TODAY, I give way to my grieving friend Delia Balite Fernandez as she writes a tribute to her beloved mother who passed on two weeks ago. Her writeup is a fitting prelude to the celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day which will be a few days from now.
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By: Flordelia A. Balite Fernandez
(The author writes about her mother, Lilia A. Balite, the co-founder of the BIT International College System in Bohol and wife of former Bohol vice governor, lawyer Dionisio D. Balite. Lilia passed on Oct. 14, 2021 at age 79, leaving behind six children, 22 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.)
Who would wish for death to come?
But it was more painful to see Mama suffer, and hardly the mother that I once knew, an effect of the painkillers ploughed or funneled into her system. The powerful painkillers numbed her pain but each increased dosage became more toxic, and took a heavy toll on her body. Over time, her body became a host of nasty illnesses.
Work was her pastime, addiction and obsession. Rest was so foreign a concept to her. Always she was monitoring how things were in our schools (Bohol Institute of Technology now registered as BIT International College), auditing and checking receipts meticulously, sleeping late and waking up early. She refused to see the need for downtime because such time could be spent on something more useful for BIT. When doctors advised her to slow down because her children could be entrusted to do things for her, she confessed, “Doc, wa’a man ko naanad anang dili magtrabaho!”
I would invite her and my father to visit me in the U.S. “Sayang kwarta,” she would say, to be seconded by my father who’d say, “Kamo’y uli diri.” And yes, no matter where life took me, I would come home, to breathe the familiar and cacophonous air of family, and of Bohol. It took so many years for my Cebu-born, Manila-schooled, U.S.-trained husband to understand the importance of this annual ritual. There always was something more important to do in Bohol than sightseeing in America!
She and my father came from humble beginnings. I remember growing up as the firstborn of that unknown couple. Holy Spirit School was beyond our reach financially, and I realized this only in my later years of grade school. She tasked me, the eldest, to queue up at the Treasurer’s Office early morning of the first exam day with promissory letter in hand for that much-needed permission slip so that I and my siblings could take the periodical tests. Her and my father’s decision to put us through at Holy Spirit School despite very limited means, clearly defined their priorities which was the importance of education that encompasses values, etiquette and drive in addition to academic excellence. She and my father inculcated in me the message that material scarcity should not be THE and A problem, but rather how far(ther) our grit can take us beyond our scarcities, disabilities and the mean people around us.
Aware of abject poverty gripping Bohol and it dragging the unfortunate Boholanos down into the abyss of ignorance and illiteracy, she and my father sowed the seeds of education. She and my father put what could have been their desire for material comfort on line to uplift these people out of deprivation, and through education, gave them crutches to walk on and taught them how to walk with dignity. These empowered generations, in their successes, now carry the dreams that she and my father, and now, we, their children, have for Bohol and the future generations.
Through the years, the next generation in my family have endeavored to nurture the aspirations of these people by educating them. In so doing, these people have become seeds of community upliftment and transformation. Indeed, she and my father had done more than enough for so many people even those who were not immediate family. If my father carved the dreams, she put in the cement, the rocks, the gravel, the steel and iron. Hers was the headache to search for funding and means of loan repayment.
Now only a year short of 60, I feel lonely at times thinking that circumstances did not allow me to grow up physically near her all the time. My life evolved differently. It has been a life that allowed me to follow an uncommon trajectory. I followed pathways, maybe too radical, intense or thorough for the unadorned family that I came from. I have this gnawing nostalgia of bygone days when our lives were then yet so simple, when there was no public service nor BIT. But I guess she and my father chose the more impacting and lasting—to be instruments of transformation.
I look again into my heart of hearts. While I grieve for my mother, I take gentle delight in the truth and acceptance that she is no longer in pain, and she can be my Mama again. Just my Mama again, and no more ledgers, receipts, CAs and IOU slips from people. She has metamorphosed, and is now reborn, into the Eternal Light guiding her children and grandchildren, in the paths each one of us has chosen.
There is always a time for everything, and this is now Mama’s time to take rest. I don’t want to wake her up in her sleep. Peaceful and uninterrupted rest is what she truly deserves. Borrowing from Gibran, “in the depth of my hopes and desires lie my silent knowledge of the beyond.” Death has enabled her to return to life, a rebirth into another life, in another dimension.
For me, there is no death; only a change of worlds.