It has been five months since the whole dilemma began.
Mid-September I received a message from my younger brother, seemingly distressed (and as usual, helpless) that his mom, my Tita Marie (stepmom), felt sick. I immediately visited her, interrogating on her possible past health issues and her then current complaints.
What a supposed visit turned into weeks of unplanned stay-overs because from then on I was suddenly the matron of the house in charge of bills, budget, and food; the personal assistant responsible for setting appointments with doctors and getting Tita to laboratories for endless “necessary” exams; the mediator between family members who were suddenly concerned, visitors who were suddenly friends, and suddenly the highest in-charge of the family business.
With Tita’s worsening cognitive functions and as the responsible child with the most time in her hands (being I work from home), I had to take in all these novel roles with closed eyes.
For a while, I felt like a zombie because I wasn’t exactly sure if what my decisions were correct or wise, I simply acted according to how the time needed me. Apparently, I was the only one in my family willing to sacrifice to help, so with my head high, I just did what I had to do.
Mid-October when Tita was officially diagnosed with Lung Cancer Stage 4 metastasis to the brain. Her apparent impaired memory, motor, and verbal skills were due to the lesions developed from the mass in her lungs, which has progressed to its advanced stage without any of us knowing, including her.
For all we know, Tita was the last in our family to get sick. She is always lively, on-the-go type of person, a bit workaholic, consistently on a diet and working out, the likes. She did smoke on some stressful occasions, but not really enough for her to develop lung cancer. We suspected that it was second-hand smoke. With 12 years working in a small canteen and tired, stressed taxi drivers–puffing countless sticks of yosi–as our biggest patrons, it could have been that. It is also possible that her overworked body found a way to tell her to slow down. It seems jogging at 2:30 AM followed by an exhausting trip to the market to stock our canteen, then straight to bathing, a short nap, and the rest of the day working at the shop is not the best combination for a healthy lifestyle. I quite suspect the long-term effect of those popular slimming pills she took in the past, too.
I felt very sorry for Tita because I know she didn’t want to slow down. Not when I barely had the time to visit (I am infinitely guilty of this), Jom finding quality time to the comfort of his friends’ company, my older brother having his own family, and my dad on the other side of the world, she could not slow down. If I were her, I wouldn’t. I’d be very lonely. I wouldn’t want to slow down because then I’d notice how alone I am, and how eerily, depressingly silent a 3-storey house can be.
At the same time, I felt very sorry for myself. Though at some point, I mulled over the thought of whether I have the right to pity myself when I’m not the one who was sick, yet I couldn’t help but cry at the end of the day, finished with everything that had to be done, accomplished forms and my own work, that I felt so…alone.
For the firs time in my entire 25 years of existence, I felt so lonely.
I’m a person partial to changes. I love the idea, but I’m not entirely confident that it suits me, or how well I can handle it.
In the five months wherein everything transpired, I may have changed drastically. I experienced living away from my mother and realizing how dependent I have been to her emotionally and physically despite my claim to being independent; learning that 20,000 pesos is not such a big amount of money if you start deducting payments for bills and food alone; being more knowledgeable with medical terms and hospital processes, dealing with two-faced “professionals” and being more open to alternative medicine; and handling real-time emergencies like blood and excrement all over the place while maintaining a presence of mind to call for help and not breakdown in anxiety. They were things I didn’t give a toss before, nor was I every welcoming of the idea of knowing them until I had to.
There were sleepless days laced with worry over Tita’s health, whether I’d ever be able to go home, how long will the agony last, why I have to sacrifice career opportunities and personal time, or why I had to do everything by myself. Although my dad kept his support and my younger brother ready to follow my instructions, just one day, I hope somebody takes the burden from me without questions and let me breathe, give a pat in the back and say: “You’ve done enough for now, go on and take a rest.”
In these trying times, I couldn’t appreciate the thank you very much, I wanted physical help. Because taking care of a 5 feet 7 inches woman, weighing 140 lbs was so not easy for a small woman like myself who has a bad back and quite on the heavy side, as well. Well, at the end of the day, I guess I did it for love.
