely come to pass. God gave us the chance to tell Mommy all the things we’ve always wanted to tell her, but never had the opportunity nor the will to do so. But in the end, the only things that need to be said are the five most ignored and oft easily dismissed words in the course of our lifetimes; I love you, and Thank you.
Our mother is now on the last mile of her journey. For our family, it is probably the shortest walk we’ll ever take with her and every step we take, the heaviest. But life must surely go on, for we are our mother’s children. We will honor our parents by becoming the human beings they always dreamed and hoped we would be from the time we were born.
To Mommy, we love you and we thank you for every smile, every laughter, every tear and every lesson that you shared with us through the years. Thank you for every warm embrace and every nod of understanding you gave us in good and bad times. Thank you for the countless sacrifices you willingly and selflessly endured to get us to where we are today. We promise to cherish and take care of Daddy and each other for you. We will miss you every single day of our lives until we all meet again. We love you, Mommy. As we take your hand and walk this final mile with you, please know in your heart that we truly, truly love you.