She looked peaceful, but unnatural. I wasn’t used to seeing her so still. I snuggled up to breathe in her comforting scent, and 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 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.”
Every year, for some reason that I do not yet comprehend (but for which I am always grateful), YHVH grants me my birthday wishes. In 2006, all I wished for was for Mom to wake up, 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 was off the feeding tube in time for my 25th birthday a few days later. It was a miracle, the God-given strength of a mother’s love for her children.
Fast forward to about 3 months later, she held my firstborn for the first time, and said: “Oy, thank God — he inherited my nose bridge!” Even the midwife laughed with us.
Even in labor, I kept asking her if she was okay, because 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 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 rest and focus on breastfeeding her grandchild.
Sometimes at night, she would say her feet were a little sore… to which I would respond by giving her foot massages, while she held the newborn babe in her arms. I knew then that it was a miracle she was with me. How I wished those moments would last longer than they did.
She endured a lot of pain, just to keep her promise to me. Those nine (9) extra months given to my Mom were a gift – and it was just enough time for her to help and guide a newbie to motherhood. She taught me everything she could about caring for a newborn, and parenting in a changing world.
When her memory loss grew worse, 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. I think video blogging was her concept, long before it became cool and affordable.
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 when she awoke. So, my Dad made their own version of “50 First Dates” just to help update her every morning: he lined the walls of their room with pictures and notes to help her remember things like her medication schedule, etc.
Those last few months with her here in this world are so precious, that when I remember them I am overcome with emotion. When the time came for her to finally go home to our Creator, I was a hundred miles away for a church conference, and I wasn’t around to talk her into staying. The morning before Mom passed on, I called my sister up to get an update about Mom’s scheduled dialysis. Whenever I miss her, I replay our conversation in my head.
Me: “Hi Mom, how are you feeling today? I miss you po. I’m in Baguio for the Women’s Conference, and your friends are here, 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: “Palakas po kayo ha, we are praying for you —”
Mom: “I LOVE YOU!” [in a loud voice, which kinda startled me]
Me: “I love you too Mom, see you soon!”
Then my sister came back on the speaker and told me Mom had to rest for awhile because the nurse was going to check her BP.
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. 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. When I had secured 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 and begged Father God to revive my Mom in the hospital, my six-month-old baby – who was seated next to me – 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, carried the baby again, and went to look for my husband. From a window, I saw him outside the building, busy helping the conference organizers by taking official photos of them in the APTS garden. I wasn’t ready to mingle with laughing and happy women. I was glad to find our good friend Kuya Orly, and asked him if I could borrow the keys to the church van. He must’ve seen my puffy eyes because he quickly handed me the keys without asking (if you’re reading this: you are a life-saver, Papa O).
So there I was, walking uphill to the parking lot with my baby strapped to me. Because of the cool Baguio weather, I had a shawl wrapped around me and baby. When I finally arrived in front of the van, I heard a strong wind coming up and 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 wind continued upward towards me, and it became so strong that my shawl fell off, landing on my feet. After about five seconds, the wind felt like it went up in a whoosh. The rustling of leaves 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 as I waited for my sister’s call. After what seemed like forever (but maybe just a half hour), my phone rang and it was Dad on the other line.
“Bi, is Arnz there?” he said.
“He’s not here, Dad, but you can tell 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 told her it’s okay, and 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 might have been 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 day, May 4, 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 at the conference.
On my way back to the session hall, my husband found me and I told him what had happened (it was also his turn to carry the baby). 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.
So I stepped onstage in front of about 300 women from all over the Philippines, and some delegates from Malaysia, Australia, and the US. From behind the keyboard, I told them about what happened to their friend Perla. And it was not a coincidence that the song we had prepared to sing that afternoon was “Celebration of Life.”
When we sang 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!]