Monday, August 28, 2006

Requiem

The following is my column for today, August 28, 2006, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.


I had the great privilege of being raised by a grandmother who should have enjoyed her twilight years in more relaxing pursuits than taking up the difficult responsibility of bringing up someone who was a total nerd until high school. I know many others who were in the same situation, although when I was growing up, I believed most of us “lola’s boys” were “adopted” by choice by what I thought were women with an abundance of maternal instincts that needed recipients.

With the growing number of overseas Filipino workers and working parents today, I suspect that there are more and more grandparents out there who are assuming parenting duties in their old age. Being reared by a grandmother can be a blessing—my own grandmother taught me the wondrous gift of reading among many other things. But my grandmother had the means to do it. I don’t think this can be said of many other grandparents in the same situation today.

I was watching television the other night and my heart bled for this old woman, who, at 70 but was still saddled with the responsibility of providing for grandchildren whose parents were in jail. She simply did not have the resources to provide for her grandchildren although she did make up for the lack of it with affection, which sadly, was just not enough.

It is a tragic commentary of the state of our society, particularly since many old people are now being abandoned as well. I am told that there are now a number of homes for the aged sprouting all over the country. I visited one of these homes last December and couldn’t help but weep at the sight of all these old people spending their last years alone and deprived of the affection they rightfully deserve. And to think we used to look down on citizens of other countries who deposited their sick and aging parents in these “homes” rather than care for them. Sad, very sad, indeed.

My grandmother passed away when I was in fourth year high school. But I have always had a soft spot for grandparents, particularly grandmothers; and have been fortunate to be at the receiving end of affection and tutelage from quite a number of them. There is just something about grandmothers and their wisdom and unconditional love, perhaps because they have been there, and therefore do their parenting without performance anxieties.

I lost three grandmothers in quick succession last week. All three were in their nineties already and have lived full lives which somehow lessened, although not totally dulled the pain of losing them.

My Lola Pingping, wife of my mom’s uncle, passed away last week after being bedridden for sometime due to a broken hip caused by a bad fall. She picked me as the beneficiary of her Cocofed membership and gave me my first college scholarship in the eighties (I was a Cocofed scholar for a year before I decided to give it up when I shifted courses and moved to another College which unfortunately was not accredited by Cocofed).

Lola Pingping was a public schoolteacher who was deeply respected in our hometown in Leyte for her religious and socio-civic work. Although she was a frail and soft-spoken woman, Lola Pingping was a pillar of strength in our clan. We will all miss her quiet wisdom and her unassuming ways.

I also lost another grandmother last week. Technically she was an aunt as she was the eldest sister of my dad. But the age gap between them set her apart and she was addressed as mama by everyone else, even by my dad. Mama Peling, as we fondly called her, had a special request for me before she died; and I thought this was her way of reminding me that even if we hardly saw each other, she cared for me deeply.

Both Lola Pingping and Mama Peling were family. But there are people who are not related to us by blood, but who become just as special, perhaps even more so, because we “elect” to have special relationships with them despite the absence of familial ties.

Dr. Minerve Laudico, more popularly known in the community of nongovernment organizations as Lola Ner, passed away last Tuesday. She was 94.

Lola Ner is known in the academic community as the grand old dame of the Centro Escolar University. She was vice president for academic affairs of the university for such a long long time. But her many passions run the whole gamut of socio-civic concerns from antitrafficking of women, to the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, to women’s concerns, to the elderly, etc. One of her daughters intimated to me at the wake that Lola Net sat in the board of close to 80 organizations all throughout her life. If I am not mistaken, she was one of the very first nonelected representatives in Congress. She sat as appointed representative of the elderly long before the party-list system was in place.

I first met Lola Ner 16 years ago when we organized the Remedios AIDS Foundation. Although she was deeply religious, she was also very liberal-minded and had no qualms about giving lectures on the use of condoms, safe sex, and the concerns of people living with HIV/AIDS. She was an imposing presence in the HIV/AIDS prevention community and no one dared argue with her (how does one argue with someone who was open-minded and not prejudiced at 80?). One of my fondest memories of Lola Ner was when we had to choose an executive director of the foundation in the nineties and our choices were whittled down to two people: a woman and a transgender. I expected her to pose an objection to the selection of the transgender, but she held her head high and cast her vote in favor of this individual. The gender was not even an issue to her.

Lola Ner always brought the house down every time she would give a speech on HIV/AIDS prevention as she would preface her talk with the state of her sex life, which she said was nonexistent and therefore, very safe. The fact that she could talk about such delicate matters with a very straight face and at her age was proof of the stuff the woman was made of.

Lola Ner started getting sickly two years ago and had to beg off from being member of the board of trustees of Remedios. But she continued to sit as member of our advisory board and would still attend meetings whenever she could. Watching Lola Ner in peaceful repose made me realize that her passing likewise signaled the end of an era.

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