SINCE September 26, 1978, I have only loved one woman. No one has ever come close to being the next. She occupies a huge part of my heart, not only because I have great love for her, but more because her love for me is so great that it filled my heart to the brim, overflowing most of the time, but never less or none at all.
On September 10, 2018, the only woman I have ever loved left me and has gone back to her true home in heaven. Although I still have my great love for her, without her and her great love for me left a big hole in my heart. Memories of her great love replaces some space, but it will never replace the love she never ceased to give when she was still alive.
I was born into a very simple family. My father was a driver. He was simple and humble, honest and loyal. My mother was a housewife for most of her married life. She cooked and sold peanut butter when I and my siblings were much younger to help out with earning money for the family of five boys. She was the disciplinarian between the two parents. She had to with five boys, otherwise, she’ll not raise I can say decent kids as what they are today.
This love is called today as tough love, but then, it was just being tough. I did not feel love when I got painful pinches or when I got hit on my legs after a mischief. There was no “debriefing” of the experience then. You are just left to process for yourself, no coaxing, no explaining that it for my own good. I turned out pretty good, so do my other brothers.
If my father was a man of few words, my mother could list down all my faults and mention them like a litany of the saints during a canonization rite. It seemed like the list never ends. She will nag me until I do what she wants me to do. In public places, she rarely scolded me, but she would stare at me sharply with an unspoken message to behave. She did this all the time in church, and if I don’t heed, surely, I’d get some berating after church as soon as we reach home.
As a child when I was still in the early grades, she fetched me from school. She would hear other parents talk about the naughtiest kid in class whose family name is Villanueva, and she pretended not to know that kid in embarrassment. Sometimes, she was asked if I was her grandson. She gave birth to me at age of 43, so as I was growing up, she was more mature than other parents, thus that assumption that I was her grandson. She really did not mind. She’s proud to say that she was my mother.
In high school, my father is back. He went back to driving, but it was his own jeepney. Our life was quite comfortable already, until our father developed cataract which forced us to sell our jeepney to finance primarily the operation to take the cataract off from our father’s eyes. She never gave up on sending me to school in a private school. I later on learned that she’d come to school to sign a promissory note just so I can take the periodic exams, buying her more time to save up and make ways to come up with the tuition fee due.
In college, as a full scholar, there were lesser problems in sending me to school. I would hear her bragging to her friends that I was a scholar of Metrobank Foundation, Inc., and even after I graduated from university, I still heard tell others that I finished college as a scholar. Even if she did not tell me directly, I knew and felt that she was proud of that achievement of mine. It would have been better if I had latin honors that went with it during graduation. Nonetheless, she was proud of me.
As an adult, it was a roller coaster ride. There were many ups and downs, peaks and troughs. She never wavered in her love for me. She was always there to cheer for me in times of success and joy (though subdued and not shown explicitly). But in times of sadness and failures, she never left me. I would see and could feel her disappointment, but she supported me during those times, made me feel more her love.
I and my mother were never very showy of our love for each other. I never said “I love you” aloud, and so did she. It seemed abnormal to others. So I thought she didn’t love me that much, and I never really loved her that much, too. Learning later on about Love Languages, I just realized we just give and receive love differently from others.
I would say just a short phrase, “I’m leaving” on my way out to work, and an “okay” as a reply from her is our parting convo in the morning. We would argue a lot. Sometimes, we would not talk to each other for a few days, but when one talks to the other, it’s as if no altercation happened. That’s just us, she’s a tough cookie, and I have a tough coconut shell.
Going back to graduate school, I excelled somehow, that during graduation I got the Latin honors I never got in college. I felt her pride and joy watching me read the petition for graduation, a privilege given only to the student who got the highest GPA among all graduates of that batch, and coming up on stage to award me the medal for graduating Magna cum laude. It was really my tribute to her for her dedication, support and love for me, no matter what happened in the past.
As I started a new journey in a new found career, she developed a rare illness. On her 80th birthday, she was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism, a disease that is rarely survived for a long time. She needed support to absorb oxygen. She had an oxygen concentrator, a machine which provides her her needed oxygen, and tanks of different sizes just in case the machine encounters challenges.
