A Letter to my Mother

July 31, 2017

Dear Mama,

I am in Singapore today, in a very nice hotel overlooking the city. It’s also a Monday. And as my usual weekly schedule, I’m supposed to write a blog about another wellness and style article but I decided to write you a letter instead and have my coffee alone. Alone with my laptop and my sweet memories of you. I miss you! I decided to write you my one last letter and I wanted to have a closure. It’s not that we have some unfinished business, it’s just that I wanted to pour my heart out and allow GOD to fill in this big hole you left in my heart since you passed.

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It has been 8 years since you passed away last August 9, 2009. But up to now the pain in my heart is too much, I am still hurting. I can still recall how difficult the transition from the time you died and got buried, until today. I have been waiting for the wound to heal. I stopped visiting you at the Golden Haven Memorial Park because it still pains me to accept what happened to you.

Words can’t explain how it feels. But it does hurt. I feel like something is pricking my heart. It’s unbearable. Yet I know I can bear it, because the Lord Jesus is my strength. He’s the only one who could reach deep in my heart—to comfort and help me. It hurts beyond the physical and emotional, but I guess it’s all part of the grieving process.

What happened Mama? What did really happen?

As I write this, memories are vivid and fresh. I realized I didn’t have enough time to mourn. Everything happened so fast. I was trapped between mourning and doing the role as head of the family being one in charge and taking care of everything from hospital bills, to funeral, to food and logistics, to informing all people concerned of what happened to you, with kids running here and there… I found myself no chance to mourn at all.

Mama, in 2004 when I was hospitalized due to Cholecystectomy, you were diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery to have the affected areas removed. This was also the same time that I found out and confirmed about a very challenging issue within our family. I was devastated, heartbroken and bitter.  Years after you had a stroke, I took you to stay in my house so we can take care of you better. But you insisted to go back to our Manuela home because you love Papa and Anthony so much you don’t want to be away from them. You did this in spite of knowing that staying in our home will eventually hurt you due to our family issues.

Why did you choose to suffer Ma? Why did you choose to go through all the emotional and physical pain from both your cancer and the impact of our family’s challenges.  Why did you choose to protect the reputation of those who wronged you in spite of the truth.

I don’t understand why they all have to use “made up” stories about you just to justify their immorality. They made you look like the bad person. Why did you just take it silently in your heart, preferred to stay in your small corner, suffer and just prayed? Why do you have to be the one to suffer cancer?

Ma, you died on the week that I was busy raising funds for your cancer. I was busy attending to the garage sale of my coffee shop, which I have decided to close and give up last July 31, 2009. I am just so thankful to Kuya Arnold, my cousin who is a pastor, for always making time to visit you and cook for you. He made time for you and shared the Gospel to you. I am thankful to Kuya Ramon for also visiting you from time to time. I also am thankful to my long-lost cousin Rosalinda “Baby” Pagunsan whom we have treated as part of our family for also making time to cook for you.

From August 1 to 8, I was not able to visit you everyday and with only a few phone calls to check on you. Even on August 8, your last night to live, I was only with you 4 hours because the whole day was spent in my café’s garage sale and closing errands. Every time I remember this, I close my eyes and cry as it deeply hurts my heart that why did I not visit and take care of you on your last days?

As I write this letter alone here in the coffee shop, I am reading again all the letters and cards sent to you during your eulogy by your friends, relatives and from all of us. I took with me now in this coffee time alone all the letters and cards sent to you during your eulogy.

I’m crying so hard Mama, I cannot describe the pain–it’s so excruciating. After 3 hours of writing this, I decided to have my quiet time and God revealed to me His promise and comforted me with His word…

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

And after praying I realized, “Why should I write what pains me when I can just actually make this final letter to you all about my happy moments with you… how you have been to all of us?”

Mama, you are the 4th among your siblings and according to Lolo Pepe, you look so much like our late Lola when you were still young. Lolo Pepe said you wanted to be a lawyer but he did not allow you to take law, and you willingly obeyed him. I cannot imagine had you become a lawyer, but you sure would have been one of the most intelligent, smart lady lawyer of your generation. According to Auntie Poying, your eldest sister, you and Auntie Lita love teasing and playing with each other, nagkukulitan kayo sa closet nyo.

Your sisters and pamangkins all remember you to be very thoughtful. They remember you always expressing and telling them “I Love You!” and you make sure you express your care and thoughtfulness to them through words. You are very expressive in showing your love to all of us.

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To your friends, Tita Gloria, Tita Auring, Tita Linda and to all your batchmates and friends from Torres Highschool Batch 57, you were funny, kikay, a fashionista, and a real friend. All of them are saying the same words during your eulogy. Very thoughtful, caring, cooking for them, treating all of them as family, and that you chose to sacrifice for your family. You always step back and let go of your own gains, happiness and activities to give way to serving the school, your friends and us, your family.

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Mama I know that the life you lived here on earth was a life full of love, service, and sacrifices for your family and others. You were very smart, vibrant, beautiful and spontaneous. With your Nagcarlan and Batangas roots you taught us how to become God-fearing, brave, compassionate, decent and respectful of others.

