Lola

My wife and I were browsing through PC Express’s Surplus outlet near Pioneer in Mandaluyong when my mother-in-law informed us that her mother-in-law (my wife’s grandmother, in other words) had passed away.I remember being happy that day, having just found a second-hand Microsoft split-type keyboard with a price tag roughly equivalent to KFC’s meal number 5 with two extra rice, upsized drink, and large coleslaw. Seeing as that they don’t exactly make keyboards like they used to, I was more than pleased.

And then the message came.

***

At first Lola Glecing didn’t like me. I always sat on her favorite rocking chair, for starters. I also think she didn’t want her first granddaughter to deal with the distractions of love at such an early age.

She had this look, see. That’s how I knew.

Things started to turn when my wife dropped hints that perhaps a little old-fashioned persuasion would do the trick. My wife would always tell that they all loved green mangoes, and that was something they’d do together.

Funny how mangoes just happened to be in season when she said that. Two days later, I show up at their house with two baskets of manibalang mangoes.

If my wife is to be believed, my grandmother-in-law told her the next day, “O, Iya, halina’t kumain na tayo ng manggang dala ng iyong irog.”

I never saw her evil eye again.

***

My grandmother-in-law was a chain smoker and a jogging freak before Parkinson’s set in. My wife’s family noticed the signs only after my father-in-law passed away.

Everyone thought it was her arthritic knees but tests would later confirm that Parkinson’s had taken hold. That was in 1993, two years before I would meet my wife and a few days short of her 76th birthday.

First, she had trouble coming down the stairs. Not long after, her family had to move to a one-story bungalow on the outskirts of Parañaque just so she could move around the house. Three years ago she suffered a stroke and she’s been bedridden ever since.

Until a fortnight and a half ago, that is.

***

We were among the first ones to the wake. We waited for the body along with Tito Tony in Room E of the Loyola Chapels along Guadalupe. We passed the time telling stories about the wedding and picking at the roast chicken that we bought from Rustan’s Fresh in Rockwell (two whole roasted chickens for P200, but it’s old chicken and slightly overcooked from all the reheating).

Just before ten the attendant ushered us into the morgue and asked if we wanted to view Lola’s body and check her makeup. She was dressed in white, her pale arms almost blending in with the fabric. They had withered over the course of the disease, and the rest of her body looked just as frail. It was painful just looking at her.

Anyway, she looked like a cadaver. She was one. She was nothing like the Lola Glecing I knew. You could see the resemblance, though. The three of us stood staring at the coffin in silence, looking for small details that the make-up artist could have missed.

Tito Tony broke the silence. “Ba’t mukha siyang lalake?”

Later that night, my wife broke down on the way home. “Wala na akong Lola,” she said, and then the dam broke loose.

***

Until last year, my grandfather-in-law took the chores of caring for my grandmother-in-law. Even if they had enough money to hire a full-time caregiver, he insisted on doing everything for her – changing her diapers, giving her a bath – you name it.

In his day, Lolo Dardo was an aikido instructor and a physical education teacher at FEATI. I think it says something about aikido when you can still take care of yourself and your bedridden wife at 80.

And then he had HIS stroke, and the two have been side by side, albeit on different beds, for the better part of last year.

Poor Lolo.

***

She was smiling that morning. She said she was happy her two sons weren’t arguing over changing her diapers. That was a big thing in itself, actually, since she hadn’t been strong enough to talk for over three months.

Sometime between noon and early afternoon, she passed on, smile glued to her face. Tito Auggie, who had been responsible for nebulizing her, noticed she wasn’t taking in air anymore.

“Tony,” he called out to his brother (who had been out in the yard smoking and talking to Tito Auggie’s wife about how the end was really, really close), “patay na yata ang Nanay.

Alam ko,” Tito Tony replied, albeit with glassy eyes.

Lolo Dardo was asleep when they took out the body. They told him that Lola was in the hospital and the doctors ordered her confined.

***

We came back on Monday just to check on everyone, and my mother-in-law and Tita Yay (Lola Glecing’s only daughter) were there, tending Lola, as it were. We brought the pictures of the wedding (they were pretty) and ran our voices thin laughing about how funny the whole thing was.

It was as if we brought the pictures to Lola and let her in on the fun.

“It’s a good thing you two got married before this happened,” Tita Yay said between outbursts of laughter. “Otherwise we’d have waited another hundred days for the wedding, and then we wouldn’t have gotten married,” my wife replied between her own laughing fits.

“It was as if she waited for the wedding before she left,” I piped. This isn’t really true, but somehow it makes me feel better.

Why is it that weddings and funerals always seem to go together? Is it because after your wedding, the only time you’ll ever be feted at a church is when you die?

***

Later on some of my wife’s more distant relatives came in to see Lola, and they all spoke of family politics, my late father-in-law, and very little about Lola.

They came as they left, and by midnight it was just my wife, my mother-in-law, and I.

“They’re burying her on Thursday,” my mother-in-law said, her tone more hushed than the near-giggle it was not much earlier. “Are you coming?”

“We can’t,” my wife cut me before I could answer. “We’ve got a seminar at the Ateneo. We can’t miss it.”

“Just try to see if you can make it. You’ll be here for the mass tomorrow, though?” My mother-in-law’s disappointment was pretty clear.

“I can, but Kiko can’t,” my wife, the authority on me, said. “He has work. I’ll pass by after the seminar. Just so you’ll feel better, we’ll leave the wedding pictures with you and I’ll pick them up tomorrow.”

As with all plans, the fit hit the shan when push came to shove. The seminar at the Ateneo went past its schedule, and my wife missed her mass, and I reported late for work.

We never got to say goodbye to Lola, until now.

###############
Gliceria Medina Buzeta joined her Creator May 31, 2003 after a lingering illness. She was 83. She is survived by her husband Gerardo, children Yay, Andrew (+), Tony, and Auggie, their spouses, and their children.

She will be missed.

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