THE LAST time she asked me to do something for her was on a Thursday in the fourth week of March. If I had known that it would be our last conversation, I wouldn’t have left home that weekend. It’s true: We realize the value of something only when it is no longer within our reach.
She used to tell us, her five children, that we would be miserable if she died early. We did not believe her. As kids, we minded only our own business. We did not care so much whether she was too tired to do the laundry or she was too lazy to do it. What was important for us was that she prepared meals that tasted better than the ones sold in the “kariton” or by our neighbors.
We did not mind her saying she didn’t have enough money to send us to seminars and competitions out of town. But she always reminded us of the value of continuous learning. At 52, she was still in love with novels and tried her best to learn Facebook Mobile and Messenger. We took it as a sincere statement whenever she said it was okay if we ate all the good food, such as cake, spaghetti, or tinolang manok. But it was not really okay. She just pretended it was.
Months later, Mama was gone. I have learned what she meant when she said we would be miserable. As a mother, she carried the multiple burden of her gender. The first burden was maintaining a home for the family—not as easy a task as it sounds because it includes dusting the furniture, hanging the curtains, keeping the kitchen clean and the toilet comforting. This is relatively routine for women with children; when you are a mother of five, it becomes challenging. A mother needs to maintain not only the emotional foundations of a home but also its more abstract form. It means living harmoniously with family members; less fighting with the husband in front of the children; having enough time to play with the kids when they come home from school; and seeing to it that meals are prepared and shared with a positive attitude and appreciation no matter what kind of food is served.
Mama’s second burden came when the family income was no longer enough for our needs. She juggled the responsibilities of a homemaker and a provider. She worked very hard—staying up until 2 a.m. making ice candy, enduring the heat of cooking peanuts, walking around the town carrying and selling her stuff. She sold almost every product that can be sold—puto cheese, boiled sweet corn, salted and coated peanuts, ice and ice candy, and various direct-selling products such as lotions, perfumes, cosmetics and shoes. She borrowed from every lending agency that you can name, and even from private persons, just to augment the family budget. She always emphasized to us the value of every peso she had in her wallet. It was not just any kind of labor that led us to eat good food, travel to places, and enroll in prestigious universities. It was a mother’s blood and tears.
Mama thought we could not handle the responsibilities she had been carrying. Well, she did raise five tough children and married a resilient husband.
Many people say we have been stronger since Mama’s death. When that’s the only choice you’ve got, what else can you do? When she was still around, she taught us to stand on our feet. We were raised to become independent individuals, such that we know to cook the food we want to eat, how to do our own laundry, how to plant our own vegetables. We know how to get what we want and we know what we deserve. She taught us never to come home crying because a classmate had bullied us. Instead, she said, come home only when you can no longer fight. Thus, we come home crying only during the worst challenges.
But there are times when I get sick and I don’t know what to do. It’s a miserable kind of feeling—not having someone you can call during your worst. Whenever I get frustrated by how my life has turned out, I get this helpless feeling of not having someone to whom you can tell the whole story. Whenever arguments between family members arise, we end up wishing that Mama were still here to make us agree with one another. During special occasions such as birthdays, we would miss her special recipe.
Nobody said it would be easy. Nobody said it would be this hard. Every single day is a struggle to fill the spaces where she used to stand. We try to divert our attention to many other things, keeping ourselves busy in the daily routine of work, school and house. We hide under the sheets at night when all the longing and sadness sink in. Just like Mama, we pretend it is okay when it is really not.
I want to turn back time. I want to go back to the Thursday of that week, to sit beside Mama on her bed, give her iced
Milo, and listen to RMN’s radio drama with her. When she gave us everything she had, I was not able to give her the gift she deserved other than the honor and pride I have brought to the family. I was never able to tell her I loved her more than anything else in the world.
Mama died of leukemia after three years of never admitting she was tired of it. I had all the time in the world to thank her. But I was not able to.
Hercharme D. Demegillo, 22, is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Visayas. She is now among the nonuniformed personnel of the Philippine National Police.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.