Nanay

Mother’s Day. A day that the world be celebrating this coming Sunday. Long distance calls will be made (for those who live far away from home), flowers will be delivered, cards will be sent, visitations will be done, and restaurants will be full.

Mother’s Day in fact, is the busiest day for restaurants, at least here in America, but may be the same throughout the world. Perhaps families think that on that day, they would like to give moms a break in the kitchen, so they would dine out. Or perhaps they just wanted to celebrate and give them the attention they all do deserve.

This will be the third Mother’s Day since my mom passed away. Because my mom’s birthday is on the second week of May, so Mother’s Day (every 2nd Sunday of May) and her birthday celebration usually coincide. I will surely miss calling and talking to her.

For my wife, this will be their first Mother’s Day without their mother. She passed away last July. I will also miss calling and talking to my mother-in-law. After all, I am her “favorite” son-in-law. Just don’t tell the other sons-in-law.

For this Mother’s Day, I would like to share a tribute that my wife read on her mother’s funeral last year:

Nanay. Perhaps the first word I uttered. Perhaps the first word I really learned the true meaning of.

I know when I was very young and can barely walk and talk, I would say the word Nanay, and I am assured that I would be fed. I say Nanay, and my thirst would be quenched. I say Nanay, and  I would be safe. I would utter Nanay, and I would be taken care of.

Over the years of my life, the word Nanay has become synonymous to provider, protector, and love.

Now Nanay is gone. Never can I utter the word Nanay again with the same meaning, the same urgency, the same pleading anymore.

But I am glad Nanay had trusted and is now resting in the Lord, who is our true Provider, Protector, and encompass the true meaning of Love.

Goodbye Nanay. We will see you in that Great Morning.

For all of you who still have the chance to celebrate Mother’s Day with your moms, please value and cherish this opportunity, for we don’t know how many more opportunities we are given.

As for me, I would still be celebrating this day with the reigning world’s best mother in the world, at least in my perspective – the mother of my children. I hope there’s table for us and the restaurants are not too full.

For all the nanay in the world, may you have a happy and blessed Mother’s Day!

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“Duyan,” painting by Nestor Leynes

(*Nanay is the Filipino word for mother.)

 

No More Free Concerts

Last week, I took a day off from work, drove a couple of hours, travel more than a hundred miles, just to see a concert.

It was not a concert of one of those pop superstars, like Adele or Lady Gaga. Nor was it a concert of some well-known classical artist like Andrea Bocelli or Yoyo Ma.

It was my daughter’s concert. It was their university’s orchestra performance. And it was their first concert for this school year.

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I have seen my daughter play cello in the orchestra multiple times in the past. From her grade school days, to high school days, and to community orchestra. From the screechy-sound of beginners, to more polished tones of intermediate, to quite advanced.

Though this maybe the best group that she’s been a member so far. After all they were all music majors, both undergraduate and graduate students. As far as I am concern, they can be considered “professional” musicians now.

We knew back then, that when we introduced our little girl to music, that she has a special attachment to it, and we cannot deny the fact that she has a gift for it. So it was no surprise that that was the career path she chose to pursue. Even though honestly, I tried to sway her to a different path.

I know as a parent, we wanted a secure future for our kids. So we prefer professions like engineer, or doctor, or lawyer. But what’s wrong with literature, or arts, or music, if that’s where our child’s passion is? Success should not be gauge only on how much money we can earn, but also on the satisfaction and joy on doing what we love to do.

It was heartwarming to witness that my daughter is getting very skillful on the cello, as well as playing with the orchestra. But playing cello is not even her major. She’s majoring in another instrument. A much larger instrument, the piano. So there will be more concerts and recitals to attend to.

All those years of music lessons are finally paying off. We’re proud as well that our homeschooling “experiment,” (we homeschooled her from kindergarten to high school) was a success. All of our worries that her education was not adequate, were all appeased.

