Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Sign

I stare at the photograph displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila.

It is a picture of the interior of the 18th Century Church of La Purisima Concepcion in Guian, Eastern Samar that hangs in the Gallery of the Via Crucis of an unknown Bohol Master.

The photo on display at the Gallery of the Via Crucis
of an unknown Bohol Master inside the
National Museum of Fine Arts.
It is Jimboy, my brother-in-law, who points it out.
In the center aisle, walking towards the altar, is a likeness of my mother, Evelyn R. Luab, who we buried just recently.

“Now that’s a sign,” my sister Ludette murmurs. We both know she is talking about the “signs” that our eldest sister Tessa claims come from Mommy. We’d made fun of her “signs” which range from songs on the radio to car license plates.

But we look at the figure leaning on her umbrella before the altar, and it is easy to see Mommy leaning on her cane in church. I take a picture and send it to my other sisters with the words: “I do choose to think that she wants us to know that she is with God even if it doesn’t make sense to me to ‘read’ it in a picture.”

Mommy inside the Basilica in
Batangas City in 2015.
I am not a believer of “paramdam” from our beloved dead, even from Mommy who I love dearly. But I do believe in God and I know He comforts those who come to Him with their sorrows.

This sorrow cuts deep. Mommy is gone. I will never see her or hear her voice again. I know I should be happy that she IS better off, that the unhappy bed-ridden state that had become her life the last months before she passed away has ended.

But my heart aches. I wake up tired. And I leak all over the place. I can’t seem to keep it together. There are so many things I wish I’d done differently or sooner or more frequently. 

Mommy was an amazing woman. As my sister Tina so aptly put it, we’d always known that she was loved, but nothing prepared us for the magnitude of that love.

She would have been embarrassed by all the attention at the wake, but she would have been deeply touched by her former students, who came in batches. She would have been amused by the lighthearted squabbling over who was her favorite. She would have comforted those who teared up because they had lost the person “who made me who I am today.” She would have been happy to see long-lost friends even if she’d wished that those who came in wheelchairs or struggled to walk had not bothered. She never did like to inconvenience or be a burden to anyone.

Her former students came in batches
and the flower stands overflowed
into the hallway outside the chapel.
But since she wasn’t around, all five of us daughters did what we could. We listened and smiled and did our best to attend to all of them. And many moments in between, we cried. My eyes have not been this clean in decades. Or saddled with so many bags.

Now that we’ve buried her body and gone back to a semblance of normalcy in our lives, I remember why I miss her so badly.

Sure, my last memories of her were in her weakened state, when she could only manage a few minutes on the phone before she got tired or humor my chatter before she turned on her side to rest. 

But now, I remember the strong-willed and loving mother – the one who left herself out when dividing the family treat on weekends so that we would each get bigger slices. The one who made us do chores and brought us to Carbon market then Pasil not only to help bring the goods home, but to train us how to buy vegetables and fish.

This is the mother who made us study every day even if we had no quizzes the next day because she wanted to SEE us studying. She required us to put in hours on the family business on weekends and made us take turns accompanying her to that eternally-long church service outside of Sunday mass every week.

She made us help her check the objective-type tests she gave her students.  She even managed to get two of us to teach her students dances for the play she was putting on for the school.

We obeyed her because she was Mommy and she said so, and we were none the worse for it. 

Thanks to her, we learned to read at a very young age. It wasn’t just the Mills and Boon or Barbara Cartland books that she left lying around the house, but also English literature which she brought home from the school library. We discovered “Nancy Drew” and “Hardy Boys” only after we realized that our school library didn’t only carry “The best of classic American short stories” or “Roots” or “Fountainhead”. 

Now that I am a parent, I marvel at how much leeway she gave me even when I was still in high school, more so in college. I went on overnight trips and leadership trainings outside the city and even beyond Cebu. I rode the jeepney and walked everywhere by myself. Part-time work in a local paper during college meant coming home very late at night or early in the morning, which must have given her some sleepless nights. 

Mommy and her girls.
She gave all of us daughters our wings and the courage to test them. She rarely reined us in, except when she saw us heading in the wrong direction. And even then, she struggled to understand. Many things changed through the years but her love kept us coming back and together. That love endured through all that five, strong-willed and independent-minded daughters could throw at it.  And we loved her back. Oh, how much we love her.

Mommy died on February 28, 2018 but we lost her before that. She’d stopped laughing at my jokes long before she drew her last breath. It was not because my jokes were not funny. Even those drew a polite laugh which turned genuine when I'd tell her she was faking it.

Now, she is silent and I am afraid that if I cry any more, my heart will finally break into a thousand pieces that I can never recover. How then can I hold her if not in my heart?

I look at the picture and I know that the Lord will hold her for me until I am whole again and can remember with less pain. Maybe I am desperate but I am taking this picture as a “sign” that our mother is now in God’s house and facing His altar. 

We differ on Tessa’s songs and Mariles’ white butterfly, but all five of us seem to agree on this “sign”. We know that the Lord comforts us. And yes, Mommy might just be pestering Him as well.