(Below is a slightly edited version of a piece that I wrote when my mother, Aida A. Basilio, died just a few days before Christmas five years ago. I just find it fitting to upload and post this essay, which was also published in the Manila Times at around the same period, especially since many of us will be remembering our dead, grateful or otherwise, during the next few days.)
Any piece of gossip regarding anyone’s relatives will always have more entertainment value than the most popular television show.
Whether it’s an unwanted pregnancy, an unpaid debt, or a quadruple heart bypass, the life and times of our dearly beloved blood relations will always prove more interesting than the season ender of CSI: Las Vegas or the latest American Idol.
And this is where reunions can be useful.
Perhaps the only activity which allows relatives to share meals and then criticize each other behind their backs, reunions enable interested parties to either con?rm a piece of information or further in?ame speculation.
Unfortunately, as someone who checks unveri?ed reports, I failed to get the latest buzz regarding my siblings when I recently got the chance.
After all, I was quietly mourning my mother’s recent death.
Her funeral, as it happened, became an extended family reunion of sorts.
Had she been around, she would have been the ?rst to remind everyone that rumor-mongering, a staple of certain sensational newspapers, betrayed an utter lack of breeding.
My mother, if anything, was never one to trade in gossip, always dismissive of news, con?rmed or otherwise, which put any entity in a bad light.
Thus, she was only too dismayed when she realized that her ?rstborn chose to join the media industry, which traf?cked daily in gossip and its manifold con?gurations.
Fortunately, her regret was short-lived.
While Mama intervened in virtually every decision made by members of her family, she nevertheless respected individual choice.
Which explains why I was ?nally allowed to make a living as a deadline-beating keyboard tapper, rather than a pianist or a priest.
Thanks to my mother, I also have been able to get over stage fright early in life, since she was always inclined to show off skills and talents her son never had.
When I was twelve, I sang Panis Angelicus with an aunt, a soprano, in church. Fortunately, the performance was held during Lent, convincing the faithful of a sleepy Bataan town that enduring my rendition was just one of their many acts of penance. (My aunt did well however.)
December of that same year saw me in front of the same audience again, this time, failing to give justice to a Christmas song in Latin the title of which escapes me at the moment.
Similarly, my mother also taught me to be conscious of cleanliness early in life, a lesson which I sometimes forget in my early thirties.
Besides reminding me that the presence of oil and dirt on my face led to the formation of blackheads, she also introduced me to the virtue and value of home-service facial treatments. [See: In Your Face]
While there still is a substantial amount of blackheads on my nose, I am nevertheless ?nicky about keeping my ?ngernails clean, a habit brought about by my mothers almost religious preoccupation with her children’s personal grooming.
For this and many more, including the appreciation for fine Filipino food, I remain thankful to my mother.
But I was too late to show my gratitude.
By the time I arrived last week at a provincial hospital where she was con?ned, she was unable to recognize me in the same way that I failed to recognize her.
Kept alive only by a respirator, her small, frail ?gure was a travesty of the proud and con?dent mother I knew so well.
Mama passed away exactly nine days before Christmas.
Even in death, she was able to teach me one painful lesson: it always pays to show your appreciation for a loved one, even at the risk of embarrassment.
After all, sometimes, it may be too late. [See: Mother: The Podcast]