Now, my daughter is not merely surviving, but thriving in college. She even was granted a good scholarship that covers her college tuition, so we only have to pay for her food and dorm. With the cost of college education ever on the rise, ranging from $10,000 per year in state universities (for in-state residents) to $50,000 or more per year in private and more expensive institutions, getting a college degree these days can definitely break the bank.

Back to the concert. Though some of the selection they played were kind of hypnotic to me, I was able to stay awake through the concert. Over all it was fantastic. After the final bow, the audience were up on their feet. The only gripe I have on the concert is that it was not free. Sorry, I’m cheap.

But I get it. It helps support their university’s music program. Besides, the quality of their performance was superb that the concert was even recorded, and maybe aired one of these days on a public radio station. Definitely worth paying for.

So for the first time, I bought a ticket just to see my daughter perform. But I’m OK with that.

I wonder, would I have to pay a more expensive ticket when it’s time for her solo piano performance?

Empty Room

As parents, there are events in our child’s life that are happy moments, that we are proud of and we celebrate.

Events like their first spoken word, or their first step. Or maybe it is their first goal in the kids’ soccer league, or their first medal in the youth swim meet. Or maybe it is their first piano recital or perhaps their first role in their school play.

Or perhaps it is your child’s first visit to the principal’s office. What? Oh my mistake! We defintely are not proud of that, and don’t celebrate that event.

However, there are also events in our child’s life that are supposed to be milestone, but somehow we are sad that that day has come.

One of those events is when they enter college. Especially when the university they are going to is more than a hundred miles away, and that means they are leaving home.

So the day that we are preparing for, and also dreading for, but know that it is coming, has come.

Our little girl is off to college! Where did time go?

my daughter’s school bag evolution: from elementary, to high shcool, and college

As we sent her off to college the other day, I was having some difficulty bringing her stuff and things down the stairs to load in the car. It was not that her stuff was heavy, like her teddy bear. Or maybe a little bit, like her drawer. But it was more so that my heart was heavy. I can’t seem to let go.

We want her to stay home. Perhaps just to be with us for a little longer. But we also know that it is time. Time for her to pursue her chosen career. Time for her to follow her dreams. Time for her to go out there, and make her own mark in this world.

As I passed my daughter’s room this morning, something have drawn me to enter it. Perhaps I was hoping that she’s still there, sleeping in her bed. Perhaps I was wishing to find someone there that I would nudge out of bed, and tell her to go hop into the shower, for it is late. Perhaps I was just missing someone to greet good morning, and remind her that I love her.

We are definitely not washing our daughter’s bedsheet, pillow cases, and blanket. We will leave her bed as is, as she left it. Until she comes back home for a visit.

 

 

Empty Bench Revisited

I made a video 5 years ago and posted it here on January 5, 2011. It was titled “The Empty Bench.”

This bench at the front yard of our home, was the favorite place where my mother and my mother-in-law would sit, especially early in the day to catch the morning sunshine, whenever they came to visit us here in Iowa.

My mother passed away November 2014, and my mother-in-law passed away a week ago. I’m reposting this video in their loving memory.

Thank you both for the love and the memories.

Life Can Be a Lonely Highway

A few weeks ago we embarked on an ambitious summer drive that took us from farmlands and prairies, to mountains and valleys, to deserted areas and busy metropolis, to rivers, waterfalls and ocean.

We started off from our home in Iowa and drove to Glacier National Park in Montana where we stayed for 3 days. Then we continued our trip to California where I attended 3 days of conference and my medical school’s grand reunion at Long Beach, but we passed by Yosemite National Park first, where we stayed for 2 days.

The sceneries that we passed have been so varied that it changed drastically: from barren lands of South Dakota to lush forests of Montana, from farm lands of Idaho to deserts of Nevada, from wilderness of Yosemite to concrete jungle of Metro Los Angeles.

