in Serious stuff, my friend

Modesta Abella, 99

Nanay is dead.
When her time was up, when she breathed her last, when she ended the business of living and began the business of leaving, she was 99, just two months short of celebrating her 100th birthday, an event that I was looking forward to this year.
What does it mean now that she’s gone?
My uncles—middle-aged, eyebagged, all heavy in the belly, with a faint air of money about them—have kept commentary to a minimum, just like criminals during interrogation after being caught in the act.
One preferred to delve into other topics—the misuse of water resources in the Bataan Peninsula, the fortress built in the middle of nowhere by a Pampanga-based gambling lord—but eventually returning to why Nanay was unable to reach the 100th year milestone.
Another uncle, who turns small talk into a courtroom proceeding, is evasive when his childhood comes up.
Both appear to be afraid of losing it in public since they may bawl like little kids when recounting memories of a mother they all loved dearly.
Which is all perfectly understandable.
Nanay was gentle yet strong, choosing to grieve quietly when her husband died of several complications 16 years ago, and much later, when her eldest child (who happens to be my mother) checked out before her.
Without much fanfare, she was also able to accept that her husband had a child with another woman when he and his girlfriend were much younger.
Nanay had lots of practice in the pain and suffering department.
After all, she endured World War II; stories of her adventures have been lost to time and forgetfulness.
Nanay also ran for mayor of Samal, Bataan twice, perhaps making her the very first woman mayoral candidate of the town, if not the province. She lost both times but no one—at least not me—has heard her express bitterness. (Also deceased, my paternal grandmother was by no means ordinary. Besides raising six kids alone—her husband died of a heart attack at 38 with the youngest still a few months old—she was also reportedly the first female driver in Bataan. When she was in her sixties, she helped faciliate the transport of heavy equipment to Iloilo to assist her youngest son, who, at that time, was in the construction business. All these achievements certainly trump what I have done with my life so far: typing at home in boxer shorts.)
Nanay spoiled my brother and I whenever we stayed at the house in Samal for summer vacation.
Disobeying my mother’s explicit instructions, she offered me coffee for breakfast—and sometimes even during merienda—which she herself prepared just for me (supposedly the favorite grandson having gotten first dibs to be doted on. An older grandchild was born abroad whom they would only see ten years later.)
One night, when I was about eight, I snuggled in bed with Nanay and Tatay, asking her to scratch my back which was peppered with bungang araw.
The last time I saw her, she was unable to recognize the grandson that she sang to sleep that same late summer evening more than three decades ago.
Her mental faculties slowly began to deteriorate right around the time my mother died, struggling—although successfully—to remain lucid whenever the occasion demanded it.
A few months before she passed away, Nanay was seen stretching her two hands out while in bed, apparently reaching for something no one among us knew about. One night, she got out of bed, trying to look for a baby who was crying. (There was none.)
On the evening of April 19, a few minutes after bedtime, she took her leave in what would be a peaceful, graceful death; the death of, among others, the best mayor Samal never had.
Goodbye, Nanay.

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