The dentist is in. Dr. Marlina Deverala Yulores. Her dedication to her profession was admirable. At the age of 73, Mommy was still practicing.
She was still in her room when I arrived that morning. Gigi, cousin Arnold's wife, called out to her and said " Mommy, you have a surprise visitor!" I could notice how she had become pale and weak. But her spirit was unbroken as I embraced her and asked, "How are you?" With a smile she answered, " Still. As always. I am fine." She does not know. It was agreed upon that no one would tell her. All she ever knew was that she was sick of some sort. Months before that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors said that it has metastasized to her liver and legs.
Everyone wanted her to go on with her normal day. And so it was what she did. After eating breakfast she went at the veranda and watched the activities across the street. Then she took a few steps back and told me that we stay at the clinic and catch up there.
Not for long, a family arrived. A young girl in need of extraction. Mommy then instructed Gigi to call Auntie Nens. Right away when Auntie Nens came she checked on the patient. After explaining to the parent her diagnosis, both Mommy and Auntie Nens put on their lab coats. Gigi, who also doubles as an assistant at the clinic, prepared the necessary instruments. The girl was placid. It took less than 15 minutes for her to get off the chair. And as they left I jokingly said that now is the right time to ask her mother for that ice cream treat. She smiled.
We stayed at the clinic and continued catching up. I talked to them about a few things I learned here in Japan, the culture and the people. Mommy showed me some pictures of a cousin who recently got married. While Auntie Nens talked about her recent visit to Melbourne.
As lunchtime neared, Mommy excused herself and told us she wanted to take a rest. She took her meds and laid on her favorite sofa. From there she watched her noontime show. Then she took her nap. And whenever she felt some pain in her legs she would call Gigi to give her a massage. Occasionally, her son Mark would call and check on her.
After she had taken her nap, we had merienda and were back catching up again. With a pen in my hand I asked her, "Mommy, what was your happiest memory with Papa?" She paused and tried to recall. Then answered, "It was when we were in high school. I can not recall if it was in Cotabato. I was lying on a couch just like this, when suddenly out of nowhere your Papa jumped in on me and tickled me. He tickled and tickled me that I was so tired and was catching my breath." And she laughed. I was amused as well and when I was writing it down she was able to recall another incident. "And here's another one," she smiled, " I was already in Manila living at your Lolo Icong when your Papa visited me. I had a suitor whom I was not impressed with. He gave me chocolates. I was displeased. I did not even want anything from him." She paused. "What your Papa did was he ate all of it! He was laughing and teasing me that if I did not want any of it he would eat all of it, which he did." We both laughed.
I remember the time when my father died. A few people were in his room when I arrived from calling the doctor. I went at the back of the house. Still stunned I clasped my hands and began to pray. My tears started to fall when I asked, "Father God, what will happen to me... where will I go now?" His answer was immediate. It was Mommy, who all along was looking for me when my father's seizures began. She came and embraced me while I was wailing. Her comforting words were, "Don't be afraid. You still have us."
After that I spent two years under her tutelage. Oftentimes I assisted her at the clinic after school hours and mostly during weekends. I even got to know how to properly clean a house from her. She would get mad whenever she saw the sink tiles slimy and filthy. Fortunately for me because that is something I inherited from her. She also have some orchids in the front lawn that I water down every morning. Best of all was when she taught me to cook Paksiw na Isda (Fish Cooked in Vinegar). Mommy was the closest to a mother for me and I will always be grateful to her for teaching me these things that I never got to do when I was in Cebu.
Every family has that aunt to whom children naturally gravitate to. To the Deveralas it was Mommy. Whenever there was a family gathering, she would call and everybody (even from two towns afar) would come. I know for sure that my cousins have their own story to tell about their relationship with Mommy. How she cared for us all. How generous she was. She was the heart of the family.
On my final day in Midsayap, Auntie Nens, Auntie Minda & Auntie Ampy were there to share some moments with Mommy for me to capture and for us to remember. Her last words to me were "You are always welcome here. You have a place here. Here is your family." I was holding back the tears inside the van as I travelled back to Davao. Somehow I knew it was the last time I would see her.
She has left us last November 17. But she will always be in... our hearts, our Mommy forever. We love you, Mommy. We will greatly miss you. Rest well.