#29ReasonsWhy | No. 26: Being an Apo
To die is gain, but to live is Christ, and to be (have been) prayed for by my grandparents.
I have more memories of Dada Eddie’s death than of his life. And even these memories I have when he was in the coffin are not many:
One, I saw Tita Len, having had come from Cavite, fainted in front of the gate.
Two, I heard a Tita, telling another Tita, that Dada Juling wouldn’t want to leave Dada Eddie and that she would want to eat beside his coffin, “dahil walang kasama” si Dada Eddie. I remember the Titas were deeply concerned then, afraid, that Dada Juling was already losing her mind. I would understand that that was completely normal, and Dada would eventually learn to cope with her grief.
Three, Ate Sharon shared about a night when she was awakened from her sleep and she saw Dada Eddie, in his barong, standing beside the electric fan in front of her, and then, suddenly disappearing. We said that it was not Dada Eddie anymore, but some bad spirit who was trying to frighten her.
I was in the first grade when Dada Eddie died and I would miss classes for a week or so. I remember returning to school and being told by my classmates that they thought I was the one who died. We thought that was funny.
After Dada Eddie’s burial in ~1995, the next time I would get to visit his tomb was already in the early 2000s, during Dada Casi’s burial. We missed visiting the cemetery for almost a decade of November 1’s because of some ridiculous religious beliefs which my father was once fed, and which, thankfully, he had already given up: visiting the dead is akin to not acknowledging that Dada is already in heaven — that it is no longer him that’s down there — and doing so dishonors God, we don’t worship the dead, we don’t talk to the dead, we don’t conform to the patterns of this world.
I can no longer reconstruct in my mind an image of Dada Eddie himself except how I have seen him in photos. But I have mental pictures of the nakapatong sa bangkong bilao na may makopang galing sa Palayan which he was selling, his bamboo alcancias, a Bible on which he wrote “Palayan City,” and his diary with entries beautifully written in straight English, and which we would discover some time after his death.
The memories I have of Dada Eddie alive are all passed-down memories. Meron daw kaming pinsan na nabuhusan nya ng tubig dahil sobrang ingay. Mama would later explain in a family conversation about the incident that “yun yung mga panahong ramdam na ramdam na ng Dada ang sakit kaya naging maiinitin ang ulo.” He did not use to behave like that.
I am not sure if it was an assignment in school or a discussion in church, but there was an instance that I had to find out the strengths I acquired from my family. Tita Gem said we acquired our being “thoughtful” from Dada Eddie, who always remembered everyone’s birthday and made sure he had a gift or threw off a celebration for the celebrant.
One thing I am sure of now is that Dada Eddie was very much loved by his children. And if his children today are any indicator of how much he loved them, then I can also say that he loved them just as much. And if I am to deduce what it was like to be his apo for seven years or so based from what I see in our pictures, and what my relatives say about him, then I can claim that he too loved us his apos very much.
Surely, he is missed. Not only once did I hear it said “kung buhay ang Dada Eddie, tiyak ganito, tiyak ganyan.”
It was one of those clan reunions, and I asked Dada Juling what her heart’s prayer was at the moment. I still remember vividly what she said, verbatim, and I can still even her voice in my mind, and how she said it. That particular moment has been captured in this photo. I rejoice with her that that prayer has been answered.
Dada Juling is always my example of the intimacy and the ministry that a Christian actually enjoys in Christ. We are not more favored by God because we pray harder or closer to him because we attend prayer meetings more often. Our intimacy with Him is not dependent on our perfect church attendance, and the ways we can serve Him are not limited to the list of programs in the church bulletin board.
Dada may not be able to recite Bible verses, but she exudes the Word of God in her life. I can recite Philippians 2:3–4 in the New International Version. Dada lives it out, aware of the verse or not.
Dada Juling’s ministry is her family. I do not think there is ever one moment in her life that she neglected them. Name a household chore that Dada has not done, and I will give you a prize. I suspect that even in her dreams, she may actually still be cooking for her children and apos or sending them food or money!
Dada’s prayers are her faithful thoughts about us. “Pinagpa-pray raw ng Dada na mag-ahit ka na,” Mama told me a few weeks ago. Even in those little things, she trusts her God. Even in those little details of life, she remembers us.
She sees a scrap notebook, she tears out the pages that already have writings on them, whatever is left no matter how thin, she gives to Rizia. She sees a shirt pentel-penned on its back hem with Mac-mac’s name, she thinks Mac-mac doesn’t wear it anymore, she thinks it fits me, she gives it to me. She sees a dress from Liane’s ukay, she remembers Lois, she thinks Lois will like it, she buys it, she gives it to Lois.
