The Finale

Daily Prompt: Sandwich

I have no stories about sandwiches. But I had a blog named Dream Sandwich. I closed it down for several reasons. Bankruptcy [I was in debt of good stories to tell]. Adulthood. Consecutive Heartbreaks. Moving on. Starting Fresh. New Environment. New Job. New Me. Remodeling. Renovation. Reinvention. Among other things.

This is my blog finale before I packed up and moved in to Small Magic.

Fragile Things

So there were biscuits and abundant of coffee, of course. Some nights we served soup. Other nights sweet cakes. In the morning my dad drives me and my sister to the market to buy kilos of fish and meat. For seven days it felt like we were feeding the entire district. The front yard of my grandma’s house will sometimes be filled with expensive cars from guests who traveled all the way from Manila to visit her. People come and go like a tourist in a museum and my mom would be an expensive artifact in a glass box. They tell stories about her. Good stuff. Some faces are familiar. Some are not. Some we have already forgotten. My sister attempts to clean every now and then. OCD. It’s actually a disease like she would hyperventilate if she’s not able to execute her cleaning rituals . But my grandma goes berserk every time. Bad omen, she says. Whatever it is, nobody dares to sweep the floor. We have to pick up the used plastic cups and paper plates scattered around the huge driveway that was purposely reserved for guests. And nobody is allowed to bring food elsewhere. Another bold warning. But my aunt’s place is just across the street and it’s a good hideaway, to sneak out some food and to get a few hours of peace. It gets exhausting talking about death. I wasn’t used to talking about my mother in past tense. And I don’t know how people manage to eat when there’s a dead body lying at the corner. I don’t know about other people but during the wake it feels like half of me still believes it wasn’t my mother inside that coffin. Our helpers – [people who grew up in the province and who took good care of mom when she suffered with alzeihmer’s] would often talk to her during the wake. They prepare food for her everyday and place it on a coffee table near her coffin. “Auntie, here’s your food. Eat well.” or something like that. I can’t afford to do that out loud but I had a few silent conversations with her in my mind. Like, “seriously mom, you’re always chatty. What happened to you?”  Then silence. Okay, I’m bored. I’m gonna go grab some snack and I’ll check on you later.”

My mother is a fun loving person; very talkative and receptive of my friends. When my girls come over, she would peek in my room, sometimes with food and a huge bowl of stories. She would talk to my friends about their whereabouts; most times ask personal questions about their love life and tells them not to worry because she’s praying for them – as much as she’s praying for me. Which now sounds pretty funny. Me and my late-bloomer friends are all part of my mother’s evening litany to God. I will remind her very often “Mom, they’re my guest, not yours.” And then she will excuse herself  but just before closing the door she will begin another story.

At noon, we eat lunch under a huge mango tree. Just family. Downtime. We sleep. We go operational at night. The entire ancestral house would light up like an old-fashioned bar. We play Bingo cards and Tong- its. Some music. Heavy drinking and some old man’s tales. Late night gossips. Snacks and chitchats. When I have free time at night, I would leave the chaos outside and stop by at her coffin and just stare at her. Nice shade of lipstick. Although her stylist Mimi can do better with her hairstyle. Gay owner of a small salon in our hometown. We used to go to her salon for haircut and pedicure. Mom is so fond of her – or him. He would be devastated to know that his favorite customer went on vacation for good. Everyone started missing her. She doesn’t do anything extraordinary  but her ordinary ways of loving these random people are immeasurable. When people come to me to ask about her, I get amazed on how this woman- my mother has impacted their lives in the most humbling ways I could ever imagine. You don’t have to be a saint to touch lives.

