Nearly a year has gone by since my mother has passed and through that time, I’ve written so little about her. A few words, a few lines here and there but passages of my mom, about her, her life, what she was like and her death—so little. It struck me how my mom was so eloquent and accepting of her illness and her impending death that she wrote about it as often as she could. While we, the living, it took us longer to comprehend.
So the next few days will be an attempt. There is no particular order to any of these. Sometimes I remember a random memory and that’s what I’ll write down. Sometimes they'll have a coherent beginning, but no ending.
It was a Thursday. I had just helped Madel with her thesis at Cardinal Santos Medical Center. Ma was drifting in and out of consciousness. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had several alarms where we thought it would be “the day.” That day was no different.
I received a text from Pa that Ma was having a hard time breathing and asked me to go to UA&P to look for a priest. Warning bells were all over the text as I remember Kuya Lon telling us that difficulty breathing would be one of the signs that the end was near.
I rushed to UA&P on my bike and in my shorts, making some lame excuse to security about my attire. I was distinctly aware that people’s lives were going about as normal. I ran to the chapel and I knocked on Fr. Santos’ door. I told him what was happening at home. He was perfectly aware of the situation, having visited my mother several times at home to give her communion when she was too sick to go to Mass. He wasn’t available that day, but referred me to Fr. Latorre.
I rushed to Stella O and found Fr. Latorre. Breathlessly, I explained that my mom wanted to be given the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and her last Communion. I still remembered how he looked at me, calmly. I wanted to shake him to make him understand how serious this was, but he stood there, stoic and unblinking.
We drove home in his car, where my dad and Tita were at my mom’s side. I asked my dad if I needed to contact my siblings and he said, no there was no need. He didn’t feel like there was any danger yet. Nevertheless, I did and one by one, I received my messages from my siblings asking if they needed to be home. I didn’t know what to say.
One by one, they arrived home. We each took turns watching over Ma in the afternoon and later in the evening. We had McDonald’s delivered at home, a rarity. The rosary was prayed as well as the novena that Pa had me pray from the Daily Roman Missal. I don’t remember if we prayed it more than once.
I remember feeling so tired as we did our shifts in our parents' room. Imagine all 7 of us kids and my sisters-in-law, plus my dad and Tita, squeezing ourselves in various positions on the floor, my dad’s bed and the opposite couch. One by one, each of us transferred to our own rooms until all that was left in my parent’s room was me, Ate and Pa.
I must have drifted off to sleep because when I woke up, Kuya Lon was by Ma’s side and listening to her heartbeat. Pa (or Kuya) quietly told me to wake everyone up. I ran downstairs, shaking everyone awake and we all stumbled, bleary-eyed but wide awake and listened to the sounds of my mother’s breathing.
I say it over and over again that the sound of my mom’s last breaths will haunt me and the sight of her body, what once was so strong and full of life, now turned into skin and bones and all that remained on her once full mane were soft tufts of hair.
At 12:54 am on May 4, 2012, my mother, Elenita S. Mangubat passed away. It was a quiet affair, with her 7 children, 2 daughters-in-law and her sister standing by her bedside.
Minutes later, my dad asked me to pray that novena. I stared at him, dumbfounded. How could he expect me to do this, to be strong when the one person that brought us all together, lay dead in front of us?
And so I read. My mind, lips and body felt so heavy, and I begged my body and every last bit of me not to cry while reading, while praying. To give me the strength that somehow eluded me, but my mother seemed to have so much of.
The next few days were a blur as we celebrated her life and family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors and our friends paid their respects. It was during these next few days that I learned of Ma outside of the house and what she was to people. It was amazing to see how much she meant to people and how much people meant to her.
- The night