It was a terrible time that went by in a flurry of hurried movements, packing, meals, tears, hugs and goodbyes. Days before my flight, I was trying to spend as much time with my friends in Manila, delaying my travel home to Tarlac, not knowing what was to come. I came home on my grandma's 90th birthday. She died 2 days later.
While everything else went by in a haze, those last few moments in the hospital seemed to move in slow motion, as though it would never end. Even now, in this moment of remembering, those moments remain clear and slow-moving. I remember her empty eyes looking through us, her tongue hanging out of her mouth. A couple of times she would stop breathing and the doctors would revive her. Until finally they couldn't and she was finally gone.
The funeral was lovely. I took so many pictures of those days when family and friends came to visit her. But they all got lost on my way to the states when my camera broke. But never mind, my gratitude for those who came and told stories about her remain boundless.
I had to leave. I could not be present when they buried her. But family and friends say it was a beautiful and quiet ceremony. They had a horse pull the carriage carrying her coffin.
Here in New York, I cling to her memory at times like a lost little boy. I find myself talking to her, saying "lola" every now and then. Of course, there are times that I grow afraid that she would actually show up when I call her name. I miss her. And i wonder what it would be like if she were alive. People kept telling me, days after her death, that her dying was her last gift to me, that it would have been terrible if she had died while I was in the states and I couldn't go home. That may be true on some level, but nothing would be more wonderful than if she were still alive today.
If she were alive today, she would be sitting on our porch, watching over her little store, calling on the kids passing by. She would be sitting on her rocking chair, fanning herself and nodding off to sleep every now and then. She would be gossiping with a couple of our neighbors. She would be feeding my pet turtle. She would be scolding our cats for being cats, for being playful. Then she would feed them, too. She would be waiting for my mother's arrival. She would be peeling onions and folding old news papers to be sold for a few hundred pesos.
If she were alive today, I would give her a call and she would ask me about my day and tell me not to go out at night and ask me to go to bed even if it's only 7pm because in her mind I remain to be that little boy who would spend all afternoon playing outside with with dirty kids. If she were alive today I would write her a letter. I would tell her how much I miss her. I would tell her of my new friends here and the places I've been too. She had always wanted to go up the mountains, 6 hours away from our home town. We would promise to take her, but we never did. I would tell her about my adventures in the city, about the cold weather and how different it is from her normal 85 degree day. I would tell her about winter, about snow and how lovely it is when the streets and trees are blanketed in white and everything seems peaceful, even here in the Bronx. And I would tell her how terrible it is when snow begins to melt and the ground turns into mud and how the freezing wind would howl through my jacket. I would tell her that she is better off in her rocking chair where it is warm and dry. I would send her pictures of me posing stupidly in front of park statues and city monuments. I would show her all of this so she could leave our little porch through me.
I would tell her to be very careful in walking around. She was still a strong woman, given her age. In her 80s she would still go to the market and buy me corn on which I put salt.She would still chase away our dog, Kim, when he would pee on the carpet or crap in the kitchen.
I would tell her how much I want to be home, to hug her and sleep beside her, only to be woken up by her screaming because I did not turn the lights off in my own room. I remember sleeping in my own bed and being woken up at ungodly hours by my grandmother trying to switch the airconditioning off.
But now, in the face of death, I will tell her these: that she continues to live through me, that my struggles and victories are hers just as her struggles and victories to keep the family safe and together are mine. I will tell her that wherever I go, I will carry her in my heart. I will tell her that even now as I advance in age, I remain that lost little boy in awe of her and her walking stick. I will tell her that long after the pain from her death has gone, my love for the woman, who helped raise me in my youth and cared for me until the end, will remain.