It is hard for me to write about death, especially about this one. July 7, 2004 marks the passing of my Lola Dacion, who, after 98 years on this earth, left it the way she lived her life—peacefully and with infinite grace.
I cannot begin to know what life has been like for her, I can only speak of how my life has been while she was with us. When I was a little girl (oh so long ago) my sister R. and I would spend hot dusty summers at my Lola’s place, exploring the cool recesses underneath the house, sand-fishing for plump termites with sticks, reading old Zuma comics stored in one of the cupboards under the sink.
At Christmas, when all her grand children (all five of us girls) would converge, she would press into our palms neatly folded bills—smiling slyly—I would always imagine. She was forever indulgent of us, and perhaps, like all grandmothers who live separately from their apos, she never had cause to discipline us, or raise her voice to us, nor even be cross.
My Lola spoke a melodious local dialect, more quaint than my native Hiligaynon. Sentences tended to end on an up note, as though all thoughts were phrased as questions. Her speech had a genteel and sleepy rhythm, lulling you to lower your voice, to listen rather than talk, to sit at her feet and just be still. Weekends spent at her house had the same lull, even in the fierce heat of summer. After a belly-bursting lunch, a comforting calm would always descend on us. It was almost as if the world took on an amber glaze, and time would slowly, lazily, drip away, like warm honey melting in the sun. At around 2 o’clock, she would send T’yay Heidi to buy us brewed coffee, seven or so aromatic cups of it, magically contained in a tiny pot. Later, when it was time to begin the drive home, she would send us away laden with wrapped bundles of fat crabs, milkfish, or gallons of native vinegar.
I remember, out on the porch, my father would sit patiently while Lola took a cotton bud to his ears, meticulously cleaning one ear, then turning his head to clean the other ear. She would do this for years, until the illness made it difficult for her do it anymore.
When she was still able to walk, she would go with us to the mall, sometimes eating sugar-free ice cream. Most often she and her constant companion, T’yay Heidi, would pass the time commenting on passers-by, how that particular teenaged girl seemed sorely lacking in clothes, how shiny that bald man’s head was, how so many women can manage to shop as if there is no tomorrow. The two of them would sit there, whispering, cackling like crazy, laughing between themselves.
One Valentine’s day, I stayed with her during one of what would soon be numerous hospital confinements. She wondered why I did not have a date. From her hospital room, we could look out the window at a restaurant across the street, and for hours we had fun spying at all the couples huddled across candle-lit tables, intent on celebrating Valentine’s.
I remember holding back my tears when, during my watch, she almost choked and was vomiting what looked like brownish–black blood. It wasn’t the blood that got to me, it was her not wanting to vomit into the towel I was holding because she didn’t want me to get soiled.
She liked pretty nurses to take care of her. When the not so pretty ones would come into her room and stand by her bedside with their long list of questions, she would casually turn her face away. This amused us no end.
When I brought home the guy who was soon to be my husband, Lola took him aside and told him, softly but gravely, “Do not, in anyway hurt my apo. Just love her.” Would that those words retained even only half of their power, my marriage would not be the way it is now. Lola Dacion at least got to see, hug, and kiss—sniffing surreptitiously the way grandmas do—her great-grandson, Jeremy. The very first great-grandson. I would always see them the way they are in my cherished pictures, mugging for the camera, their faces lit up in smiles, a few teeth missing.
But age—like no other certainty—diminishes us, swiftly and with a finality that will not be undone. Sometimes it is easier to see only the hard times, because they carry an urgency that makes them more apparent. It was my father, the eldest child, on whose shoulders fell the task of taking care of Lola, seeing her through all the hospital stays, the insulin shots, the vials of iron in iced containers, the long drives and endless visits to doctors, the blood samples.
Our youngest sister, a nurse, was fortunate to have been able to take care of Lola in the final months. I do not envy her this privilege, as I cannot even begin to know what to do had I been there myself. To be able to function effectively while seeing a loved one gradually waste away is a talent I cannot hope to claim. Some act of kindness spared me. I never got to see Lola in the last days, when she was described to me as a still form confined to bed, fed through a tube, drifting in and out of consciousness, often unable to speak.
I think of this omission as an act of kindness because now I can choose to remember my Lola Dacion as the feisty, droll, kind old soul she always was to me. I can choose to see her, sitting quietly on her porch, lit by a lambent afternoon sun. I can choose to gaze at her brushing wispy strands of gray hair into a neat bun, slipping tiny feet into embroidered slippers. I can choose to smell a fragrant, powdery cheek, hear her chuckle, and see that playful glint in her eyes as I tease her about looking so beautiful today. I can choose to feel one more time, her warm, tight hug enclose me, then as a little girl, and later on as a young woman, learning from Lola Dacion lessons of infinite grace and benevolence.