She looked peaceful, but unnatural. I wasn’t used to seeing her so still. I snuggled beside her on the hospital bed, and tried to breathe in her comforting scent. I rubbed her arms with a prayer for her life force to return. It felt so unreal. Up until that point, I had lived a somewhat “sheltered” life, and Mom’s nurturing love was like an enormous bubblewrap that shielded me from the outside world. Six months pregnant, I was looking forward to giving birth to my firstborn with my Mom beside me. I wasn’t ready to let her go just yet. I read somewhere that some comatose patients can still hear even if they can’t respond. Selfishly, I whispered to her: “Mom, you promised you’d be there when I give birth. Please be there. I need you.”
My birthday wish granted
Every year, for some reason that I do not yet comprehend (but I am always grateful for), YHVH grants me my birthday wishes. In 2006, all I wished for was for Mom to wake up from her coma, and for that awful feeding tube on her neck to be taken out. True enough, Mom DID wake up on July 29, on my younger brother’s birthday — and she was off the feeding tube in time for my birthday a few days later. It was a miracle! We witnessed the God-given strength of a mother’s love for her children.
Fast forward to about 3 months later, Mom held my firstborn for the first time, and said: “Oy, thank God — he inherited my nose bridge!” Even the midwife laughed with us.
While I was in labor, I kept asking Mom if she was okay. After all, she was in a coma just a few months back, and yet the only symptom we could see was some short term memory loss, and occasional headaches or dizziness. I asked her to sleep in the recovery room with me after I gave birth. She must have felt weak at times, as I would notice her closing her eyes as if in pain… But she never complained about it, and would “shush” me if I expressed my worries for her. She told me to just rest and focus on breastfeeding her grandchild.
In the weeks that followed, she would tell me that her feet were a little sore at night… so I would give her foot massages, while she held my newborn in her arms. Each time I held her feet, I knew that it was a miracle that she was with me. How I wished those moments would last longer than they did.
My mother endured a lot of pain, just to keep her promise to me. Those nine (9) extra months given to her were a gift to us – and it was just enough time for her to help and guide me, a new mother. She taught me everything she could about caring for a newborn, and parenting in a changing world.
Her memory loss began to occur more often, so she told me to start writing stuff down for her on notepads. She even wanted me to buy her a video camera so she could record everything, but at that time, Digital-8 cameras were too expensive. I think video blogging was originally her concept.
Mom was frustrated and scared when she began losing the ability to remember things. There were days she was afraid to sleep, because she knew she would forget things in the morning. So, my Dad made his own version of “50 First Dates” just to help update Mom every time she woke up: he lined the walls of their room with pictures and notes to help her remember things like her medication schedule, or the faces and names of her children and grandchildren.
Love can reach you, no matter how far
Whenever I remember those last few months with her, I am overcome with emotion. There was even a time when her siblings came from all over the country just to visit her, probably a week before she died. It was a joyful reunion, and even though we knew it might be the last time they would be with her, no one said it aloud. Mom was their “glue” so to speak. As the middle child of 11 siblings, she was the peacemaker who did her best to be kind and loving to all of her brothers and sisters.
When the time came for her to finally return to our Creator, I was a hundred miles away for a church conference, so I wasn’t beside her to talk her into staying.
In the morning of May 4, 2007, I called my sister up to get an update about Mom’s scheduled dialysis. They were already at the hospital, and had I known it would be my last conversation with Mom, I would have lingered. Whenever I miss her, I replay our conversation in my head:
Me: “Hi Mom, how are you feeling today? It’s me, your Bitoon. I miss you po. I’m in Baguio for the Women’s Conference, and your friends are here looking for you, they all send you their regards po.”
Mom (breathing fast, speaking slow): “Oh okay…” [silence]
Me: “Mom, I’ll be back there in a few days, ok? What do you want me to bring home for you – Strawberry or Ube Jam?”
Mom: “Ube…” [heavy breathing]
Me: “Ok! Palakas po kayo ha (Please be strong), we are praying for you —”
Mom: “I LOVE YOU!” [she interrupted my rambling with a loud voice, which rarely happened so it startled me.]
Me: “I love you too, Mom. See you soon!”
Then my sister came on the phone, and told me Mom had to rest for awhile because the nurse was going to check her blood pressure.
A few hours later, everyone was having lunch and my sister sent me an SMS: “Pray for mom. Docs trying to revive her.”
