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Fieldnotes: Writing Grief: Usad na Pagpataliwan

Tito Genova Valiente “That was the best time. The last day, the day of leaving. It was a good journey. It became different at the other end.” ? V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River IT was not the announcement I expected that afternoon. That morning, Mama had her bath. She would usually stay at the table, and wait for her hair to dry. It was also a good time for her to drink milk and eat wafer or anything that she would want. Usually, she would always demand to be taken back to her room. That morning, she was quiet, uncomplaining. Then I noticed, her head was bending backwards. Usually, too, I would urge her to stay outside and have some snacks, or drink a bit. That morning, I asked the caregiver to take her to her room. I was looking at her and followed her to her room. She held my hand lightly for support. My mother seemed to have grown so old, her hands were old. Her eyes, despite the accident, had remained warm, always looking at something on the wall or beyond the window at the foot of her bed. Perhaps, the old energy drink that her doctor had prescribed would do her some good. She looked weak. Ate Naomi, my sister in-law decided to go to the Centro. When we came back, I looked at Mama: she was asleep. We proceeded to have our late lunch. We were barely through with our food when the caregiver came out, called me, and, announced with what I thought to be the most objective voice that moment: “Garo gadan na si Lola” (I think Lola is already dead) There was a question in my head but nothing came out. Ate Naomi rushed to the room. I ran to the bathroom and quickly washed my hand. I would be touching her and I wanted my hands to be clean. Ate Naomi and I were in the room beside her. She was taking the blood pressure of Mama. I was nudging Mama, calling her. I kept calling her. The device was not registering anything. I touched Mama’s forehead and I looked away. Then I looked at her again. I touched her one leg, the knee curled up, and gently pushed it down. I got her favorite blue blanket and covered her legs. Ate Naomi was talking to her. Then there were other people around us. I started calling people. I called my brother, Carlo, who was in London and, without ceremony, broke the news to him. Then I called my sister, Lilibeth, in Tokyo and asked her to get Sada, my brother in-law, because I had some questions for him. When Sada got on the phone, I told him the news and asked him to tell my sister. “Wara na si Mama.” Mama is gone. We never announce death really. We talk of people being gone. We write of people passing on, as if life is that movement that keeps on nudging us to go to a particular place, where the living cannot be. Or, we look at each other, hoping that the eyes will give away the eternal absence of a beloved. Or, we cry in silence not so much as not to embarrass ourselves as to be gentle to that person there, now quietly journeying to a place where there is no more dying. Or we weep, again not for the one who had gone on ahead but for us left behind. Thus we talk of valleys of tears, where we are caught in that pass, unable to climb out or up. The caregiver, without meaning her meaning to, has broken the rules of Life. She was nullifying Life and that is not the business of anyone of us. She had told me what happened and brought me face to face with that final mystery. I was looking at my mother and, for a moment, I was taking stock of things that she had rendered unnecessary. The problem of convincing caregivers to stay was gone. The need for medicines was gone. I whispered to my mother that now she could rest. I prayed a small prayer as I kept looking at this lifeless person, this being who gave birth to me. She had left. She would be no more. A few hours later, she would not be in that room. For an hour, as we waited for the funeral undertakers, we stayed outside Mama’s room, in the living room. We were not talking. It is true again what they say, the silence of Life is Death. After a few minutes, I went inside her room. I touched her arm and apologized for not being the right person to be with her. I was talking to my mother, telling her that I was the best person to run out at night to buy medicine, to roam around the city to look for the best caregiver, but I was not the most caring of her children. Pasensya na gayud….Mama. I was talking to my mother but I was, inside, talking to myself, the son of this Woman who will not be there anymore. I am writing this because last 28th of May, we observed Mama’s first death anniversary. We spent it with relatives. We were fortunate that her best living friend from her days as a public school teacher in Pili drove all the way from Bulacan to be with us. Tita Ampy Ferrer was with her husband, Tito Alex and, that night, they joined us in a simple dinner. The couple made that gathering special with them bringing us back to those years when my mother and father were young, robust, and healthy. I have not grieved. The room of my mother had not been touched yet. Nothing has changed, except for the clutter I bring when I am home. At night, when I sleep outside her room, I listen to the silence, to the muted song of the vanished. I look for her life in the plants she once nurtured. I celebrate the orchids when they bloom hoping that they are signs of her joy in whatever universe she now inhabits. I desire to dream and dreams do come and they are filled with scenes of her with my brother, Pempe, and Papa. And I am happy. I do not know when I will stop writing about my mother and my grief. Perhaps, I will never cease thinking about that afternoon when the caregiver bluntly announced death in the family. I will be consoled by what V. S. Naipaul said in his book, “Father and Son: Family Letters”: “It is no good thinking that the sensitive man is happier or greater. No one cares for your tragedy until you sing it, and you require peace of mind to do this.” In the peacefulness of my mind, let me forever sing the song of grief.

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