I’m writing this letter because Manang asked me to. I initially laughed at the idea—writing to the dead—until it hit me one night that it’s been more than 12 years since we last talked. So here goes.
Forgive me, I can’t recall exactly when we last talked. But I remember the last time you looked at me in the most motherly way possible. Looking pale, you were in front of the mirror and I was behind you, holding a Happy Meal toy you bought me when you were still healthy.
You observed how your body had become so frail in just a month, and then your gaze shifted to the image of me playing, looking concerned. I gave you a weak smile. I was only eight then, but I understood what your stare meant.
When you saw your reflection in the mirror, I knew you were thinking about life—not yours, but your children’s. You knew your fate; the doctor had confirmed that it was colon cancer. Everyone knew, except me.
Probably because I was too young, and you were wondering how I’d grow up without you—who would care for me when I get sick, how I’d cope with failure if it happened. I knew you wanted to be the one cheering me up all the way.
I saw how you put up a brave front each day just so I wouldn’t see you in pain. But I knew and felt that you needed us to be strong as a family. We did, because of you. We prayed, and at one point I wished for a miracle.
Christmas of 2002, I wrote you a letter. I scribbled in my awkward grade-school penmanship: “Get well soon, Mama. I love you.”
You cried, and I wiped your tears and asked you to live longer. Long enough for you to see all of us grown. Long enough for you to see us become what we wanted to be. Long enough for you to see your grandchildren, to nurse them the way you nursed us, and to take them to school every day. You could’ve lived for more years, but you knew you couldn’t. And maybe that’s why you cried that night when I handed you my letter. That was your last Christmas.
More than a decade has passed, and many things have changed. The three of us—Toto, Manang and I—have jobs now, and the two of them have their own families. You should see your adorable grandchildren. As for me, I’m still a little lost in the real world, confused even about what I want to become.
I haven’t settled down yet, haven’t achieved anything big yet. I’m holding on to a job that can at least pay the rent. I wonder if I’d ever become a journalist, and I’m curious what advice you’d give me if we get to talk heart-to-heart—you know, the mother-and-son way. But I didn’t write this letter because of that. I wrote it because I think, we think, that Papa needs you now.
You should be proud of him. He took care of us, and filled the void in our hearts when you passed away. He struggled from one job to another, so he could feed us, so he could put us through school. He did a terrific job. We saw what he had to go through all those years without you. We saw him weeping, we saw him worried, we saw him during his moments of weakness.
I remember one time when he hugged me tight, with damp eyes, and said how hard it was for him if he couldn’t provide for all our needs, and how badly he wanted to see me graduate college. You should have seen the look in his eyes when each of us received our college diploma. It was his moment of glory, a single parent’s greatest achievement. I knew that if you were here, you would’ve cooked us a celebratory dinner, to show how proud you were. You were that kind of mother.
Papa’s getting older, and becoming weaker each day. I know you’ve been gone for a long time, but at some random point in our daily musings, the thought of you would emerge, especially every time we see Papa in sadness.
Sometimes Manang would insert you in our conversation whenever I got home, recalling some happy memories, but mostly we would end up in silence. We’d like to believe it was your way of making your presence felt during our hard times. We’d like to believe that you’re still here with us, a mother we can talk with, who wakes us up in the morning, who cooks our favorite food because she knows we had a bad day at work. Boy, how we wish we still have you.
And because Papa’s becoming sadder each day, my sister told me to write a letter to you. I asked her why, or if she was kidding. But she said she just wanted to cheer up Papa. Because maybe the recollection of these memories will enliven his soul a little. Maybe it will help bring some sunshine, some hope, that things will be better than they are now for him.
This letter is our way to cheer him up, our way where you can both communicate, husband and wife, in between these lines, our way of letting you know that we always wish for his happiness. We also want to assure you that we’ll always be there for him, the way you two are always with us and for us.
We miss you big-time.
Nicole A. Villavecer, 21, is “an aspiring writer from Bacolod City who is still searching for his space in the world.”
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