When my only sister was critically ill at a Naga hospital, my humble supplication to Santa Ana while I was in her Shrine in Quebec was twofold: Could Santa Ana please help my sister go home to Tabuco; or if it were already her time, to escort her back home to Our Lord. I did not want her to suffer any further.
Santa Ana granted both requests. My sister was discharged on that same day and went home to her old house for the last time - - to say goodbye to her loved ones.
A few days later, Our Lord gently took her home with Him to Heaven.
The Lord hath given. The Lord hath taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
She was named after the Blessed Mother -- Maria Lourdes or Marilou for short -- the only girl among six siblings.
When Marilou was born, all of us boys howled in protest. We were expecting another boy to play baradilan with us. But as the years went by, we realized how precious she was, not only because her teenage colegiala classmates would drop by the house often but more important because she filled the much-needed Yin to balance the too much Yang in the family. She was kindness personified.
It took a while for us to notice that she had never raised her voice at any one of us -- never. Except to sing, for she did possess a beautiful singing voice that blended perfectly with our all male choir. She was so easy to please and again she impressed us as naturally sincere because she had no hidden agendas. Her loyalty to her friends was admirable, as evinced by the humble but noble persons who were drawn to her.
She radiated good humor and joy and helped the poor without letting her left hand know what her right hand did. The simple folks in the neighborhood-- the banana cue and buchi vendor, the lavandera, the biko rice cake vendor -- all gravitated towards her. They would all receive the same love and attention, for she would converse with them or their wives (her cumadres), sometimes for hours, regardless of their social status. As a result, even the poorest of the poor benefited from her hospitality, bringing out in them a quiet dignity not brought out elsewhere.
For all her uncomplaining character, she once confided she wished she had a sister.
After high school, I did not get to see her much because I went to Manila, and shortly after, to the US.
The next time we reconnected after childhood was when she visited the US some years ago and stayed with us for a couple of months.
In the meantime she had already gotten married and had raised a family. She named her eldest daughter Peñafrancia, born September 21, in honor of our “Ina,” and her son after one of her favorite saints the Apostle Paul.
Perhaps one of my biggest boons to her was when she found the ideal sister she had always dreamed of in the person of my wife. They did get along so well and I am sure it was not just because they shared common tastes in makeup, shoes, bags, and other women’s styles I am not very conversant with. “Now you found the sister you have always wished for,” I told her.
My wife repeatedly invited her to stay with us permanently. But my sister opted to return to her beloved Naga to her old home in Tabuco because her family needed her. I don’t blame her. Her house by the Bicol River is a charming old house, especially because it overlooks the sacred river where Our Lady of Peñafrancia would begin her annual twilight cruise from Tabuco back to Her Shrine. It was from beyond that house that she cheered and prayed for me, as I was humbly granted the honor, by the Grace of God, to join the Virgin in Her Pagoda during Her Tricentennial Year in 2010, an experience I will never forget. My sister was there to help facilitate the details.
And so she went back to Naga. The night before she left she gave my wife an amethyst ring she inherited from our ancestors as going away token of appreciation. My wife refused it but Marilou insisted and insisted. Delia, my wife, gave her a Bible in return. A devout Catholic and a devout Protestant exchanging gifts.
A while ago tonight, I saw my wife deeply absorbed scribbling in her notebook -- and then pausing for a long time.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I can’t finish,” she said, holding back her tears.
“It is about Marilou,” I said gravely.
“Yes,” she said. “I miss her so much.”
“I know. We have no more sister to come home to in Naga.”
She was our last umbilical connection to Naga, the last to remain there and to stubbornly resist leaving Naga. Now that she is gone, we will be rootless. Next month it will be September again, and Naga will be spirited once more into the month-long celebration in honor of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the Holy Virgin we love with all our heart.
Even then, some things will not be the same. Marilou will no longer be in her old house to meet us at the gate. And of course we will miss her cooking and her lavish hospitality that never wavered until she moved on to Paradise.
Marilou was born, raised, lived and died in her beloved city, a child of Mary in Naga, an Maogmang Lugar.
Yaon na siya duman sa PINAKA Maogmang Lugar.
Viva la Virgen!