You’ve made us want to learn a lot – you taught me how to love reading and to love music and dance. You taught me to read the Reader’s Digest everyday to gain more vocabulary.  You told me to read the newspaper everyday. You told me before that you wanted to become a professional– a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, and you could have been a beauty queen too, but you had to forego your dreams because you had to work while studying to help your siblings finish college. And you helped them shine in their respective careers.

You always told us your aspirations and goals for us—finishing college, doing what we can do best for our careers, and having our own families.  As a child, you kept telling me to take care of my teeth because you don’t want us to suffer what you suffered losing your teeth since you were just using salt to brush it before. You always reminded me to take care of my teeth because you want me to work in Banco Filipino (haha!) but I actually did end up working in a bank.

You always reminded me to clean and wash my face before I go to sleep and take care of my skin, because you said your face was full of pimples when you were young and that you don’t want me to have pimples. You always remind me not to prick my pimples or else it will spread fast. You always tell me to eat tomatoes so I will have rosy cheeks. I hate tomatoes, but you were right Mama, I indeed have rosy cheeks until now.

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You sacrificed for us, your children, and for other people – to teach us how to work and be the best of what we can be even if it cost our own time and opportunity to grow. You had a very good office career before we moved to Las Piñas in 1978. You gave up your job so you can take care of us full time. Through the years I have seen you stay in our home reading newspapers and books and listening to the radio. You chose to spend most of your time with us rather than with your friends and relatives. You raised us with your tough but caring hands. I learned my Philippine and world history from your bedtime stories.

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You had a rather different and unique system in the house that encouraged us to develop our talents and respect our differences as individuals—Ate Ellen loved science and music a lot and would make everything that made a sound into an instrument and experiment; I learned how to count to a hundred and count change,  and use the rotary phone, and as early as age four I would turn things to something I can trade with; and you taught and allowed Anthony to play around a lot with stuff he can tinker and make artworks with.

Some people did not understand why you were a certain way that was not conventional for them. You taught us not to follow some traditions and not believe in superstitions because they are not from God. You taught us our first prayers and devotions that have helped us grow in the faith.

I was told that when Ate was born you were at the brink of death because you had a stone in your ureter that can’t be removed at that time because you were carrying her. You were in so much pain that you almost died that 9th day of August 1969. You told Ate Ellen later that when you saw her—very tiny and helpless you asked God to let you live for a while so you can take care of Ate. And God answered your plea. You survived that moment, and later you had me and Anthony too. You passed away on August 9th, 40 years later.

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Mama… I hope I am indeed old and strong enough to take care of my own family. It will be so hard and so sad not to see you and talk to you anymore, and to ask for advice about family and life.

Before you were diagnosed with colon cancer, I did not feel the pain and suffering of other people who had similar illnesses. It really is different when something hard hits home. You endured the pain all those years and did not complain until it got worse. I am so sorry that I could not be with you all the time to help manage your condition—that you were suffering from the disease and at the same time you were trying to endure a lot of emotional pains too.

You remained composed and forgiving to everything and everybody that added to your pain, until the end. And you learned how to offer up your pain and suffering for the reparation of sins and for the change of hearts of people you know.

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Some people did not like you—because your style was different from them, because you did not gossip with them, because you were blunt when you needed to be, and silent when everybody complained. Some people disliked you because you were a threat to them, to their chance of having a good life, with the thought and concept that you have to help them all the time because you’re the one who had the brains and the means to live better. But you never turned your back to anybody who needed your help—even if you had to share your own resources to help them get by.

But a lot of people loved and appreciated you and will continue to remember and cherish the memories you’ve made with them, and all the things you have done for them. We are all thankful that we’ve known you—we, your children, your brother and sisters, your sisters and brothers-in-law, your nephews and nieces, your uncles and aunties, our relatives, Lolo and Lola who are in heaven with you now, all our good friends at Lily Street, all the barbers who were with us before, Lucille, our in-laws, your high school classmates, your former officemates, all our friends from school and our neighbors.

Mama I’d like to thank a lot of people who have helped you through their love, prayers and support: I’d like to thank Papa for being there; Ate Ellen for all the help and love even if she is away from us, Anthony for staying with you all the time, my Family John, Monique and Robin for taking care of you most of the time during your illness, for their love, and support; my in-laws for their help and love and prayers. I want to thank Kuya Danny, Baby, Kuya Ramon and all my other cousins who were always patient and stayed with you through daily long telephone conversations to give you comfort.

I want to thank Tita Gloria Pondoc and her family for always being there to take care of you and to comfort you when you feel alone. To my sister’s in-law, Mommy Nena, Noemi and the rest of their family for the all time that they helped you go for treatments and for always being there to listen to you when you called them; Father John Flynn and the lay ministers who visited you for the weekly communion.