Dada is someone who will not be satisfied not doing anything especially when she can do something about it. Even in the littlest ways, she helps. Nothing that you give her is kept, it is guaranteed to be shared. And where she cannot seem to do anything to help, we know that she is aware, she is concerned, she feels, she remembers, she hopes, she prays. Pag hina-high-blood si Dada, those are moments when she is remembering us in her thoughts.
I really wonder: Does selflessness really come with age? Will all of us be as selfless as our grandparents have been when we reach our seventies or eighties? Lola had her own ways of demonstrating her selflessness.
In my case, no two Grandmothers are alike. I will not say one is better than another, or one loved us more than the other. Both had their own unique ways of expressing their love.
For instance, Dada Juling cooked us sampurado and guava jelli. Lola cooked us sinampalukang manok and taba or balat ng manok.
Dada Juling would put dyaryo sa likod namin pag basa na kami ng pawis. Lola would hinisa our scalps and check for lice or lisa.
Dada Juling would send me handed-down clothes and books. Lola would buy me ulam from Tita Baby.
Same message, different languages.
I never brought this up because I thought it was selfish and insensitive, but when Lola died in 2014, it felt like a checkbox on a list had been ticked. I did not feel more loss than victory, or more pain than relief.
Yes, there was sadness that I would miss her, and there is, up to now. When Kuya Daren saw me crying in the cemetery, this was the reality that was beginning to dawn on me: Wala na si Lola.
Yes, there was sadness that Papa could no longer have a mother to talk to or touch, and there is, up to now. I saw my father witnessed his mother breathed her last. That’s a scene I do not wish to remember, but I do, distinctly.
Yes, there was sadness that some of us wished we could have done one more thing with her or for her, and there is up to now. I will never have the words to comfort or ease the pain of the loved ones she left who continue to be wondering what could have been… if….
But for some reason, her death also brought me a certain feeling of fulfillment. I grieve but at the same time I am satisfied. She left me longing at the same time looking forward. I look back at her life, and I behold a woman who lived her life to the full. She received the Lord’s grace and passed on the same. How else does one truly live?
She lived a life of prayer, of awareness of God, of dependence on God. Even up to now, I can still replay Lola’s prayers in my mind, even without having to first listen to this YouTube video:
Lola prayed aloud, but sometimes, she also wrote down her prayers.
Lolo only prayed in silence.
When we slept over at their house as kids, and that was quite often, Lola would lead us in morning and evening devotions where she led the prayer. Her Katoto, Lolo, would sit with us silently, and he would also close his eyes, but I do not remember hearing him pray audibly.
But just because I did not hear Lolo pray for me or his family, doesn’t mean he didn’t. I do not want to limit God’s definition of prayer to our own definition of it. Who knows? God might actually have honored as prayers Lolo’s sighs and even his expletives. God heard them. And as Lola would always make sure to mention every time she prayed, God was not deaf not to hear Lolo’s longings, expressed in the language and the manner he was familiar with, nor His arms short to reach out to him. I know He did.
And so, I’d say Lolo prayed I topped my every class, and he was the first to boast about it every time I did. When I was still small, he would always have me sit on his lap and ask me questions from school. When he learned that Daryl had this really cool encyclopedia, Lolo spent to have it photocopied for me, page by page! That was my first encyclopedia ever.
Lolo prayed that I would not get bullied. “May nang-aaway sa’yo sa school?” he would always ask. And while I still stood between his legs, he would tell me, “Susuntukin mo pag may nang-away sa’yo, ha,” and he would open his hand and ask me to hit it. He would later accept that I was one who would grow up embracing nonviolence, so he would stop doing this.
Lolo fervently prayed he could provide generously for his family, more than he was able (or not able) to. He prayed to win the lottery, the stake for which, I believe he didn’t intend to keep to himself.
I remember every Christmas, he made sure to have money to give us as his gift. There was one particular Christmas when he gave me Php 10.00.
Minutes later, I excitedly and loudly — and innocently — shared to everyone in the house, that Inang Nora, our neighbor who owned a sari-sari store, gave me Php 20.00 even if hindi ako namamasko. “Bumili lang po baga ako ng Pop, ah. Tapos, bingyan ako ng bente.”
Lolo quietly walked to me and gave me an additional Php. 10.00.
I love you, Dada Juling. You, my grandparents, are one of the #29ReasonsWhy I have reached this age secure in who I am, and with what I have. And you, Dada Juling, are one of the #29ReasonsWhy I look forward to waking up each day, and even staying in the Philippines. We are all blessed to be your Apo Kong Tunay. I will never be able to bring Lola back again. But I still have you. And I will enjoy every moment we have together, every opportunity to be loved by you, to be held by you.