Eternally selfless ‘Lola’
A grandmother is one of the best persons to have in your life. You visit her house for an errand, and you end up eating whatever delicious home-cooked food she insists you eat. You argue with your parents in front of her, and she’s bound to take your side. You get an acne breakout, fail a class, get friendzoned, and she’s likely to have some wise, experience-based advice.
My own Lola is as kind as a human being can get. When my sister and I were kids, she let us toy around with her vinyl records, deck of cards, and typewriter—even if we ended up misplacing a few cards and smearing typewriter-ribbon ink all over the house. She let us sneak out of our afternoon naps, even if that meant having to pacify our mother. Whenever I scraped my knee during those afternoon adventures, she would give only a two-sentence lecture before patiently helping me clean the wound with her go-to agua oxigenada.
As I grew older, Lola never stopped providing me what she could. Throughout my college years, for example, she would discreetly hand me part of her pension—“for cell phone load and other expenses,” she’d say.
In those months when her pension was late in coming, she would sit with me at the dining table and sigh; and then she would tell me stories about her youth, stories from her copy of Our Daily Bread, stories of kings and queens.
We shared a bedroom for a while back then. At night, I would see her praying quietly, rosary beads in hand. Sometimes, the corners of her eyes would be wet with tears.
And she has never, ever failed to offer me food at her house.
Living in a city away from her and her magical house of food, I can’t help but remember Lola every time I turn a corner and see a woman about her age. Older people seem to acquire similar traits in their years—a curl in their speech, a complete brightening of their faces when they smile. Seeing these in other seniors makes me think fondly of my own grandma.
However, the elderly persons navigating Cagayan de Oro’s streets also remind me of her frailty. On some days, it’s an aged woman hunched by a basket she’s carrying; on others, it’s an old man shambling to sell ice cream in the oppressive urban heat.
Unfortunately, it is all too common for our elderly to enter old age still having to fend for themselves and even their families. A Philippine country report on people aged 60 and above noted that more than half—57 percent—of our elderly were still considered gainful workers. The majority of them were involved in farming and fishing, and 10 percent were unskilled workers and laborers.
It’s upsetting to think of aged hands still engaged in labor—hands that once may have soothed a child’s crying, painstakingly prepared meals, or gently treated a child’s wound. These are the hands that now deserve the most comfort and security instead of the harsh daily grind of still trying to make ends meet.
Maybe the promise of comfort and security is why some families choose to put their elderly in nursing homes and residential care. But even that is no guarantee of a better old age. A study on one of the Philippines’ residential facilities found that 86.8 percent of the elderly were abused through active negligence, and 83.6 percent through psychological abuse. This is an even more ruthless way of life for someone who once made sure that we never experience hurt or distress.
Pensioners like my grandmother may be relatively better off, but they’re no strangers to months of lack. Not only do their pensions barely cover their monthly expenses, they are also strained by the delays in pension release every now and then. One possible reason for pension backlogs is the understaffing of local offices; a study indicated that for every 1,000 contributors, the Government Service Insurance System had only 2.01 employees, while the Social Security System had a paltry 0.54.
Lola would sometimes wait an extra month or two before her pension arrived; in between, she would express shame and regret over having to depend on her children for daily sustenance. It’s not so much from a stinging in her pride as from a deep, yet unworkable maternal yearning to be the one to take care of her family. Months like those seemed to add more sighs to her nightly prayers.
On the day I was set to move out to live on my own, Lola approached me and said her pension had not arrived yet. I told her not to worry about it, but she wouldn’t let me go without giving me anything. Then, looking around, she reached for the neatly folded blanket on her bed and insisted that I keep it, bashfully telling me she had nothing else to give.
It’s that kind of selflessness that overwhelms me, especially considering how underserved she is at her age.
And I know there are millions of other grandparents out there who would keep giving their family everything—all the food and the bright afternoons, all the quiet warmth to soothe injuries—if only they were still able to. There are grandparents who would brave the sweltering streets to earn for themselves rather than cause discomfort to their children—aged men and women who would give up what little they have just so they could give their apo cell phone load.
My Lola is now 84. Her pension still keeps getting delayed, and during the days of waiting, she sits on her veranda, watching the scenes on the street in front of her. She brightens up when she sees me coming. She tells me to help myself to the pan de sal on the table, and says she’s sorry there’s nothing else she can offer because her funds have run dry again. I smile and tell her to stop worrying about it—it’s my turn to provide merienda now.
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