There was absolutely no real reason why I could not have stayed with Inay for a few weeks after my father’s funeral, except that I was too wrapped up in my own personal grief and had an irrational fear of staying in the house still full of his presence and memories.
“Tunay namang ako'y mistula ng masisiraan ng bait!”, she would confide in me many months later when I went back home to visit her, recalling her profound grief and loss which she said almost made her lose her mind. She would bolt upright on the bed in the mornings she told me, half-hoping to hear the familiar clang of the front gate signaling my father’s return from early church, clutching a bag of pandesal for them to share. Or wake up in the middle of the afternoon expecting him to hurriedly rush into their room, having once again missed the beginning of their favourite afternoon TV soap, Valiente. But of course he never did again, and the TV remained silent, mutely and blankly staring back at her.
So she sat there on her chair for most of the day, all alone in the room she shared with my father with nothing to sustain her and save her from going over the edge other than her steadfast and resolute faith in God. She prayed, she told me, each time she started missing him; she must have prayed quite a lot those first several months. How many countless rosaries she must have recited for him, to help quiet her turmoil and lull herself to sleep and if only temporarily, to forget her sadness.
During my visits while my father was still alive, we, all three of us would pray the rosary in the early evenings. This is how I first learned to pray the rosary: in Tagalog, the way my mother did. A long, old-fashioned version that took twice the amount of time to finish than normal, that with her own personal devotions afterwards would usually take her right until suppertime to finish.
After Inay died, there was a time when walking down the street I would turn a corner and thoughts of her would suddenly come flooding back. It would hit me so hard that I would have to stop and sit, reeling from the pain of missing her, finally understanding what she must have gone through after my father died. My heart would weep inconsolably, for how could I, her first-born son, her constant companion as I was growing up, not have been there for her in her blackest, deepest hour of need?
I used to go to mass with them, and especially looked forward to turning to them during the part of offering the sign of peace. We would kiss each other on the cheeks and wish each other peace; no other time before or since did I feel closer to both of them than then. Even today when I go to mass and the moment arrives, I still turn to my side and expect them to be standing there, both smiling, offering their cheeks to me. Just before communion, imploring the Lamb of God, I can still almost see Inay, her closed fist lightly thumping her chest, praying. I say the same prayer in Tagalog now, no matter where I am or whatever language the mass is being celebrated, in honour of her memory.
“Kordero ng Diyos na nag-aalis ng kasalanan ng sanlibutan, maawa Ka sa amin.
Kordero ng Diyos na nag-aalis ng kasalanan ng sanlibutan, maawa Ka sa amin.
Kordero ng Diyos na nag-aalis ng kasalanan ng santinakpan, bigyan Mo kami ng kapayapaan.”
“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.”
There is a postscript to this story, which happened soon after my visit with Inay the year after my father died. I had a dream, so vivid and real, that it had stuck with me for the longest time:
I was walking along a street one night and came across a candlelit religious procession in honour of the Blessed Virgin, to whom my mother had a special devotion. My mother was there, right behind the flower-decked open carriage carrying Our Lady. Inay was reciting the rosary, but instead of hearing words, I saw her pulling out of her mouth, strands and strands of rosary beads, made of the most gleaming, creamiest pearls. I ran after her to join her in the procession, but she pushed me ahead of her so I could catch the precious jewels of rubies and diamonds which have started to rain down, falling off Our Lady’s golden mantle.
© August 2007