(Note: No wonder the day started badly. First, there was a notable lack of buses plying EDSA. Second, the line at the Ayala jeepney terminal was horrendous. Third, Ayala Avenue from Makati Avenue to Paseo de Roxas was closed to traffic the entire working day. Fourth, got a not-so-cheery email from client. Fifth, because of the heat, I sweated profusely, and I smelled. These were portent of the news that greeted me on my way home.)
The last time I saw my aunt was during my cousin’s wedding a month ago. I was the backup photographer, and she was one of the principal sponsors. She was added to the entourage at the insistence of her sister (my cousin’s mother), since she had never been a ninang at a wedding. Back then, we already knew her life in this world was near its end. The picture is at my hard drive; I am not sure if the family will use it as a blown up image for the wake, or use the official one, taken at the same wedding. I am looking at it now. She was gaunt and thin, the dress she was wearing was twice her size. She could not eat that much, and she slept less.
I was busy attending to some things during WordCamp 2008 when I got a text message from a cousin, a message that was devastating and at the same time uncalled for. I was so incensed by the message I called up my mother, first to relay the news, then to rant against my cousin’s tasteless remark. After the call, it was almost lunch, so I went to the designated lunch distribution area and helped out in giving out lunch. I had decided to skip the afterparty; afterall, it was a long and tiring day.
My aunt was diagnosed with stage 5 renal failure. Dialysis was required, and kidney transplant was recommended. She chose not to undergo any. She resisted the news of impending death; she said she wanted to underdo dialysis. The cost and the procedure itself made her change her mind. Right now, I am wondering if our family made the right decision; we could have overruled her and have her undergo dialysis. But it would be a stress in everyone’s finances, and we had to respect her decision. I still wonder; it is too late.
Maybe we should have paid heed to the signs. Before WordCamp, her weight loss was alarming, which she attributed to poor appetite. We should have made her undergo a checkup. As we had no idea of the signs, we just attributed it to poor appetite; she wasn’t really a big eater, preferring to help in the kitchen instead of enjoying the food.
When she was diagnosed, it was already too late. She was given six months to live. She lasted nine months.
In our family, we have our share of old bachelors and old maids. On my mother’s side, I have an old bachelor uncle and an old maid aunt. On my father’s side, I had an old maid aunt. I used to wonder how they live their life. It must be lonely, I thought. I still think it is.
My aunt was always there during time of need. When someone was confined at the hospital, she would always be one of those who’d stay for the night. When someone needed to see a doctor, she would be the one to accompany that person. She took care of her nephews and nieces when their parents were away or busy.
She had no permanent home; for most of her life, she lived with her mother. When my grandmother was alive, she was the one who took care of her (before my grandmother was confined to the hospital). When her mother passed away, she lived the life of a transient. For several months, she stayed at a relative’s house. She graced our home for several weeks. She took care of her brother’s son, she took care of her niece’s sons (her grandsons).
Right now, I feel so ungrateful. Here was a woman who devoted her life to help her relatives (including me), but what did we do? I still wonder; but it is too late.
As I left after my cousin’s wedding, I had no idea it would be the last time I’d see her alive. If I knew, I would have hugged her. If I knew, I would have talked to her more. If I knew, I would have at least made her smile. But it is too late.
Sometimes, a lingering illness can be therapeutic. The grieving was so long, it was no longer painful when the inevitable end comes. Still, you cannot help but grieve, not only about the loss, but what could have been. If there is one lesson I should have learned from my grandmother’s death (who also suffered from a lingering illness), it is to treasure every minute you have. For when a loved one passes away, you can never turn back time. You can remember, but memories bring sadness aside from happiness.
I guess I should remember that lesson.
Basilisa Salvador Bernardo
January 9, 1959- May 25, 2009