09 January 2007

In Memoriam

My Inang
June 27, 1912-December 26, 2006

"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

My grandma, or
"Inang" as we all called her ("mother" in our dialect), was the embodiment of Love. Her love touched the lives of an incredible number of people - as a sister to 8, a mother to 7, a grandmother to 29, a great-grandmother to 23, and not to mention as a cousin, aunt, godmother, friend to many others. She was never stingy with her love, always answering "I love you all!" when her grandchildren would tease with the question of "Who is your favorite?"

Inang was a beautiful, kind woman of incredible fortitude and selflessness. Inang experienced many difficult times - from her days in the Philippines during the Japanese occupation in WWII (she used to tell me about how she and her family had to hide in a ditch), to becoming a widow with 7 children to look after, to her immigration to Chicago in 1969, to her diagnosis of cancer in the thyroid in the 70s, to her last days when fate knocked at her door with the return of cancer and her body finally succumbing to the unbearable pain from the metastasized cancer in her bones. She endured through these and many other painful experiences with the dignity and grace worthy of myth.

Although I was not alive for the first 70some years of her life, I am certain of her virtues as a witness to her last days. When we brought Inang to the hopsital the Friday before Christmas, she had already been feeling intense pain in her back and ribs. As a result, she had barely been eating for almost two weeks, and upon admittance to the ER, we learned that she was near kidney failure from dehydration. Just the day before that, she had started to undergo radiation therapy to try to shrink the malignant mass in her pharynx - but the two treatments she received were simply too much for her weak body. Even in that frail state, she was thinking of her family, asking us on the ride home from radiation in a barely perceptible whisper, "Nu ko bisang mangan?" or "Where do you want to eat?" - showing her love and concern for her family in the characteristically-Filipino way of attending to our stomachs first.

Over the five days she was in the hospital, Inang's entire extended family in the States (nearly 50 of us, all but me living near Chicago) took turns keeping vigil at her bedside, hoping that she would stabilize and be able to go home to Buffalo Grove. Although her pain went from horrible to insufferable, Inang insisted on maintaining her independence in the daily functions we take for granted as healthy adults like sitting up and going to the bathroom. She even remained kind in her most agonizing and difficult moments, always thanking the nurses for their help after she had been screaming from the pain when they changed her position in bed or when she refused to take medicine. The pain's intensity was clear from the strength of her grip when she was feeling the sharpness in her bones, but her pleadings with God to take away the pain never approached infantile. I was amazed at the dignity with which she handled herself, where the strongest of spirit would probably die from despair. My greatest regret is realizing only at her deathbed that Inang was and is my hero, the kind of person that I want to be.

Inang's last days and hours served as a testament to her complete selflessness and devotion to her family. As of the night of the 25th, Inang's condition had steadily deteriorated, and the decision was made to pursue palliative care. We knew that Inang's last moments were before us. However, her heart was still beating strong, as if her will to live was trying to overcome the abuses of nature on her body. Many of us felt that Inang was fighting to stay alive just a little longer so that she would not die on Christmas. One minute to midnight of the 26th, Inang stopped breathing. The room had been nearly full, and we erupted in tears and cries of indignation. How could she really be gone? After a couple of minutes, miraculously, Inang started breathing again! It was as if she had heard us in our despair and knew that we were not fully prepared for her to go. Inang held on for another 15 hours, finally laying to rest when almost everyone had either gone home to shower or to the family waiting room to take a nap. Her vitals had still appeared strong, so we all thought she might stay with us another day or two. But no, she left us peacefully when we were all in a moment of repose.

The loss of Inang has been especially devastating for me and my immediate family, as she lived with my father for all but 3 of his 60 years of life. For my entire life, Inang watched after my younger brother and me as our parents worked.
She sang us traditional Capampangan songs and cooked amazing meals (like her famous fried chicken and my personal favorite, liver). Nearly every night up until I was about 7, Inang would"pik pik" me to sleep (pat me on the leg in a steady rhythm) in the bed we shared in our family's Chicago apartment. Even as we moved to the suburbs and I moved into a different room, Inang remained my constant caretaker - waking me up to go to school, cooking me breakfast, and incessantly asking, "Mengan na ka?" or "Have you eaten yet?" Inang was like my third parent, making sure that my brother and I were safe, well-fed, and had money in our pockets to buy "bakal" or lunch. Treating her like a parent, I even occassionally snapped at her for her seemingly inordinate concern during my obnoxious teenage years. But she never scolded us, never reprimanded us. At worst, she would cry in frustration, "How could you treat me like this?!" She brought a whole new meaning to "unconditional love."

I truly believe that it was in Inang's plan - in God's plan - that she left this world the way she did. Her family had the opportunity to finally reciprocate the love and care that Inang had shown us all. What a gift! I am so grateful to have been graced with Inang's love, and I take comfort in knowing that she can finally rest in eternal beatitude in Heaven.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I dont really remember how i stumbled across your page here. I think i was looking for Info on that Holland girl on the OC. I am losing my grandmother right now and reading this has really given me a lot of stuff to think about. Your gram was lucky to be so surrounded by her family at her time of passing....and her whole life.