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I Hurt Too

I’ve always considered myself emotionally strong, having gone through painful loss early on–two brothers who died suddenly and unexpectedly in their 30’s and 50’s, respectively, twenty years apart, and both my parents who suffered and died slowly due to cancer seven years apart. But nothing prepared me for having to comfort my husband and kids because of the sudden death of Nanay, his mother, their grandmother.

My husband has always been the quintessential manly man. I have seen him tear up only on a few occasions and each time was related to his Nanay. The first time was when he related what happened during a major vehicular accident they were involved in and how he had to see her hurt and all bloody as he helped her out of their overturned vehicle. So when he woke me up in the wee hours of the morning and started bawling like a child and talking incoherently, I knew it was because of Nanay. He loved her unconditionally and completely and she was such a big influence and presence in his life. At this time, even if he appears to be collected and strong, I know he still feels lost and bereft.

I had to be the one to tell my children, first that Nanay was in the hospital and they should pray for her… and a few hours after, I had to tell them she was gone. It hurt to see their pain. All I could do was hug them and be there for them. I knew what they were going through. I went through it before. And as much as I want to shield them from this type of pain, I can’t. They responded according to their personalities and ages. My eldest, Jamie, eighteen, cried silently, while she held on to me, and even if she was taller than me and almost as heavy as me, I let her just crumple into me. She had been able to spend the last months with Nanay as she lived at their house while she attended her first year in college. My second daughter, Kristine, ten, just collapsed and cried loudly. She was very close to Nanay, so as expected, the most emotional. My youngest and only son, Lucas, six, just hugged me, not really understanding yet the full import of what was happening but still feeling the sadness…

I almost forgot that I was sad too. I lost my mother ten years ago and Nanay had been my mother on earth from then on. Nanay was the kindest and most doting grandmother to my kids. And she loved my husband. I owe her a lot.

I remember meeting her for the first time when Nestor took me home to meet his family. She was at best aloof, but still respectful. I found out later that she just wasn’t keen on having a relationship with any of the girls that Nestor brought home, because there had been too many. So, it took some time before she warmed up to me. And when she realized her son was going to marry me (and yes, she was in disbelief, and I know it was not really against me, it was more because she never thought her son would ever go the straight and narrow), that was the only time she really allowed me into her life.

I am far from an ideal wife for any guy. I mean, if I had been Nanay, I would have had major doubts. She brought me to the wet market one time and I almost lost consciousness because I was not used to going to the meat and fish section. She would receive calls from Nestor during our early married life and she would dictate to him recipes so he could cook our meals, because, yes, the only dishes I knew how to cook were instant noodles and fried hotdog, spam, corned beef and eggs. When I gave birth to my first child, we moved to her house and she and Tatay helped me take care of Jamie. We would take turns. At first, I got so depressed because I thought then that I didn’t have a maternal bone in my body and at first I resented her for being a natural mother, having raised her children almost single-handedly. After a while, we got into an easy rhythm and each day blended into the next and I found myself having nice chats with her, watching our favorite telenovelas together, and just bonding.

It’s true, Nanay and I were polar opposites. And yet . . . we had a good relationship. I guess she accepted the fact that I was never going to be the domestic diva she was and I stopped feeling like an inadequate mess in her presence. Throughout the twenty years I’ve known her, she had been consistent:

  •  She is very down-to-earth, treating everyone the same, regardless of station in life. She is also fun and quite funny with her quick quips.

  • She is a superwoman. She does all the household chores, manages her store, takes care of the kids and grandkids, and takes care of other people too.

  • Her sari-sari store is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for my kids, and to be honest, for me too. That you can just walk in and get anything from her store is just magical. Every time we visited, “Nanay, chichiria!” would be one of the first things my kids would say. We also get to take home a lot—from bagoong, to softdrinks, to candy, to bigas, to chips., etc.
  • Dinner at her house when we visit always feels like a party. Since she knew we were coming, she would always have fried chicken and sugpo (prawns) on the dining table during meals.
  • Parties in her house are more like fiestas for more people than would actually be partaking, but that is how she is. She would wrap the extra food up and give them to her neighbors.

