Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Eulogy Part Two

Note: This is the second time this year that I've written a eulogy.  The first was for my father.  This one's for my mother.

Let me start by sharing with you a MaFe moment.

By now you’ve already heard and exchanged countless MaFe moments: true stories with our beloved MaFe as the protagonist, stories so funny and so many that they have become the stuff of legend, meant to be orally passed on from generation to generation.  And earlier tonight we all heard there’s gonna be a book coming out.  So: from oral tradition to written tradition.  It’s gonna be our sacred scripture.  I can just imagine our descendants many years from now going, “A reading from the Book of MaFe, Chapter One, Verse 29.”  Okay I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. I know we’ve all had our share of funny and embarrassing moments, but for some reason nothing beats a MaFe moment.

Of course not all MaFe moments were hilarious.  A few of them were quite profound.  The story I’m about to share is one such MaFe moment:

I was twelve years old at that time, and Dad had just scolded me.  Mom came to me and talked to me.  She asked me how I felt and I answered that I felt bad.  She responded by gently asking: “Then why don’t you cry?”

You see I grew up with the notion that boys didn’t cry.  Very young boys were excused from this rule, but after a certain point a boy did not cry - ever.  Crying was a sign of weakness, and weakness was not allowed in men.  Men were strong, not weak.  Boys aspired to be men; ergo, boys aspired to be strong, not weak.  Ergo boys didn’t cry.  At the very least if they did, they tried their best not to.  I got this message from just about everyone around me at that time: classmates, other kids, even grownups. 

“Don’t cry!  You’re a boy.”

“Bakla ka ba?  Huwag kang umiyak.  Babae at bakla lang ang umiiyak.”

So before she asked me that question I didn’t cry.  I didn’t even struggle to keep myself from crying.  I was a boy determined to be a man.  I wanted to take Dad’s scolding like a man.  And when she asked me that question that was the only time that the tears formed in my eyes and began to fall.

With that simple question Mom challenged a dysfunctional idea and showed me a new one: it’s okay to cry.  It’s okay even for men and boys to shed tears.  Tears signify weakness, but they also signify humility and honesty – because nobody is strong all the time, and it takes humility and honesty to acknowledge that.  Ironically, this becomes real strength.

Looking back now I realize that there is more to that lesson, a deeper lesson: the lesson of having an open heart.  When you are willing to shed tears, to be vulnerable and weak, then your heart opens up.  And what are the benefits of having an open heart?  Well, an open heart is the biggest container.  It can contain as much love and as much life as we are willing to welcome. 

The open heart is so big it’s not even right to say, “I have an open heart.”  Rather, it is more appropriate to say, “I dwell in the open heart.”  Just look at Mom’s life.  Look at how she lived.  She lived in the open heart and let everyone inside.  Look at everyone here.  We were all let inside MaFe’s open heart.  In my case, it took me a few years before I could call her my mother, but she called me her son almost immediately – that was the open heart in action.  The late Corazon Aquino called Mom “Santa Fe.”  She certainly earned that title.

At this point allow me to digress for a little bit to talk about karma.  There are two popular definitions of karma: one is fate or predetermined destiny; the other is that it is a form of divine reward or punishment (gaba in our dialect).  But the original meaning is neither of these definitions.  The original definition is action.  Karma is the Sanskrit word for action.  When we refer to a person’s karma, we are not talking about that person’s fate or divine reward or punishment – we are talking about her actions.  Now actions cannot really be separated from consequences.  Drop a pebble into a pond and it creates ripples – it is impossible to drop a pebble into a pond without creating even one ripple.  That’s how inseparable actions are from consequences.  And that is what karma really is: it is the pebble dropping and creating – and it is the ripples being created and radiating outwards.

Mom’s karma, her pebbles and ripples, are still with us.  In a sense, she is alive in them.  She is alive in the gardens she cared for, alive in the songs she wrote, alive in Quile, her masterpiece.  And look around you now: she is alive in us.  Alive in the children she helped Dad to raise.  Alive in our laughter and smiles.  Alive in our tears.  Alive in our kisses and embraces.  Alive in our memories.  Alive in every MaFe moment that we never tire of telling and remembering.  Look around you: do you see her pebbles?  Do you see her ripples?  That’s MaFe right there.

Let us now go back to MaFe’s lesson of the open heart: when we live in the open heart, we are never alone.  MaFe is there, along with everybody we love. 

May we all live in the open heart.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Mom's Death

Originally posted in Treeleaf.

Just as an update:

As I posted here about two months ago my mother was sick of cancer. We converted one room in my parents' house into a hospital room, complete with the necessary medical equipment and a team of doctors and nurses. One of the doctors happened to be married to an older cousin of mine so there was a mix of professionalism and personal care.

Last week my wife called me to say that Mom was in a coma. I asked her if I should go back home (I'd been flying back and forth between Manila and Davao every weekend for the past several weeks, and I'd just got back in Manila the night before). She said she didn't know but that she would call me later that night then we'd decide. After a couple of hours she called back and said that Mom had woken up. So we figured I'd stick to the original plan, which was to fly in on Thursday evening and stay there until Sunday. But then later my sister called and told me I'd better come home immediately. According to the doctor, Mom was going to slip in and out of the comatose state, and each time it was going to be deeper and deeper until she wouldn't wake up anymore. So I took the afternoon flight to Davao on Tuesday. I spent the next few days spending time with my Mom, holding her hand, talking to her. 

The doctor said she could hear us even in the coma state so we would whisper in her ear. Sometimes we'd sing to her. One time I recited the Metta prayer in her ear. Several times I chanted - once in her ear and other times while holding her hand. Many times I just sat there holding her hand, stroking her hair, looking into her barely-open eyes (when she was awake). Mostly I told her I loved her and thanked her for being my mother, and that I didn't want her to suffer anymore so while nobody wanted her to die, we all didn't want her to hold on for our sake. 

On Saturday night the doctors told us she would likely die in the early morning. So we spent the night there waiting. In the early morning we gathered around her. I was already chanting with my juzu, when my aunt told everyone in the room that this was a sacred moment and got everyone to pray. Picture this: you have a room full of Catholics praying the prayers for the dying, many of them clutching rosaries and prayer books, and there's my wife and I holding our juzu and I'm chanting the Nembutsu. And somehow it all fit. There was no division in my mind between Catholic and Buddhist, between the rosaries with crosses on them and the rosary in my hand, between what they were praying and what I was chanting. On one level, there was me, wife, my family, and there was my mom on her deathbed. At the same time, there was only chanting, only praying, only watching, only dying. All-at-once. It was like listening to an orchestra - different instruments making different sounds yet all in harmony. There was the sound of my mother's struggle to breathe, the whirr of the machines, the beeps of the monitor, our voices. There was her heart rate on the monitor dropping gradually from fifty beats per minute. Finally, she stopped breathing. The monitor still registered her heart rate as 22 beats per minute - but that was just her pacemaker. Her heart had finally stopped.