[NOTE: This piece was published as “Ode to a Lola’s Love” in Philippine Star’s Grandparents’ Day special. I always kept asking Lola in Heaven to help me get my first major writing gig. I never thought that her answer would be this literal. Miss you, Lola!]
September 10, 2009
Today is my Lola Perla’s birthday.
Today, she would have turned 85.
It’s been more than one year since she went away peacefully in her sleep; one year since that rainy Saturday morning when we found her lying on her bed, looking so calm and serene in her deep, peaceful slumber. My heart was racing as I gently tried to wake her up, my voice trembling as I whispered her name. But through it all, I couldn’t help but notice her face, how it looked so incredibly tranquil, almost like a still pond. And that smile. That smile. She looked so happy and fulfilled, that I could not help but feel the same for her. It was then when I realized – and reluctantly accepted – that our beloved Lola Perla has passed on. She has joined God.
Yes, it’s been more than one year, but I still feel as if she never left. Her soothing scent still lingers in the room where she used to stay; her smile still embedded in my mind. Every trinket in her bedroom oozes with vivid memories of her – the old ash tray which she stopped using at age 76, her Jergens-smudged deck of cards she played for her afternoon rounds of solitaire, a notebook which she filled from cover to cover with handwritten family recipes, and a sheet of paper containing the lyrics to The Nearness of You – her favorite song, and, for that matter, the only one she was willing to sing.
It’s impossible to forget a kind, loving person like Lola Perla. She was a steadfast woman who, along with her beloved husband Zosing (whom I never met because he passed away a few months before I was born), raised seven exceptional children – five girls, two boys – in their humble Malate abode. In some ways, they were like Manila’s answer to the Von Trapp family, and in Lola’s case, she was both Maria and the Captain. She exuded warmth and affection, but she was also stern as a rock when the situation called for it. It’s no wonder why one of my Titas kept referring to her as “The Emotional Rock”.
More importantly, she was a woman who took on a prominent role in raising me and my younger brother. She was my second mother in the absence of my father, and the devoted homemaker while my mother spent her long hours in the office. She would always wake up at 3:00am to cook our breakfast, and then wake me up at 5:30am to prepare me for school. And whenever I arrived, I always had a taste of her trademark strictness every time she helped me with my homework. I used to refer to her as my “terror tutor”. Since math was one family skill I never fully acquired, she never failed to guide me through every single equation. Much of my elementary academic success, I owe to her patience and vigilance. I learned a lot from Lola Perla – the value of hard work, the power of prayer, and the importance of family, among many other things. She always kept reminding me, “Chuckie, your Mama loves you very much”.
As years passed, she started to mellow down. She was no longer my “terror tutor”, but she was still every inch the “Makulit na Lola” we all came to love. She was the one who would always ask me “Anong oras tayo magsisimba? (What time will we hear mass?)” at the end of every week and “Pasado ka ba sa lahat ng subjects mo? (Did you pass all your subjects?)” at the end of every academic term.
I could go on enumerating my countless memories with Lola Perla, from the way she would firmly grip my arm for support while walking to church to her surprising familiarity with Britney Spears. But one thing’s for sure, Lola loved our entire family more than any way that we could ever imagine.
Losing a grandparent is no different from losing any other loved one. It always begins with that sense of denial, followed by that ubiquitous period of grief, and – probably the most excruciating – that feeling of emptiness and void. But then, it’s also rather bittersweet whenever an elder member of the family passes on. We feel a sense of accomplishment of a life well lived, and a sense of legacy whenever a new member of the family is introduced. When Lola died, my cousin’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. And just like that, our mourning transformed to joy, as we welcomed the newest addition to our already large clan. It simply reminded me of what life essentially is – an endless cycle. With every inevitable end, there’s always a new beginning.
In moments when I really miss Lola most, I simply look back at one of the conversations we had when I was a kid. Lola, being one of the first people to tell me about angels, said, “You know, Chuckie, when I become an angel, I will keep coming back from heaven to visit you”, to which I naively answered, “OK. But Lola, I don’t want you to have wings”. And with a smile, she simply said, “Then I will remove my wings”.
For years, I’ve pondered on the relevance of that conversation. But now, it dawned on me. Lola Perla never needed to sprout wings in the first place.
She was always our angel. And I believe that she still is.
Happy Birthday, Lola Perla!