23 July 2011
It's uncanny, how my visits with Mafe have been so well-timed. When I flew in for a weekend in May to use an air ticket that was about to expire, I was the only guest. Mafe was ailing. She had had a bad night and she didn't want to eat.
When I came in, she greeted me with a smile and asked what I was doing in Davao. Did I have a meeting to attend? I said no, I came to see her. Her face crumpled as if to cry, and she just said, "Kayo talagang mga pamangkin ko..."
She lay in her bed, weak from hunger, but refusing to take anything in except Coke and some lugaw. I sat beside her bed and asked if she was depressed. She thought about it and said, maybe. But when I asked her if she was the kind of woman who would just wither away because her husband has died, she said defiantly, of course not. She had a life to live.
We had lunch in her room as we watched the video of the mass and eulogies for Tito Chito in Manila two weeks earlier. I said I didn't realize how much he had done until the heard the eulogies that finally connected the dots in my memory of the stories he used to tell me about martial law, the military, the RAM, Cory Aquino and governance. Mafe said she too didn't really know what he was doing and the eulogies were new to her as well.
She got up soon after and we moved to Tito Chito's room where his yellow ceramic urn was displayed amid candles and flowers. On his bed was the Legion of Honor Award he received posthumously from President Noynoy Aquino for his exemplary service to country. WE talked about Tito Chito a lot.
Mafe ordered Halo Halo and sandwiches from Foping's and we chatted there with Gina, Ann Marie and Pia. George passed by show her the new tombstones he had made for Lolo and Lola's graves in Eden.
Then Mafe said it as time to go down to the living room, as Mike would be around soon. I held her hand as we went down the stairs. We then went straight for the couch where she lay down propped on pillows. I sat by her feet, massaging her legs which looked remarkably like my Mom's, as we talked like women, about our lives, loves, joys, heartaches, disappointments and dreams. Mafe shared her feelings openly, not mincing words, not leaving out painful details, but managing to be philosophical and smile all the way. She was in fact, matter-of-fact, not angry, bitter or cynical.
She was at peace with herself. And now that a part of her life was over, she looked forward to living the rest of her life in peace, doing what she loved most in the way she wanted.
We sat there for several hours, thick as thieves, talking in whispers about the trauma of past events, much of which we had already shared before, but she seemed to need to spill it out one more time, as some form of catharsis. Then she said, it was time to walk. Mike was coming and he would ask her if she had walked. I held her hand as we took the walkway between home base and Mike's house, chatting away as we walked, slowly, deliberately. When we got to the end of the walkway, she said she was tired and we sat down to rest. Then we walked again, this time a shorter distance. She said she was tired and rested at a round table, in the shadow of large blown up photos of Tito Chito displayed in the Bulwagan. Our story-telling went on until she stood up to go back go her couch where she again laid down.
At dinner, she sat with us at the big table but she did not touch her food and after a few minutes, she went back to the couch. She needed to rest. But we continued to talk. I left her at around nine pm, promising to see her again the following morning.
I went back at 9 AM after having breakfast with Gina, Mike and Gauss in the other house. Mike told me that my visit seemed to have done Mafe a lot of good. Whatever it was we talked about, it made her more energetic than she had been in a while. Mafe and I talked until 11 when she called everyone to lunch, because I had to leave the house by 12 to catch my flight home.
It was such a satisfying visit, so private and intimate. But when I left, I had a sinking feeling that it would not happen again. I was truly blessed because two days later, she was hospitalized for water in her lungs. And it's been downhill since then.
I went back in June with my siblings when Mike sounded the call that Mafe's health had taken a turn for the worse. She was having difficulty breathing on her own. She was intubated and in a makeshift ICU and all we could do was blow her kisses from behind a glass door. It was painful seeing her looking so uncomfortable and helpless, but she was still fiesty, resisting the infernal tube down her throat, and finally getting her demand met to have it removed in favor of a tracheotomy.
I had planned to see her in July but Lory dissuaded me saying that Mike and family needed the space to be with Mafe and to grief over their impending loss. So I dropped my plan until Gina called to say Mike said I should come.
I arrived on a Wednesday evening, saw Mafe from behind the glass door of her sterile sick room in home base, and broke down. This was not going to be easy. Visits with her were being regulated and I did not expect to be with her longer than five minutes a day. But again, I was blessed. After some visitors left on Thursday afternoon and the last one left on Friday, I was given practically free access to her.