It was the drive from Glacier National Park to Yosemite National Park that we passed through very lonesome country roads. Though I would take the lonely highways anytime than dealing with the heavy traffic of Los Angeles.

Passing through Nevada on our way to Yosemite, we passed Route 50, a transcontinental highway, which is also named as the “Loneliest Road in America.”

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Indeed it was a lonely road. You probably can set camp in the middle of the road and not be bothered by a passing car for hours. While we were driving through Route 50, I was afraid we will run out of gas and nobody will come to our rescue. Until we saw this….

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Right in the middle of nowhere, is a sort of an oasis. They have a bar, a restaurant, a small motel, and a gasoline station – all in one.

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Notice the sign posted in the motel? It said, “Route 50: The Loneliest Road in America.”

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They even have an old phone booth, which of course is now obsolete in this age of cellular phones.

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So we pulled up to this place and filled our gas tank. We also took the opportunity of taking a bathroom break. Though in reality, I wonder how many travelers in Route 50 when they felt the urge, just stopped and took a leak at the side of the road?

We also check out their small restaurant, and we found that they have plenty of supply of ice cream! Who knew?

Life they say is like a road trip. Sometimes the journey is exhilarating as we go through scenic byways. Sometimes it feels boring as we go through mundane yet major highways. Sometimes we feel we are not going anywhere as we are stuck in traffic. And sometimes we feel alone as we go through lonely roads. But there’s always surprises and unexpected turns.

In the last leg of our trip, after the medical conference and reunion, we also took time to visit our friends and family in California, including my wife’s mother who was staying in Los Angeles area.

Sadly to say,  my mother-in-law got sick and was hospitalized while we were there. Her condition quickly deteriorated and was even transferred to the ICU. So part of my vacation was visiting the ICU, not as an ICU physician but as a patient’s relative. I can’t seem to get away from the ICU.

Despite the medical efforts, my mother-in-law did not improved. She died shortly after a few days.

It was not the vacation we imagined. But at least we can comfort ourselves that we were there during her last moments and we’re able to say our goodbyes in person.

Our family is surely going through a lonely road right now. Yet, we can find solace that even in the loneliest road, there’s always an oasis, a refuge, or a sanctuary if you will, waiting for us where we can find rest.

Lastly, an important thought to remember, that even though it seems we are passing through a very lonely road, we are never alone.

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P.S. Nanay, thank you for the love and the memories. From you “favorite” son-in-law.

(*photos taken at Route 50, somewhere in Nevada)

 

 

 

Zen Moment

In our breakneck-pace, sink-or-swim busy schedule, we badly need some time to exhale and relax. We need to find our zen moment.

Different people have different ways to unwind and rejuvenate. There are some who would spend some time in a spa and be pampered. There are some who would go for a hike in the woods or climb a mountain. There are some who would watch a movie. There are some who will go to a mall. Zen shopping? While some would just sit and do nothing. And I mean nothing, as if staring blankly in space, like a frozen computer screen. I know, I do that sometimes.

Another favorite way of unwinding for me is my Sunday easy morning run of 2-3 miles where I just go on a slower pace than my usual, and commune with the wind, the lonely road, and nature. I would say that many of my creative thoughts come during this runs. I guess mild brain hypoxia can generate a stroke of genius.

Then there’s my wife. She will put on comfy clothes. She will go outside to be alone with the elements. She has her portable speaker playing her zen-type of music softly in the background. While she is on her hands and knees……….pulling weeds.

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Someone to Watch Over Me

“Your bear needs a car seat”.

With a knowing smile, that’s what one of my partners at work told me, a few days ago. He was talking about the teddy bear in my car.

He claimed his curiosity was piqued when he saw a teddy bear securely strapped with a seatbelt in the back seat of a car, and wondered whose car was it. Then he saw a white lab coat with a name embroidered on it, hanging on the back rest of the front seat. He then learned that it was mine.

I was busted for having a teddy bear in the car!

my silent passenger

You probably wondering, why does a grown-up man have a toy bear?

