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Splendor in the Grass

Eastertime is a season of joy. Our Lord suffered and died, but on the third day rose from the dead and paved the way for those who believed in Him so that we too would rise and never die. What could be more joyful.

It was early spring many years ago when I felt this deep in my heart . Winter was still lurking around, but the promise of grass growing green again and flowers blooming were already in the air.

“In a few more days there will be lots of cars driving this lane to see the lines of trees with their colorful leaves springing back to life,” I tell my wife.

“It happens every year and never fails to enchant.”

My wife and I were driving along the scenic Palisades Parkway on our way back home to NYC after visiting my wife’s ailing mother. We had been doing this more frequently now since the doctors had placed her in hospice care in my sister-in-law’s house in Bergen, NJ.

“Manny, something tells me she is leaving us anytime now. Malapit na si Nanay mag paalam.” “Why do you say that?” I ask my wife.

“Because she keeps on asking for the date and time of day.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nanay knows.” My wife quotes to me Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

I keep quiet, as I maneuver the car to park by the Stop and Shop Grocery near our house to pick up some food items.

As soon as we leave the grocery, we get the call.

“Let’s go back. I hope we get there on time to say our last goodbye.”

I find ourselves driving back to New Jersey. No time to drop our groceries in the house.

Nanay’s name was Ligaya. And if names had much to do to reveal one’s character and personality, Nanay certainly was that: Ligaya, joy, happiness, merry.

She was born in 1925 to a simple family in Malabon, Rizal. She was the eldest of three sisters, the fourth child in a family of four brothers.

Her father wrote for a couple of movie production studios and other Filipino magazines. Her mother was a housewife. She got married at an early age and never got to pursue a higher education. She spent most of her life taking care of her children and later, the grandchildren.

She was known in her neighborhood for her generous heart, helping many of her neighbors, like giving some food to poor families or “lending” money to needy friends and relatives without expecting to be paid back. She was also known for her strong faith, her “pananampalataya sa Biblia,” as they were wont to put it. Many people do not usually have good relationships with their mothers-in-law. Not me.

The late Cardinal Sin once told us this joke during one of his Lenten Sermons.

Question: Why did St. Peter deny Christ three times? Answer: Because Christ healed his mother-in-law.

The joke does not apply to me. Nanay never treated me as a son-in-law, but as a son. As a result I do not know what the proverbial mother-in-law is like.

The first time I spoke with her I was impressed by her humility, her inoffensive frankness and her wisdom. All the years of our lives together, I had never lost that love and respect for a lovely soul. And so did the rest of my side of the family who knew her.

And yet, I never told her so. I had always wanted to tell her how much I appreciated the way she treated me but never had the opportunity. The timing was always wrong.

When she migrated to the United States, at the insistence of her children, I thought she was going to have a hard time adjusting in a strange land. We were wrong. Surrounded by her children and grandchildren, she easily blended.

Too, she was very simple and thoughtful. Every Christmas she had a small envelope for all the children in the family taken from whatever savings she had. These went on schedule every December.

But something baffled us this time. She told my wife that she had prepared some small envelopes for the children in her drawer for Christmas. But it was still March, we reminded her – too early for Christmas.

The driveway is full when I reach my sister-in-law’s place. I park by the curb and rush inside to Nanay’s room. Everyone is present, all six children, grandchildren, in-laws.

I stare at Nanay’s face. She is calm and relaxed. Everyone’s head is bowed in prayer. One by one we file in and take our turn to say our final farewell. Everyone is crying except Nanay.

When my turn comes, I take the opportunity to tell her what I have always wanted to tell her all these years but never got the opportunity.

“Thank you so much Nanay for treating me like your very own son.”

I glance at Nanay and see a soft smile on her face. I say a little prayer and make the sign of the cross. The peace rising over me is indescribable.

After a few minutes of silence, she is gone.

My wife and I leave the room and find ourselves in the front yard while the funeral preparations are underway. A couple of neighbors outside point admiringly at the blooming flowers in my sister-in-law’s front porch, just outside Nanay’s window.

We look at the other windows. Not one flower has bloomed yet in the entire neighborhood, except the ones in front of Nanay’s window.

Soon all the flowers will bloom in all the windows and the grass will be green again, that’s for sure. It is the ceremony of life, a ceremony I do not question but have learned to accept. And then it will be winter again. What matter.

I said it above and I say it again: Our Lord suffered and died, but on the third day rose from the dead and paved the way for those who believed in Him so that we too would rise and never die. This is the assurance of Eastertime and this is the bedrock of our Faith.

Somebody from the house calls my wife to settle some family matters.

Alone now, from beyond the distant place where Nanay was, I look at the horizon and the sky, and think of Nanay whom we all loved, and my thoughts are too deep to articulate; I could only repeat the immortal lines of the English Romantic Poet William Wordsworth:

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind . . .

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