The first time I went in on Thursday afternoon, I forgot to wear a mask. Mafe was restless and I could find nothing to say to her. I held her hand and told her I couldn't keep away and that I loved her. I sang her some old songs then I told the nurses to put on some music, because what is Mafe without music? She seemed to recognize me and she asked for Pia. Pia was still sick, Bebot told her. She'll come back when she is well. When I left the room, I broke down again.
On Friday morning, I went to Home Base bright and early, slipped into Mafe's room and held her hand for around 30 minutes, kissing it and holding it to my cheek. Later that morning, chatting with Mike, he told me about a type-written manuscript that Mafe had given him last year in San Francisco, urging him to read it. He didn't know its provenance but he said he read it on the plane back to Manila and he was quite impressed by it. I recognized the now-yellowed typewritten manuscript. Mafe had given me a set many years back but I barely read it.
It was a transcript of her conversations with Harry, her spirit guide and liaison with God. Sometime in the Seventies, through me, she met a group of women that was into 'psychism', a practice of meditation that I didn't understand, and this document of conversations with Harry, was the result of her practice. I browsed through it and realized that it contained Mafe's core beliefs, the basis of her spirituality. Excited, I asked Mike if I could read it to her. He told me to go ahead.
I showed Mafe the manuscript, asking if she recognized it. Her eyes lit up. I asked if she wanted me to read some of it to her. She raised an eyebrow in assent. Holding her hand, I began to read entries about love, pain, friendship, prayer, sharing God and carrying one's cross. She was agitated and began to stir, wanting to talk. I heard her struggle to say, "Ma...Ma..." I aksed, "Do you want Mike? I'll go get Mike." But she tightened her hold on my hand, indicating that I stay. The she cried, out loud, with a hoarse voice that came from deep in her being, "Have mercy!" And then she said it again, loud and clear, "Have mercy!"
When she calmed down, I asked if I should continue reading and she nodded. I read until she fell asleep. I loosened my hand from her grip and went out to look for Mike. Mike told me I was an instrument, and perhaps I was. Mafe seemed to be thirsting for Harry's guidance.
That afternoon, I went in with Pia, who was now pronounced well. I said, "Maf, look who's here. Miss na miss ka na nya kasi wala nang sumisigaw sa kanya." Mafe's eyes lit up and she gave us a half-smile. I sang her another song, 'Anima Cristi', my favorite prayer that I told her I prayed for her.
On Saturday morning, she was having a good day. She was awake and responsive, smiling a lot and winking. I told her about my realization that I had become my mother, her Ate, who seemed to be telling me what to do. I asked if I could sing her another song, this time, from Lory, who asked me to look up the words of 'Stay with me', the theme from The Cardinal, and sing it to her. My voice broke, but she didn't seem to mind.
To break the silence that followed, I told her I had another song for her, 'All of Me', which Pia said, was her favorite. This made her smile. Then I asked her if she wanted me to read more from Harry and she nodded. As I read to her, she fell asleep.
I sat there for a long time, holding her hand, kissing it, and just looking at her face, so peaceful in repose. She looked like a Misa. I saw my Mom in her stately brow. When she woke up, which was often, I chattered away. I told her that many people had texted, sending their love: June Lopez (wide smile), Mila Reyes (nod), Surf Reyes (nod), Willie Cruz (wide smile); Greg (eyes tightly closed); Poch Lozano (nod). Even my ex sends prayers, I added. To this, she gave me a wide conspiratorial grin.
I have not introduced anyone to Mafe who did not end up loving her.
I went back in later with Pia and we reminisced about my childhood when I thought she was a movie star. I wanted to grow up to be like her -- pretty, sexy, a good dresser, and so desirable. She had many admirers who came to visit her at home. Mafe seemed to enjoy our banter, following us with her eyes. I also told her that Gary had been calling Lory, asking about her, sending messages of love and prayers. She held my hand tightly and closed her eyes tight as well.
I told her I was leaving for Manila that afternoon, that I loved her and that I would continue to pray for her and with her. I thanked her for the love and everything she'd done for me -- the caring, the pleasure of her company, the many fun times, the secrets we shared, and when she helped me out in times of trouble. I told her I loved her and no one came close. I left knowing I would not see her alive again.
I have learned that since I left, she has became less communicative, that her system has begun to shut down. I thank God for the privilege of these timely and meaningful private visits with Mafe.
I already miss her, my Mafe, whom I will forever be grateful to for teaching me how to love well, and how to give unconditionally, with all my heart.