With the seemingly very slow recovery at first, I heard her say that she keeps on praying but why is it that she’s not getting better. But she never stopped. She prayed and prayed. Amazingly, after a few months, she became better, albeit still with the help of the machine. She was able to attend mass in church again, go to downtown Baguio and walk around.
Until early this year, she just heard mass on TV because she gets dizzy if she’s in a crowd for a long time. She received the Blessed Sacrament every Sunday brought by her friends. She never lost faith.
Somehow, her illness caught up, worsened with her heart getting larger, resulting to other complications. She became weaker, that even walking a short distance exhausted her. Several weeks ago, as she retires for bed that night, she walked from our living room to her bedroom, she suddenly collapsed, but my nephew and I were able to let her breathe deeply, guiding her and helping her.
As she was leaning on me for support, and guiding her breathing doing it myself, she willingly obliged, and followed my lead. After a few minutes, in order to relax her, I was telling stories, and she laughed at my stories, and even threw back funny ones herself. Despite the difficulty in breathing, she still had her humor. We were in front of a full length mirror, watching ourselves giggle and laugh. That was one of my most cherished moments.
I know I could have never been able to let her feel all the love, care and support she gave to me for the less than 40 years of my life with her. But when she got sick, I told myself, I would make her feel my love, care and support, no matter what.
So after that episode, at night, I would watch her sleep. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, I would help her up to use the commode or make her warm milk and a light midnight snack. While she sits on the commode or consume the snack, I would sit with her in her room. Sometimes she would order me to go to sleep, I would pretend to go to sleep but as soon as she’s back sleeping, I’d sit up and watch her. I almost did not sleep, even if I needed to go to work that morning.
I sensed her worry in going to the hospital, but I knew if she did not get that procedure, she would not survive it as well. During the first night in the hospital, we had the same ceremonies. She’d wake up, I helped her. She’d go to sleep, I watch her. But it happened several times that night.
In the morning of the procedure, I laid beside her on the hospital bed. When she wanted to sit up, I showed her a recorded live stream of a Holy Mass in honor of the Virgin Mary on her birthday. We watch it together, but we were not able to finish it because she needed to be brought for ultrasound.
In the late afternoon, after the surgery, she needed more monitoring so she was brought to the ICU. It was very difficult for me to leave her and have limited access to her, but I kept assuring myself, all shall be well.
In the morning of Sunday, I was told of her critical condition. I still put on a brave face when I went to see her in the ICU, encouraging her, cheering her up, but inside, I was crying, dying. I didn’t want to show her that I was worried, or she would give up. I knew I was her anchor.
The visit in the morning of Monday, I was told she was downspiraling. I wanted to use extreme measures just to keep her alive, but I promised that I would not let her suffer more. I refused intubation. I refused the use of a defibrillator. I whispered my message to her. I thanked her, told her I love her, and said sorry for all my faults. I promised her I will take care of myself and my brothers, so she need not worry anymore. And then, I kissed her on the forehead.
I knew this was what she was waiting for ever since. It was so hard to say those words, but I needed to say them and she needed to hear those words. I wasn’t able to hold my tears.
I was crying as I took her rosary that was hanging above her, and let her hold her, squeezed her hand so she can hold the “weapon” she used so often her whole life more tightly. I took the small image of the Sto. Niño and my rosary in my bag. I took her other hand and placed the image of the Sto. Niño, and held my own rosary.
I leaned over, my head on her forehead. I started to pray the rosary and whispering it to her ear. They say, hearing is the last sense that goes when one dies. It was as if time stopped and the nurses and doctors were in slow motion. When I finished the third decade, after the Glory be, Dr. Helenne Brown, whom I grew up with in our neighborhood, informed me that her heart had stopped beating and she’s already gone. I stood up, nodded to the nurse who was pumping the ambubag to stop. I kissed the only woman I ever loved my whole life on the forehead, and whispered one last time, “I LOVE YOU!”