Tita is like a mother to me. Literally, she is my second mother, but I think in terms of spoiling and support, she was never behind my biological mother. It’s also fascinating that she and my own mom are friends. I know, it’s kinda awkward, but it’s really not. The awkwardness only transpires once my father enters the picture. Anyway, I’ve known her since I was five years old. I remember my dad telling me one weekend that there will be a woman coming to his house with a baby. When I saw them and my dad introduced her as my “Tita Marie” while the baby she was holding was my younger brother, I just shrugged and said, “Talaga?” (Really?) with amusement and apparently, acceptance. During summers, I’d spend my vacation in my dad’s house with her and my younger brother, she’d share to me various stories, have an impulsive movie/coffee/shopping date, and made me feel like an only child. Yeah, she loved to spoil me because I was the only girl and I didn’t live with her. Well, I also like to think that I was the kindest child and definitely the only one who understood her as a woman. When I told her I wanted to go to Japan and that I’d need her help, she didn’t ask me why, she just nodded and smiled a bit, asked how she can help and proceeded with the perfect Japan story of her in her 20’s, trying to survive in Japan. While my mom is a bit clingy and overprotective of me, she’s the mom who pushed me to try new things while I’m still young. I am infinitely lucky to have lived with two mothers.
Tomorrow, my father and I would be taking Tita to Caloocan where her mother and brother reside. From then on, it will be their responsibility to take care of her. It’s not because we’ve given up on her, but my dad has to go back to the US to earn money for my younger brother and expenses for the house and Tita’s needs, while it’s been too long since I’ve been home. I also need to get out and find myself a new job because it won’t be long that my part-time job at home drive me crazy. My mom needs my attention too now that her health is also in the hazard zone with asthma, high blood, and borderline diabetes in the mix. We’ve tried our best to find someone to take care of Tita, but there’s just no one willing. We can hire a private nurse or caretaker, but we just don’t have the funds now to secure one. In the end, we have to pass the responsibility to her other family. It’s gonna be tough, but I hope they show the same kind of love, care, and patience we’ve given to her since. Not because you’re family mean that you’ll be treated like one.
I’ll miss Tita so much. Even in her cognitive-impaired, bed-ridden, diaper-dependent state, I still enjoy her company. I know she has not given up the fight when she can still understand my joke, out of the blue comment on my never-changing weight, and that she’s still prettier than me even without hair. She’s still the same woman I treated as my own mother the moment I met her 20 years ago.
I hope they treat her well, I hope they treat her right. I hope they understand that she’s not stubborn, you just have to find a way around her. I hope they have the patience of a saint because it’s never easy taking care of the sick. I hope they never forget that she’s a woman who loves us all and still craves for attention even if she doesn’t remember how to.
It’s only a matter of days when I’ll go back to my own house in Makati, and I can keep everything behind me. Of course I’ll have to visit Tita once in a while too, and lord knows how much I’d have to teach Jom now that he’d have to live by himself. Nonetheless, I’d have less responsibility and I can go forward to start a new job, some new hobbies, meet my friends more often, spend time with my Mom everyday when I don’t have work, so I should be happier.
At the same time I am not.
I feel like I’m leaving a very important chapter of my life which, despite all it’s bad memories, I have learned to live with. I’m not happy that I’d be separated with my family, and our weekends will never be the same. It won’t be the same when I can simply swing by my Dad’s house to find Tita working her magic in the kitchen, asking me if I’ve eaten something, Jom trying to mask his glee (I know!) that I’ve visited by bickering with me, the only lambingan we know, and then video-calling with dad to share some trivial stories in our lives while trying not to get into each other throat (that’s just the way we are). It’s painful that we can’t go back to those kinds of days anymore, and I feel that it’s too soon. I’m not ready for these kinds of changes at 26, no matter how much one should have learned at that age. I thought we’d have this kind of family drama when I’m in my 40s.
Sometimes I feel that life had not been fair. Although more often, I feel that life, the universe which holds all the answer, might be staging something big for me.
Last year, before all these began, I asked for my life to change. Yes, I said I’m partial to it, however, since my life had been a vicious cycle of disappointments so far, I asked someone to bring me something different. And just when I thought wishes aren’t true, it slaps me in the face with a smelly trout and with a smirk saying, “There ya go, bitch.” But you, whoever you are, I didn’t ask for a disease! SIGH.
Anyhow, I learned a lot from this event like I am such a fucking positive person, nothing can make me cry except my own self-pitying self which I’d purge the minute it’s detected; that I have a serious-non-panicky face even in face of people dying or blood coughing; that I can only tolerate my father to such an extent, and that if we live together for more than 3 months, I’d eventually be in jail for murder; that I prioritize my family more than anything else (yes, even if I get annoyed by my father constantly); and that I’m capable of patience, sacrifice, and small talk with people I need to be acquainted with for help.
Problems of these kinds put things in perspective. It’s hard to appreciate the present fully, but try to do so because you’ll really miss whatever you now enjoy when it’s gone. Appreciate the small things, be grateful for them. Do not mull on the problem and feel sorry for yourself, instead find a way to still find the strength to smile while trying to solve it. Go slowly, steadily and find your way back up.
That’s life. Such is life.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” ― Robert Frost