To Kuya Arnold who shared the Gospel to you. I’d like to thank all your siblings—our uncles and aunties and all our cousins for their love and moral support and financial help and for their presence during the days that we were not with you; and to our relatives and friends who visited you.

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Mama, I give thanks to God Almighty for the 68 years you had here on earth, for having you as our mother. Your life was fruitful but short, yet I am so grateful that I got to know your greatness in your simplicity, your goodness and kindness in your humble ways, and your priceless talents with words and knowledge of history that people will never come to hear. Ate Ellen, Kuya Nilo, John and I, our kids and Anthony will always remember what you told us about how to be good people—to give and show respect to everybody even if some of them don’t deserve it, and learn to forgive in order to have true peace as God has said; to be good parents to our children—to love God, each other, and express that love to the children all the time so they will love and take care of each other too and their future families.

You demonstrated how focusing your eyes on JESUS have sustained you daily. My kids and pamangkins will not see you and experience you anymore as they grow up.

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But we will surely tell them of stories about you, Mama—how you and Papa worked hard to give us a good life and an excellent education, and about the happy and simple life you had here on earth.

Mama I will surely miss you, I will miss talking to you, laughing and crying with you. I will miss the little notes that you write on big yellow pad sheets using thick pentel pen markers. You never miss greeting every family member “Happy Birthday!”

I miss your excitement when you always make time to listen to my day to day experience in the corporate world. I miss you updating me of the everyday telenovela you watch on tv. I miss you always reminding me to take my milk and vitamins. I know that you are going to be happier in heaven, as we all strive to be someday. I will try my best to fulfill the promise you made me do, more than a week after we last talked—that I have to be healthy, to live long for my family and for whatever God has sent us to do in this world.

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As I do my final closure on the pains I have been carrying since you died, I now ask for your forgiveness Mama, forgive me for judging you on your ways and how you managed our family.  How you decided to manage the situations that we got into. Forgive me for questioning why you chose to be silent and maintain peace in the family in spite of the pains.

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I am also asking God’s forgiveness for making a vow—I made a vow that I will not be like you. I misinterpreted your ways as weakness for not giving yourself justice. This vow that I made created a woman in me that went far from the design of GOD. I became so strong, dominant and self-sustaining. I want to make sure I will not be stepped on and belittled—to the point that I am already stepping on the responsibilities of my husband and have not been an ideal wife to him and a good mother to my children. I focused on trying to be that woman who is not you. I am sorry, Mama. This vow I made has trapped me in bondage, and I am breaking this by God’s grace and forgiveness.  I am free now. I am now allowing God to make me and mold me into the woman He has designed me to be.

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Ma, we know you are happy now—I fully understand now that there is a purpose why God allowed you to join Him early, you are now free from pains and problems. You don’t have to worry about us anymore, even while you were at your most painful moments. We’re good now.  We can already stand on our own. We know it’s what you’ve been longing for before. It still pains us that you’re already gone, most especially your 2 apos (your trusted kakampi’s haha!) who, deep in themselves, still feel the pinch in their hearts from losing you.

I am ok now. This is my much needed letter.  I will cherish our moments with you, Mama.  I want to end this with this poem I saw that John, my husband, have written. It made me smile and I’m sure you will too.

From John

Dear Mama

How can I forget, the first time we met

The first lunch with you and your daughter Nette

Sinigang na baboy then was served in a plate

Rightfully done, and so plenty I ate

How can I forget when you did accept

The type of relationship that Nette and I kept

You just said go on, I’m happy for my daughter

So relieved and so glad, I almost wept

As a mother-in-law, you gave your support

Taking care of my kids with all your effort

Without anything in return, without any condition

You really did well your chosen profession

Ma, you may have never heard it before

But I’m indebted to you forevermore

Not only because you helped me in a way with all my endeavors

But because you gave me the one big favor

Your daughter…Toni

Love you always,
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Dear God, I am forever grateful to You for blessing me with a mother like Mama. Thank you for showing your goodness and faithfulness in all the years of her life. I am so blessed that above all, Mama was a woman of God, choosing to live out what Jesus taught—to love the Lord, to forgive others, and to be selfless and loving to others without anything in return.

I’m sorry God for all my shortcomings as a daughter of my Mama. But in my posting this letter, I pray that I have honored her, because her life is worth being shared. I am so proud to be her daughter. Thank you for guiding her all those years she was raising me and my siblings and for still unconditionally honoring my Papa as her husband, even when it is already unfair to her. You held her up all those times. Thank you God.

The pain of losing her is still so fresh, and so I ask your peace that transcends all understanding and your comfort to fill me during the days I miss her so badly. But I know she is with you now, eternally experiencing your glory and presence. I know I will see her again one day, and it will be a beautiful reunion in heaven. Until then, and today in her death anniversary, may I continue to honor her in my heart and always remembering how she lived and devoted her life to you. Help me look at August 9 with a renewed perspective, seeing it as the day she entered the gates of heaven and lived with you forever—the best way to live.

I praise you God for Mama. You made her the woman she is. May I be a woman like her. In Jesus’ name. Amen.