That teddy bear was placed by my wife in my car right after our son was born. We were still in Florida at that time. It was for the purpose that whenever our baby rides in my car, there’s a toy that he can play with to keep him quiet, and also to keep him company in the back seat.

Sure enough, whenever my son and even my daughter whose 5 years older, rode in my car, they played with that teddy bear. It pacified them. It cheered them. It kept them company. My son even gave it a name. He called it “Dr. Teddy.”

That was some time ago.

We have changed home address at least 3 times, moved to Iowa since, and I even replaced my previous car. But that bear remained in the back seat of my car.

And my son? He does not even sit in the back seat anymore. He now sits in the front seat whenever he rides with me.

In the US, the traffic law of most states only allow children to sit in the front seat of a vehicle if they are more than 80 pounds, or more than 5 feet tall, or more than 12 years of age. My son is all of the above now.

My daughter? She herself has been driving for about a year already.

Perhaps I just did not notice how time have gone so fast that that bear was not needed anymore. Or perhaps I was too busy and just did not have the time to remove the teddy bear. Or maybe I just cannot let go of the bear, and the period of time and the memories it represents.

Though I don’t particularly miss tangling with infant carrier, or futzing with car seats, or changing diapers.

For you parents with little children, who probably gets annoyed with the ritual of fastening carriers and car seats, or perhaps are fed up of the duty of changing the dreaded dirty diapers: embrace these rites of passage. For tomorrow, you blink, and they’re gone, except for the memories.

Or maybe, just maybe, that the bear was not really for my kids, but for me. Someone to watch over me, and keep me company when I’m all by myself.

The bear stays.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Kilig at Sayaw

Kay sarap gumising nang may kasama,

Hindi tulad noong ako’y nag-iisa,

Ngunit ‘di inakalang magkakaganito,

Mundo’y bumalikwas nang dahil sa ‘yo.

 

Umagang-umaga’y ‘di mapakali,

Ako’y kinikilig at nakikiliti,

Pilit pinipigil damdaming umaapaw,

Dahil nariyan ka’y napapasayaw.

 

Matagal ka pa ba, o aking mahal?

Mataimtim akong sa ‘yo’y naghihintay,

Sana ay pagbigyan, dahil ‘di ko na kaya,

Pakiusap lang naman, ako’y sasabog na!

 

Hoy! bilisan mo diyan sa banyo!

Ihing-ihi na ako!

(Ang tulang ito ay handog sa lahat ng napapasayaw sa makapigil-ihing pagmamahal.)

 

 

 

 

Doctor’s Report

We were sitting in a waiting area of a posh Cancer Center building. This time I was on the receiving end of this business. I was not a provider (doctor) but rather a consumer (patient). I was accompanying my wife for her follow-up appointment with the Hematologist-Oncologist doctor.

It was a day of reckoning. We were going to get the dreaded results of her bone marrow biopsy.

Have you ever waited on a report before? A semester’s grade perhaps? Or a qualifying examination? Or a job application? Or a tax return? Nothing can compare to the anxiety level of waiting for a biopsy report.

As I looked at the people in the waiting room, I can easily identify the patients. To lighten up her mood, I told my wife that I look more as the patient than her, for I am the one with the thinning hair. Though I am not poking fun of the chemotherapy patients at all, for I only have admiration for their courage and resolve as they undergo this difficult treatment.

When we were called inside, we met with the cancer specialist. He reviewed the results of the bone marrow biopsy with us, including some fancy genetic tests that he obtained.

The doctor went into detailed medical description, for he knew I am a doctor too and speaks his language. He then concluded that the test did not show any evidence of Myelodysplastic or Myeloproliferative disorder. In simple terms, no evidence of badness to worry about. It was a good report overall.

It was such a relief!

For the past several days, we experienced silent and unspoken fear about our future. For my wife, for me, and for our family. But now, we will grow old together after all.

