I continue to remember my Lola Doring through my mother, whose round visage, pixie cut and dignified stance greatly resemble her. But when I rely on my brain for my own memory of my Lola, the first picture that comes to mind is cheating in a game of Trip to Jerusalem with her.
I knew back then that we already lost — we were standing embarrassingly among the throng of families celebrating Grandparents’ Day in my nursery school. I thought that we were already going back to our table, but Lola tugged on my chubby hands with her own chubby ones and we spun with the players again like we were not yet losers. We continued to dance around the chairs. Though we still did not win the second time around, Lola was able to receive a baby pink rose, and I had a loot bag of candies as our consolation prizes.
It was my mother who broke the news to me years after the incident that what Lola Doring and I did was called cheating, and it was wrong.
“Cheaters never win in life, anak, ah,” Mommy reminded me. “Ginawa lang ’yun ng Lola mo dahil mahal ka n’un at gusto niyang manalo kayo.”
Diabetes had been a part of my grandmother’s life long before I, along with my Lola’s other grandchildren, were in it. When she was still alive, all of our Sundays were automatic visitations to her quaint home in Taguig. Before we ate lunch, Uncle Jojo would take out a syringe, a pack of baby wipes, and a vial of insulin from the buffet table across the Lazy Susan where we were all gathered around, waiting for the “ritual” that would commence our mealtime.
I had to be wide-eyed and so concentrated to observe this quick procedure: the needle went inside Lola’s tummy faster than Uncle Jojo inserted the needle in the rubber lid of the vial. After this, we could already say our graces and then eat the dinuguan that Lola prepared — a special request from me, the seemingly favored granddaughter but only because unlike my other Ususan-born and bred cousins, I lived in Biñan.
“Mamayang merienda, sopas naman na may utak ng baboy,” she would whisper to me as she poured some black sarsa on my white, malatang kanin. In retrospect, I should have uttered “Thank you, Lola” and not just smiled at her, just so she would know that I was not only happy for the sumptuous food, but also grateful for her existence and her cooking skills.
There are so many should-haves that I carry with me when I think about my maternal grandmother and how diabetes and its complications ate her away from us, like children slowly but surely licking their sweet candy with all their tiny might, enjoying the taste of saccharine landing on their taste buds. I should have stayed until the weekend that one summer to spend more time with her, Lolo Mando and my cousins in Taguig. But by Wednesday I was crying and begging for my mother’s physical presence.
I should have asked Lola for her recipes of masabaw na dinuguan (with lots of green papaya), leche flan na may dayap (plus that bittersweet syrup), lutong ibon (more dahon ng oregano, please), and bahay itlog (cholesterol who?), so that I can cook them for Joj, who will never be able to meet our grandparents in this lifetime; or for myself and my future family, so they will be able to understand my great love for preparing and eating food.
I should not have called on the nurse to apply the ointment on the bed sore on Lola’s buttocks, from having been bedridden three years before she died, and should have done it myself. I should not have taken it against Lola, that time when I got scolded by Ninang Mil because I gave her some longganisa. (In my defense, I was unaware that she was prohibited to eat that.) I should not have been selfish and felt bad whenever my mother was in Polymedic as my Lola’s bantay, whenever she was confined for a sudden attack of pneumonia.
I should have seen the look of pain in Lola’s eyes for having a needle go inside of her before she could eat. I should have used all my strength to help carry her from her bed to the chair with a detachable arinola, because the short distance from their room to the door of the bathroom was already so tiresome for her. I should have pushed her wheelchair when she insisted on going out to the mall, despite the risk of contracting a viral disease or getting a wound that would take a longer time to heal than usual. I should have asked my mother about the chubbiness of Lola’s hand that time we cheated in a game of Trip to Jerusalem, so I could have known at an early age that this chubbiness was called edema, one of the many side effects of diabetes, where the hands and feet look like the clinical gloves that my classmates and I would fill up with water after our basic experiments in the laboratory.
But as a child programmed to detect optimism and optimism alone, all I took in was Lola’s smiling face, her mischievous tactics to be able to eat a piece of an Oreo cookie, and her reassuring presence on Sundays after being confined for almost a week or two.
Sometimes I feel like Lola cheated on me, in a sense that she had always chosen to put on a brave face whenever we were all around her, even when she was already in deep agony. After her nap postdialysis, she would wake up, smile and ask how I had been, as if she had not said goodbye to me before going to the dialysis center. I was waiting for her to scream in pain, to utter obscenities to ease the tireless ins and outs of needles in her body during her last weeks in the hospital, but before she lost her sense of consciousness that Saturday night, she was just calm, and even asked for kamatis from me.
What I’ve realized from all these is that I am in no position to demand the actuality of pain from someone feeling it, when it is not mine in the first place. All I can do is say, “I am here to help you whenever you are ready.” I am sure those were not the only times, and I was not the only person, for whom Lola had to feign being okay. That is also something Mommy has in common with her mother, besides her face, preferred hair length, and body structure.
The month of love began for me this year with the news of my mother having an added prescription besides her maintenance for hypertension—Metformin, for two months.
I do not want to lose another person that I love because of diabetes again, so I think to myself that it’s time for a reversal of roles: It’s now my turn to reprimand my mother and say, “Oh ’wag masyadong mag-sweets, nasa lahi natin ang diabetes.”
But she is still my mother, and her words ring of much more experience, wisdom and love than mine. I hope that one day, I will be able to provide for her with no compromise. I will do my best to save money so we can travel together and make her dream pilgrimage to the Holy Land a reality.
But as of writing, I am still a few weeks shy from hopefully graduating from college, and unemployment will follow suit. So whenever I go home and we hear Mass together, I can only hold my mother’s hand as tightly as Lola Doring did that time we cheated in that Trip to Jerusalem game—a gesture now speaking words that I can only write and not utter, for the fear of them being too sweet: I love you, Mommy. We’ll beat our sickness and pain and give them a fair fight, together.
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Chlarine M. Gianan, 20, is a communication arts student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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