She would have been 88 years old last week, but Alzheimer’s took her from me even before her death in 2007.
At first I thought she was just too tired to prepare food the way she used to. She used to cook mechado using fresh tomatoes (instead of tomato paste) and pimenton. I thought it unusual that she’d use catsup. But she did. When asked, she said she had so many of the small packets from fast food delivery. Somewhat alarmed that she had food delivered (even for their dog), I asked my father why. He just shrugged it off and reminded me that even before I reached my teens, she would serve bread and ice cream for dinner when she got too tired or when she had been out longer than she’d expected.
I noticed that the food she cooked no longer tasted the way it used to—often too bland because she’d forget to season it. Soon after, she’d burn one side of the fish she fried while the other side remained raw. I kept telling her to turn down the heat but she never seemed to remembered how! Papa just bought her a new gas range with a rotisserie and I thought that maybe the old Tappan she used for baking so many cakes just did not work the same way.
One time, she said that her new cleaning lady was so nice and that she charged a mere twenty pesos for her services. When I told her that was impossible, she said she gave an additional 5 pesos whenever the chores would require that she stay longer than her usual hours. When she tried buying pandesal with only one peso in her pocket, I really began to worry.
We did not take her to a psychiatrist until she began to bother Papa. I could see that he was having difficulty with her. He had arranged for food delivery service as allowing her to cook became dangerous. She would lose money inside the house, forget where she put things and she’d ask the same question over and over. There were times when I’d find him distraught and he would ask what made her that way.
The general term for her condition was dementia. At first, doctors suspected that she suffered from undetected little strokes that caused her condition. Later though, she had short term memory loss and would remember things that had happened even before I was born. She began to refer to her twin brother and her sisters by the names they were called as children. By then, she had begun to exhibit more symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. I looked it up and began to prepare myself for what I knew was an eventuality.
My brother and my sister-in-law started sending medications for her. As I understood it, it was to slow down the effects of the disease on her functions. I asked my brother to come home while she still had lucid moments. She loved to travel and we thought taking her and Papa to Tagaytay was a good idea. On our way there, my brother sat beside her and was his usual self, telling one joke after another. Our journey began in Quezon City and, somewhere in Laguna, my mother reached over to me and asked to please tell my son to keep quiet. I simply told her, “He’s not mine, he’s yours, Ma, your firstborn!” She took a good look at him and seemed to recognize him, so she just kept quiet the rest of the way.
She was in that condition eight years ago when we left for my husband’s hometown to be with my mother-in-law who was then recuperating from a severe heart ailment. We had intended to spend Christmas there and come back for New Year. The 12-hour commute always took longer when we went by car. Barely two hours after we’d arrived, I got a call saying my father suffered a stroke. Before midnight, we were on our way back to Manila.
I was so lucky to have had cousins who were doctors and lived nearby, so my father was immediately rushed to the hospital. Finding a good room apart from the Intensive Care Unit bed Papa occupied was not a problem. I was able to bring Mama with me for a while. We spent Christmas and New Year at the hospital. Then I found relatives on her side to look after her while Papa was still confined.
“Don’t dead people ever get hungry?”
By the time he was discharged, her condition had already worsened. And when Papa passed away a few months later, she did not seem to understand what was happening around her. Though she could still walk and eat by herself, she had to be bathed and dressed. At his wake, she asked whether I’d fed Papa already. I pointed to his coffin and told her he was gone. “Where did he go?” she asked and when I explained that he had passed, she looked down, as if in deep thought, then quickly asked, “Don’t dead people ever get hungry?”
My father was a USAFFE veteran and was given the usual ceremony accorded soldiers. When the flag that was draped over his coffin was folded and given to Mama, she had a big smile on her face, put it on her chest and in a tone that reminded me of the actress Rufa Mae Quinto, she thanked the soldiers profusely.
Many times, my mother did not know who I was. I was referred to as a generic “anak” when she did remember. We even had a birthday celebration for her and she proudly told those invited that her “anak” baked a cake for her. I read as much as I could about her condition in the two years that followed, but all my mind understood was that her brain would someday shut down her organs one by one. Less than a month before her 82nd birthday, she had a heart attack.
We rushed her to the hospital and as she lay in bed, she smiled while tears rolled down her cheeks. I looked at the faces of the ER doctors, searching for clues as to what they would say. They said she was not in pain, but they took her to another room where they attached monitors. My mind began to process what was happening. I could tell just by looking at their faces that they did not have good news for me, but my heart refused to see it.
As she lost consciousness, I held her in my arms. I said sorry and told her I loved her. I did not let go until the lines on the monitor went flat. That was six years ago. Despite all the preparations I thought I had made, the pain of losing her remains.Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.