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my wife and I (photo taken last summer in Vail Colorado)

If there’s something good that came out of this, is that it made our bond stronger and our faith more steadfast.

As we were leaving the doctor’s office, I glanced once again at the people in that waiting room. One elderly woman who was in a wheelchair, was wearing a colorful bandana but looking glum. Another not so old lady who was wearing a fancy hat accompanied by few friends or family. One middle-aged man who looked frail and sitting alone. And some other ones I failed to describe.

What would the doctor’s report on them be? Would it be very good like ours was? Or not so good perhaps? Or would it be downright heartbreaking? I can only hope and pray for each of them.

Life. So unpredictable. Live it to the fullest. And celebrate it while you can.

Today we will.

 

Looking Beyond X-rays

I looked at her chest x-ray, and knew right there and then that she didn’t have a chance. I have seen bad chest x-rays before, but this time, it was different.

I look at chest x-rays and chest CT scans every day. I review 30 or more each day. It is part of what I do for a living. And it is something that I become good at.

Ever since German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered what he dubbed as “x-radiation” in 1895 we have used this technology in analyzing bones, teeth, and other organs in the human body. It also used to detect cracks in metal in the industry. Now we even use them ubiquitously in all airports for luggage inspections. That’s why bag inspectors know you packed in dried fish without opening your luggage.

But do you know that x-rays can also look into the future? It has nothing to do with radiation-emiting crystal balls.

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It was late August of last year when I went back to the Philippines, not for a vacation but for a medical emergency. The attending physician in the hospital, who knew that I am a doctor myself, led me to the radiology department to show me a chest x-ray of the patient.

It was also here in this same hospital, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay (UERM) Hospital, that 27 years ago, where I picked up a CT scan of the brain of another patient. But at that time I just started medical school. In fact I was only in my first month of my first year of medical school then. Yet even in my untrained eye, I knew that the word “tumor” is not good. Especially if it said it is in the brain.

Now I was back in that hospital, looking at a chest x-ray, one morning that August. I have gained more than 20 years of experience now as a physician. And interpreting chest x-rays has become my expertise.

The chest x-ray the doctor showed me revealed a large tumor, the size of a santol (wild mangosteen) fruit. Not just one, but three! A sign that cancer had spread. A sign of impending doom.

Somehow it felt like I was reading the patient’s obituary, way before her death.

The chest x-ray was my mother’s.

And the CT scan of the head that I picked up 27 years ago? That was my father’s. He died 3 months after I peeked on that head scan.

What is this that I was privileged to see the future through an x-ray, as it gave me an insight of what is to come? Is it a blessing, that I could have prepared for it? Or is it a curse, as I started mourning before everybody else did?

When I broke the news to my mother regarding the results of her chest x-ray, she was not surprised. It was as if she knew it already. She was serene and collected.

My mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 5 years ago, and underwent surgery for it. We thought we got rid of it. We thought we kick cancer in the butt (no pun intended)!

But we were wrong. It came back. And with a vengeance.

My mother decided to not pursue any further treatment, like chemotherapy or radiation. For there’s no guarantee anyway that it will matter. Somehow she accepted her fate and was at peace with it.

When we took her home from the hospital she even willed herself even though she was weak to accompany me to the airport in Manila when I flew back here to the US. When I embraced her goodbye, I knew it will be our last embrace. Yet she told me, “Anak hindi ako malungkot. Masaya ako dahil nagkita pa uli tayo” (Son, I’m not sad. I’m happy that we saw each other again). She even added that I need not return for her funeral, it was enough that I saw her alive.

A little more than two months after I saw that foretelling chest x-ray, my mother died.

But there are things that the x-ray did not show. It did not show the inner strength and grace that my mother displayed on her last days. It did not show the peace and faith she had even when facing death. It did not show the confidence and hope that she had, that we will see each other again someday, in a glorious place where there’s no more grief and x-rays.