It’s interesting how death doesn’t easily come to your mind. It certainly didn’t with me when I thought of my grandma–nah uh. Nanay, what her grandchildren called her, lived to the fullest every single day. She joined many activities in the community, even organising some of them. She won in a beauty pageant for women her age, proving she was the most awesome grandma in town. She also actively campaigned for her favourite candidates in the past three elections. And she was on top of the latest news and gossip.
Living with Nanay was interesting. In her home, you would be woken up by her yelling, “Denniiiiiiis! Tubig! (Water!)” to one of her household help asking to turn on the switch that would let running water flow into the house. When my little cousins would start picking on the youngest in the group, she would quickly shield her, scold the kids for picking on their cousin, and then scold the youngest for still wanting to play with them even though they always made fun of her. She also loved playing jokes on everyone–once she scared my little brother by turning off the light in the bathroom and then closing the door (he always left the door open when he’s scared), causing him to scream and run outside with soap suds all over his body.
Being her eldest granddaughter, Nanay spoiled me a lot, even when I am all grown up. She never forgot to buy me my favourite snacks when she went out. She defended me from my mom–her daughter–the few times that she saw us arguing. And when my mom made me wash the dishes, I would look at Nanay with puppy dog eyes, and she would volunteer to take my place. Now nobody is going to save me from doing household chores.
Two years ago, Nanay was diagnosed with breast cancer, but after surgery and a couple of months’ radiation treatment, she bounced back to her old self. Even while she was going through this ordeal, I was not scared–I knew she would pull through.
Around two weeks before she died, Nanay slipped on the bathroom floor and fractured her ribs. Mom bought her a walker and, just to heed Nanay‘s request, took her to the hospital where she stayed a few days. But Mom said she was fine and was just being overly dramatic. After Mom threatened that she’s going to leave her if she didn’t stop exaggerating about her condition, Nanay finally agreed to get out of the hospital and go back home. Mom and I had a laugh about this because we thought she would be fine.
In reality, however, she wasn’t. One week after the incident, Mom had to fly back to Nanay‘s hometown because her condition was getting worse. She stopped eating and talking–it turned out she had a stroke. But I did not worry too much; I thought she was okay.
She was definitely not okay, and this time she did not pull through. On the same week that they sent Nanay to the hospital, dad asked us to pack our bags because we are going to visit her that weekend. Looking back, I feel ashamed because instead of being worried, I actually felt inconvenienced. I was so tired from work that I just wanted to sleep until Monday came again; instead I had to drive 10 hours to see my ill grandmother. You may think of me as a terrible person, but in my defense, again, the thought of Nanay dying hasn’t come to mind yet. All throughout the drive to the hospital I thought she was just sleeping, and when we get there she would wake up and we would talk about the ADMU vs. FEU basketball game playing that day.
However, the person I saw on the hospital bed was not the Nanay I knew. The first thing I noticed was that she looked old. Nanay never looked old. Her face looked younger than her actual age–smooth skin, light freckles on her cheeks and nose, and the only lines present were the crow’s-feet around her eyes. But the woman lying on the hospital bed did not look like that. Her skin was dry and more lines were showing.
Also, she wasn’t sleeping soundly like I thought she would be. She was gasping for air, with her eyes closed yet her mouth open, as if she was trying to keep her head above the water. She was lying on her side and her head was tilting up, I can see the extra skin on her neck inflate and deflate–almost like a frog’s–while she gasped for breath. Nanay was suffering.
I tried to hold her and call out, “Nanay, we’re here,” but no words came out. I stood there, holding her arm and couldn’t help but cry. My brothers who stood beside me holding her cried too. We knew that she was in pain, and I felt helpless because I don’t know how she’ll get better. I was not ready to see her looking weak. I was not ready for her to leave us.
But I had no choice but to make peace with the situation. Nanay was in pain, and she was afraid of being in pain ever since she was first diagnosed with cancer. Aside from having a stroke, the doctors also discovered that she had bone cancer in the later stage, and that the cancer cells in her breasts metastasized. Her kidney had failed as well, and her blood was infected, which gave her high fever. I had to accept that it was only a matter of time before she passes away.
Nanay died the next day, on 14th September 2014. She was 70 years old.
She passed away while she was surrounded by her two sons and one daughter, and 3 of her 12 grandchildren. A few hours before she passed, she got to hear her youngest daughter–who was in the US and could not leave until her passport was processed–over the phone. My other little cousins came later, with the second youngest holding a letter for Nanay.
Now that Nanay is gone, her house seemed to be lonelier, bigger, and hollow. It used to be filled with her grandchildren running around and laughing, the household help cleaning and cooking, and visitors dropping by for a chat. Now that house is being occupied by one of her sons, his wife, and two children.
My little cousins definitely miss our Nanay, who always bought them chocolates and made afternoon snacks for them. My little brother, John, showed during her last days and after her death that he does love her, even though they always had their petty pranks and fights. As for me, I will always wish that she was there for me like she always did during my special moments.