Life after life after life

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 17 June 2020

Today is my mother’s 81st birthday and my father’s 20th year of death.

Since June 17, 2000, we have “stopped” celebrating my mother’s birthday as she ordered that date to be remembered more as my father’s birth into heaven.

So many things have happened in our lives as a family, most especially with me as a man and a priest being the eldest.

Yes, I always dread this date, feeling at a loss until now at how to behave or what to say when I come home. There is always a “drama” we have to go through when we get together, with a lot of “dead air” moments during Mass and later at the dinner table.

Though somehow they have lessened in these past 20 years, the sadness is still there.

I thought time heals.

True.

But the pain remains. And the more it gets painful.

Lalong bumabaon, as we say.

With her apos when still able to move freely; Sunday after Mass was always at my father’s gravesite.

Since her 61st birthday, Mamu as she preferred to be called when the apos came, she had “stopped” living because my dad was really her life. We believe her sorrow contributed to her stroke in December 2004.

Growing up until I have become a priest, I have always seen my father preparing coffee and breakfast daily for her. She had in fact forgotten how to cook or learn new dishes because my father was a superb cook — that is why we all have gout in the family.

Most of all, as I would always tell my students before, since childhood until I have become a priest, dad never ate his meals without Mamu at his side or at least to personally tell him to eat because she had gone to a party or some prayer meeting.

Every Sunday after my Masses in a nearby town, I would visit my father’s grave and surely find fresh flowers and candles earlier placed by my mom and sister’s family.

After praying and blessing his gravesite, I would talk to him, telling him, “Dad, there are 365 days in a year. Why did you die on June 17, 2000?”

It took my father more than a year before answering my question.

Yes, he spoke to me in his usual deep, whispering voice I heard from within as I looked down on his grave, “Nick, I died on your mother’s birthday so you would love her more like I have loved her.”

Tears swelled in my eyes and eventually rolled down my cheeks that I almost watered the grass on his gravesite!

It was a very tall order that until now, I really do not know if I have fulfilled.

Mothers are like God

God cannot be everywhere that is why He created mothers.

Jewish saying

Every Thursday I come home to visit Mamu on my day off, as well as during special occasions and gatherings like birthdays of my siblings and pamangkins.

Sometimes I ask myself if I have loved my mom that much as my dad had wanted me to.

This comes strongest to me when going to a sick mother in my parish to anoint with Holy Oil or when presiding at a funeral Mass of a deceased mother; I would listen intently to the “thank you speech” of a son or a daughter and marvel at how great his/her love for the deceased parent.

As a priest, I have always been with so many mothers but not so much with my own mom. But one thing I have experienced since my father died on my mother’s birthday 20 years ago is the life that continues to flow from her very self and presence which flows unto me and spills even up to my parish and community.

My mom as a teenager.

She’s from the “old school” who had taught me a lot about sacrifices, of keeping things in order like telling me after lunch that while resting, I should mop the floor and dust off the jalousies of our windows downstairs. Resting meant doing something worthwhile like removing cobwebs at ceilings; so, you can just imagine what is housecleaning for her!

Another thing I have learned from her is harimunan wherein you try to save little amounts of money with things you may forego like instead of taking tricycle, I walked for three kilometers or instead of buying soda, drink from the water fountain at school.

The only lesson that I have refused to learn from her which I now admit I should have taken into heart is the art of bargaining or asking “tawad” in the “palengke” (market). It is a gift from God I think reserved for mothers.

One important lesson I have learned from Mamu came via a picture I have found in a copy of a Reader’s Digest. I was five years old then while scanning the new copy of my dad’s magazine, I saw the picture of a baby crying so hard after being delivered.

I asked her why the baby was crying and her explanation had stuck into my mind since then that later as a priest I realized it so existentially true! According to her, when a baby is born crying, that means she/he is alive; if the baby does not cry, that means she/he is dead.

So simple yet so deep.

When we cry, we are alive.

And sometimes, to be alive, we have to cry. A lot.

And I believe that is why mothers continue to give life to us despite the passing away of their husband because they are the ones who cry a lot.

Mothers cry in silence, alone because they are the ones who can truly feel the flowing of life, the slipping away of life.

In a few hours I will be coming home and I could already visualize and feel my mother’s crying on her birthday.

As much as possible I hold my tears, praying that in God’s time, we would just be the ones crying so that finally, Mamu would no longer be crying.

But, that’s another thing I dread so very much…I hope not yet that soon because I really do not know how life will be for me and my siblings.

Thank God for all the Mothers who have given and nurtured our lives even in old age.

Thank God for their tears of love and joy for us.

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