A belated birthday gathering
What time should we have dinner?” I asked my mom while she was fixing the blue box filled with face masks that we stationed at our terrace.
“Let’s dig in already.”
It was an exceptionally gloomy Thursday and the skies were turning orange. Underneath, fewer people were hustling outside, like how normal weekday rush hours would go. This time, everyone was wearing face masks and face shields. It was odd, yet needed, although while this scenario has been going on for many months now, some people still find it difficult to cope.
A mango cake and sparkly candle were on the table, accompanied by classic Filipino delicacies commonly prepared during birthdays. It was my Tita Myra’s birthday. We were all looking forward to this little celebration, as the same perhaps goes for every family member that would celebrate on their special day.
All of us were waiting for my Tita.
A few minutes after entering the living room, I finally had a glimpse of her. The birthday celebrator was smiling beautifully. I greeted her with a warm and happy birthday.
“Is she your mom?” My classmates back in grade school used to ask this question countless times whenever they saw Tita attend seminars in school. The two of us resemble each other. Until high school, where I fell in love with writing and not with other hobbies, she would guide me in projects I was not very fond of. I grew up and changed when college came, but to her, I was always her little niece for whom she would empty her schedule whenever I asked her to accompany me on errands. I hated doing them alone.
Growing up with her by my side is something I will forever be grateful for.
Every Saturday before the pandemic, I would pick out an outfit before going to anticipated Mass with my family. Then, all dressed up, we’d go straight to our Lola’s house which was just a few blocks away from home. My Tita would be ready by then. Merienda was prepared, and she’d be there waiting, also ready to doll up my hair before Mass. It had always been like that every week. On some other occasions, she would randomly buy accessories and I’d end up liking every single one of them.
“This mango cake tastes good,” I heard someone say. My family started digging in, and our dining table suddenly felt unfamiliar. One seat was saved for the birthday celebrator, but only her old photo was there with us.
She was present in every moment of my life for the past 22 years, but because of this pandemic, I lost my Tita. I lost an amazing person who, alongside being a dear family member to us, also served as a brave frontliner who fearlessly fulfilled her duties up to her last days.
Until now, it is hard to believe that my Tita is already gone from this world. She was there in the future I had envisioned for myself, but now, we only have her smiling photo displayed inside our home. I am left with nothing but unforgettable memories and regrets. This year and moving forward, I have to encounter all of life’s celebrations without her to cheer me on.
“A life with love is a life that’s been lived.” Indeed, as in my Tita Myra’s case.
To my Tita Myra, this one’s for you. I never imagined that doing the thing I like the most can also bring an immeasurable amount of emptiness in my heart. Words bring comfort and at the same time constant pain. I miss you so much, and I sincerely wish for your happiness wherever you may be.
Ana Olabre, 23, currently works as a policy researcher/writer.
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