I was distraught, panic rising up to my throat. With my 6-month-old son strapped to me, I looked for a quiet corner to pray in, but there were people everywhere. I went back to the half-empty conference hall, and thankfully the A/V control booth was empty. After securing my baby on an empty chair, I tried to pray. I couldn’t think, so I just mostly cried.
Then, a strange thing happened. While I was stifling my sobs, begging Father God to revive my Mom in the hospital — my six-month-old baby reached for my face, and began to touch my tear-filled cheeks. He couldn’t speak yet, but it was as if he was trying to give me comfort, and his eyes were full of empathy that I had never before seen in any baby or child. At that moment, I felt a sense of calm and peace wash over me, which allowed me to pray, “Thy will be done, Lord.”
Taking a deep breath, I stood up, picked up my baby, and went to look for my husband. I was on the third floor of the building, and from a window I saw him outside, busy helping the conference organizers by taking official photos of them in the backyard garden. I wasn’t ready to mingle with the laughing and happy women, so I went to the front yard instead. I bumped into our good friend and Kuya (big brother) Orly, and so I asked him if I could borrow the keys to the church van. He must’ve seen my puffy eyes because he just quickly handed me the keys without asking why (if you’re reading this Kuya O: thank you again, you are a life-saver).
Quickly I went out of the crowded building, and walked uphill to the parking lot with my baby strapped to me. Because of the cold Baguio weather, I had a shawl wrapped around me and baby. When I finally arrived in front of the van, I felt a strong wind coming up, and heard a loud rustling of leaves from the trees below. I looked down at the valley and saw treetops swaying in a circle, and thought it might be a small whirlwind. The whirlwind continued upward towards me, and it became so strong that my shawl fell off, landing on my feet. The wind circled around me for about five seconds, and then it just went up, in a whoosh. The rustling of leaves suddenly stopped, and there was just – stillness.
When I looked down at the shawl on my feet, my baby touched my cheeks again, and that’s when I knew: Mom was gone.
My knees buckled, I felt like wailing out loud, but I don’t remember if I did. I couldn’t hold back the sobs anymore. Somehow my hands were able to open the doors and I got inside the van, hugging my son and praying as I waited for my sister’s call. After what seemed like forever (but maybe just a half hour), my phone rang. It was Dad on the other line.
“Bi, is Arnz there?” he said.
“He’s not here, Dad, but you can talk to me po,” I replied.
He breathed deeply and almost choked, “Your Mom has gone to sleep…” He couldn’t continue.
“What time was it po?” I asked after what seemed a minute of teary silence.
“About half an hour ago. Your Mama said she was in pain, and she felt she couldn’t undergo the dialysis. I asked her to try it, but I told her it’s also okay if she wanted to rest, and so I kissed her…
“But if I had known it would be our last kiss, I would have kissed her longer.”
I closed my eyes and tried to picture the moment Dad tried to describe. Then I remembered the whirlwind a half hour ago. I’d like to think it was my Mom, carried on wings of angels, giving me a goodbye hug.
Dad and I prayed together, and gave thanks to the Giver of Life. The conference was wrapping up that afternoon, so I told him we’d go home to Batangas immediately afterward. He gave me permission to share the news with Mom’s friends who were there.
On my way back to the plenary hall, my husband found me, and I told him what happened. After taking our baby into his arms, he asked me if I still wanted to accompany the praise and worship singing for that last session. Otherwise, he would go and look for someone else to do it. But seeing that the program was about to start, I told him it was okay. I already prepared for it, and Mom always encouraged us to sing and use our talents for God. She would have wanted me to finish the conference well.
That afternoon, I stepped in front of about 300 women from all over the Philippines, with some delegates from Malaysia, Australia, and the US. From behind the keyboard, I told them about what happened to their friend Perla, and thanked them for their prayers. It was not a coincidence that the song we had prepared to sing that afternoon was “Celebration of Life.”
As we were singing the chorus, it was another miracle that my hands knew which notes to play, because my tear-filled eyes couldn’t see the keyboard anymore.
Let’s celebrate life, let’s sing to Him
Give honor and glory to God above
Let’s celebrate life, let’s sing to Him
Give honor and praise… to our God of Love.
[Note: Happy birthday to my baby brother Rajah. 11 years today since the miracle of Mom waking up from coma!]