  • During our parties, she would always pledge to contribute lechon and pansit. For her, pansit in a party is a must!
  • During special days, she would be showered with gifts from her neighbors. She was clearly very popular in their area.
  • Nanay would always be the one “gently reminding” Tatay to give their grandkids their normal “allowance” and when someone has an achievement—a high grade, a certificate—she always stressed on it so Tatay will give more “allowance”
  • Nanay would have very healthy discussions or debates with her kids—and at first I thought it was distressing because they seemed to be fighting, but then afterward, I realized, that’s how they talked and communicated and in the end, there was nothing really personal about it.
  • Nanay gets emotionally and psychologically invested in her kids and her grandkids’s daily lives. When she has kids who fight, she feels it personally. And when the fight involves my husband, Nanay and I always have long talks about it.
  • She worries a lot, and that’s just fine. She would call the house to check if we have arrived safely on our trip from her house. She would call when we go on out of town and overseas trips and make sure we were okay. She can be makulit, but it’s because she is genuinely concerned.
  • When Jamie started living at her house since it was close to Ateneo, Nanay was constantly concerned about Jamie commuting, coming home late, and traveling back to our house on the weekends.
  • She loves it when we let her watch videos of the kids’ events. In the earlier days, she would be an active participant, attending programs, graduations, etc. But for those events she missed, we always took videos and showed her. Oh the light in her eyes and the smile on her face when anything related to her grandkids are shown to her.
  • When Nestor had to undergo surgery because of severe abdominal pains, it was Nanay and I who were together in the hospital. I remember her confronting the doctor, fear very evident in her eyes. “Tapatin nyo na kami doc, mamamatay ba ang anak ko?” While Nestor was in surgery, she and I were silent in our individual prayers and fears, but we were together. Nestor survived the surgery, but I kept that memory because Nanay was able to articulate what I was afraid to ask myself.
  • When Tatay got sick, she had to be strong for him and the family.
  • She is selfless, thinking of others before herself. She didn’t want a fuss made for her, so I believe that if she did feel anything, she tried to manage it herself.
  • She has a big heart, forever helping others and paying it forward, no matter how limited her own resources are. She has helped a lot of people, a lot of her relatives

How do you know when a life is well lived? For me, it’s when you’ve touched hearts and made a difference in other people’s lives.

Nanay Pacita C. Soriano is a housewife in her late seventies. She is a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an auntie, the literal & figurative light & heart of the home, a businesswoman, a tireless supporter of her relatives, everyone’s favorite “Aling Pacing,” a great cook & constant feeder, and a very kind neighbor.

By most standards, she is an ordinary woman, so how can her life compare to more popular people?

It is not the quantity of people’s lives that she has touched that matters. It is the quality of her impact on the people she’s affected. I can only speak for what I know, so I’ll start with Nanay as a mother.

How do you measure the effectiveness of a mother?  Through her children, of course. Look at all of Nanay’s children and you will agree with me that she did a hell of a job raising them very well, even given the constraints imposed by her life and situation at the start. Ate Nita, Edna, Onat, and Liza. And yes, my husband, Nestor.

She gave birth to them, she took care of them, she disciplined them, she nourished them, she loved them. She did everything she could to ensure she could give them the best possible lives.

All of them are all accomplished in their own right. Ate Ellen is a CPA, very successful at what she does and known for her networking skills and the workshops and programs she spearheads. She is everyone’s favorite Ninang.  Edna is a career woman herself and a talented photographer, residing in Canada with her husband, Chris and adorable son, Julian.  Onat is a doctor, focusing on emergency medicine and doing medical missions and even rescue missions in far-flung places. But he is also into electronics and can do to machines what he has studied to do to the human body. Liza is the bubbly mistress of Wyn Funeral Services, a businesswoman in her own right and the woman beside the public servant, her husband Rodel.  And Nestor is the best husband a woman could ever have, and a protective and loving father to our three kids. He is a businessman, a creative guy who can be counted on to finish any project he embarks on with the highest quality. He is also ultra-supportive of my career and domestic limitations.

But all the accomplishments, and all the acquired accolades or wealth, are nothing . . . nothing, when you suddenly lose your mother. I’ve known them for twenty years and I never saw them as vulnerable as they are now. But you know what? Nanay would want you to honor her, express your love for her, and show everyone how much you value her—just like you’re all doing now. But afterward?  She would be ever the realist. She would want you to have your cry, pick up the pieces and go on living.  She would want you to make sure Tatay is well cared for. She would want you to plan out what would happen to her beloved store. She would want you to get together, embrace each other and promise to always be there for each other no matter what—and that also means, no matter what disagreements or petty arguments you may have with each other. Nanay will not stand for her children losing touch with each other. She would want you to continue to be there for each other.  She would want you to continue to love and support each other and the grandkids. If there would be any changes, she would want it to be that you grow closer and more united.

It isn’t easy to survive this kind of loss, but we all have to go through this, some earlier than others. Death is a part of life, and all we could do is to live our lives the best that we could so that in the end,  we would have little or no regrets.

I believe Nanay died happy. She had all her children and grandkids with her. Her first grandkid just turned eighteen, and her kids are at peace with each other.

From my end, I promise you Nanay, I will try my very best to love and nurture and support your son Nestor and your grandkids Jamie, Kristine and Lucas, for as long as I am able. I will try to make sure they are safe and going through the right path.  I will also keep your other kids in my heart, and will treat them as my own flesh-and-blood brother and sisters, and their family, as my family.

I will miss you Nanay. I love you. Farewell, and till we meet again.

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