I read my name and the name of my siblings on the casket panel. I don’t think it’s fair that I don’t have my fiance’s name on it. My siblings have their names written and on the opposite side was their respective partners, as if to imply that someone is there to console them in moments of grief. Too late. My bad. Mom would’ve met his long time over due son-in-law if only she waited a few months. We were bound to Manila in June. Same month we were scheduled to get married in India. Half of our vacation leaves were supposed to be spent in each other’s hometown. It didn’t happen. Flight tickets doubled its price. She would have loved Sam. I know. Sam is polite and very much responsible. A gentleman. He’s also compassionate that despite his tough bearing, he always seem unable to disguise the soft childlike spot inside him. So I guess it’s okay that they never met. Maybe this is my mother’s way of saying that she trust my life choices now. She knows that I will pick a man who will love me the way I have always wanted to be loved.

On her second night, a white butterfly landed on her coffin and just laid there the entire time, wings flat on the glass surface. One time while I was staring at it with my sister, I noticed something. “Hey sis. Is it alive? It’s moving. Look.” My sister stood frozen examining mom. I was talking about the butterfly of course.

We retrieved mom’s old photos for her eulogy. I realized how precious they were. Raw and unscripted moments. They were timeless. Those days when you can’t retake or edit hideous pictures. Lighting was very bad like everything’s shaded yellow. My sister’s eyes were closed in most photos but smiling like a dork. My brother was skinny and looking dumb with his jaws open, eyes spaced out. As for me, nothing could be more striking than my flat nose. Mom and dad were so young, healthy and happy. It’s a good tranquilizer – those old photos. It relieves pain knowing that the person we loved so dearly, was once strong, young and happy.

Her last night was a bit confusing. Like after making you weep with a powerful slideshow and messages from family members, a band came to play all sorts of music, from slow somber songs to pop rock. Mourning and festivities is quite a combination. They played last night Bingo so my big time aunt gave away money. The last few hours was a night of fun and entertainment which is really very ironic. But I guess that’s how we should all treat life.

“Life is nothing but the occasional burst of laughter rising above the interminable wail of grief.” – Henry Roth in the movie Dedication

In her funeral we wore white. We were up early so we can bring her to church for blessing before noon. While the coffin was being carried out of the door, a man had smashed a cup on her ivory casket and it broke into pieces. Another set of tradition I am not aware of. They all went crazy when my Aunt Ada tried to go back inside to pick up her purse. They said that once coffin is out of the door, nobody should go back inside the house or that person will be next. Quite Spooky.

The van begins to move slowly and starts to play beautiful sad songs all the way to church. My family walks at the back of the van, front line. All of us wearing white shirt. That was the moment when I felt that mom was really leaving us. Finally. Gone. Forever. And it’s goodbye for good.

I know that alzheimers has already taken her years ago. She was long gone. Before even that long surreal procession materialized, we have already lost her. But at least, even if she can no longer communicate well, words slur with no meaning, blank stare and sleeping in most days, at least I can still hold her warm frail hands or sniff her then musty hair or feel her wrinkled face against mine. But walking that ivory chest that cradled mom on her way to church was a dramatic revelation that the chapters of me being a daughter and having a wonderful mother is finally over. I will never get to see her, hold her or talk to her the way I used to. As if I didn’t know these things are coming. My sister and I started crying at the procession as if we just found out that morning that our mother is dead. The tears expected to come when I called home and dad said he just left the morgue and is now driving to buy a traditional dress for mom’s funeral, never came. Even the time when we reached home, fresh from the airport and saw our mother’s lifeless body, my sister and I tried to feel things but we never did. The series of small realities doesn’t come in one blow. It hits you with interval. Slow and deep intervening times.

Everyone else say she’s out there and she will always be around guiding us, praying for us, taking care of us in ways we never know. But reality check is, we’re now motherless and my dad is a widower. That time I just want to tell everyone to cut the bullshit. Let’s be practical here. Dad was right. When he drove me and my sister back to the hotel after the funeral, he said, “Wala na kong ibibili ng lugaw sa umaga “. (I don’t have anyone to buy porridge for in the morning.”) Now he doesn’t have to wake up so early. He can stay in bed til noon. Or he can be up early, buy porridge for himself and eat alone.

It’s not the big things that break you. It’s the small things that pierce…

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