Sunday, November 20, 2016

Earth, Wind and Fire

Earth, wind, fire. These are elements we’ve had to face this past week to remind us how precious life is.  It started with the big quake Monday midnight. It was the strongest quake I’ve experienced since we’ve been in NZ for ten years now.   Our bedroom is beneath our garage and when the quake shook our house, I could hear the ceiling/garage squeaking.  I knew it wasn’t just a simple earthquake – I woke up Ronnel who automatically scooped up Axle as I woke up the girls on the floor bed.  This was one of the benefits of sleeping in one room, I was waking them up, shouting “cover, drop, hold” to remind them of the instructions they’ve learnt from school.  We were by the door when the shaking stopped.  We went back to bed and everyone else slept as if the shake never happened.  I couldn’t sleep.  I could still feel my heart pounding with a million “what ifs” circling my head.  Prayers helped still my heart and squelched the anxiety.  I knew that if the garage collapsed on top of us, our bedroom would slide towards the houses underneath and we’ll probably be ok or worst scenario is, we’d be squashed by the cars and it would be quick and painless.  I knew watching gore films with Ronnel won’t do me good. At this point, I’ve been exchanging texts with my friends, checking up on them. I’ve told my family members across the miles that we were ok.  I still couldn’t sleep and went for my cure-all – my fantasyland, my dramaworld.  I watched a drama—couldn’t even remember what it was—and was able to forget a bit and slept a couple of hours.  The next morning greeted us with a tsunami alert, heavy rains and news of flooding in some areas. It was a flurry of text messages between me and my team, checking up on them, making sure they were ok.  Some had to evacuate to higher ground – all I could offer were virtual hugs and prayers, especially to some I couldn’t contact.  Thankfully, they were all ok.  The following days were full of uncertainty, while our workplaces are being checked for safety.  Fortunately, we were able to work remotely with the help of technology.   It gave us time for self-reflection and time to spend with the family.  On Tuesday, we heard vigorous knocking on our door.  It was our neighbor letting us know, there’s a fire in her house and the fire trucks are on the way.  Didn’t I say- earth, wind and fire?  Fortunately, it was a minor incident but it still frightening especially for our neighbor, who I consider a good friend and my kids’ NZ mum as she’s been looking after our children for 7 years now.   Once safety was confirmed, the next priority is to get things back to normal. The children were oblivious to the what-could-have-beens and what-might-be – kids will be kids but we made sure they knew what happened.  We explained to them how blessed we are to have been unaffected, how we should be grateful and how we should help those who have been affected – and also to prepare for – just in case.   We slept in the living room the following night with our bags near the stairs, ready for pick up in case we need to evacuate.  We are hoping for the best, but ready to face the worst.   In the meantime, we do what our family does best – stick together and enjoy each other’s company.
Axle was delighted with the firetruck visit in our neighborhood. 

Kids thought we were camping in the living room.

Another way to get things back to normal is work.  I attended a work conference on Thursday with around 130 like-minded people. I was part of the organizing committee so it was out of the question to not be there, plus I had the materials that were needed on the day and it wouldn’t sit right with me to ditch my responsibility, however little it was.   The venue was deemed safe but there were still aftershocks felt throughout the day.  I’m sure it was still quite unsettling for the participants but we trudged on. I had faith that it would go well. And it did. 
The weekend went by peacefully despite the family being struck with a cold virus – starting with Axle’s temperature, then Ia, then Ronnel, sparing Aqui and me, we lived as if it was any other day.  Our house is still a mess, the kids continue to squabble over little things (I’m sure it’s a big deal for them), Ronnel still watched NBA games and I continued to binge on my Korean and Japanese dramas at night.   At first, I was worried about how ‘unworried’ we were, especially Ronnel. I am slightly jealous that he soundly sleeps at night, not worried about anything. I asked him about it and he reminded me of what real faith means – God has our back, if it’s our time, it’s our time – just like that movie Final Destination.  Ok, this didn’t help me with the sleeping much but it helped my resolve to be reminded of what faith means to my family.  It’s just like our bags in the doorway, we pray and hope for the best but are ready to face the worst.
Tomorrow, I’m back at work. I had a dream that while I was meeting with my boss, another earthquake occurred and we had to postpone our meeting. Dreams are usually about either our subconscious hopes or fears – this definitely was the latter.  Regardless of the fear, the worries, we continue to live, love and have faith.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

9D8N Single Mum

I’ve always wondered how it would be to be a single parent (usually with admiration and relief I’m not one) but for the next few days , I will no longer wonder as it will be my life.   Ronnel is away for nine days as he attends his brother’s graduation in the Philippines.   I’ve mentally, spiritually and physically prepared for this since the day he booked his flights so I’m pretty much set for it.  My friend Tin keeps on reminding me how tough it would be—I told her reminding me doesn’t help with the anxiety.   To be honest, it’s not too bad. Aqui is seven and now can be relied on for light chores. Axle is just a mess monster so as long as I don’t have my hygiene standards too high, I think we’ll be ok.  Ia is a force to reckon with being a middle child and at a stage where everything is a drama and she is the protagonist and I’m usually the villain. 

Day 1 was good as it fell on a holiday so friends came to our place for a playdate/lunch. I even had time to  clean and prepare meals for the whole week.  It also came as a pleasant surprise to have a friend offer to take the girls for a walk along a nearby river.  This gave me some time to breathe and just sit on the couch with Axle who has been very clingy since Ronnel left. I think he fears I too, will leave. 

                Aqui, Ia and Neon at the riverside

My days would start early, and need to go with clockwork perfection.   Being a single parent means you do not have another adult at home to rely on.  With Ronnel around, I could ‘steal’ a few more winks and hit the snooze on the alarm, knowing that Ronnel will wake me up.  I don’t have that luxury anymore.   I found myself awake at 4 am and waiting for the time to pass, fearing going back to sleep and miss the alarm.   I promised myself I wouldn’t lose my cool with the children, no matter how rowdy they get. With Ronnel here, I had someone who can keep me in check at times they get on my nerves and my voice goes two octaves higher.  These days, I don’t and so I created a mental rule that if I catch myself near that phase, all of them would go into time out – no matter who started it.  So far, I found myself on time out – browsing online shops to distract me.  Our TradeMe watchlist has so many items resulting from my little ‘timeouts’.

          Our temporary sleeping arrangements 

          All dressed and ready to go at 7:45 am

Ronnel keeps his word and FaceTimes often, keeping the kids in anticipation of the presents they will be getting from their grandparents.  He also reminds me of the newly renovated Sydney duty-free shops that he will make sure to visit in my stead.

It is day 3 for me today, and I worked from home to allow for early kindergarten pick up and drop offs.   I am blessed to be surrounded by a great support group – friends and a wonderful child carer who understands my fear of driving in steep driveways.  This Saturday, a friend will also bring the girls out for an afternoon activity and I will drop off Axle to another friend while I brush up on my driving skills with another good friend.  This is what it means to be part of a community – it truly takes a village to raise a child (in my case 3!) and to keep a mother sane.  It's a good thing that this is just temporary, I don't think the community can keep me sane for too long.  

I’ll check in back on day nine and hopefully, I am still sane then.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Seeking and Grabbing Opportunities

For the next five days, I am part of a leadership programme run by University of Otago in Dunedin. What this means is I am away from my family for five days.  What this really means is that Ronnel’s parenting skills will be pushed to the limit by our three energetic children.  I am not worried though. Ronnel has proved himself more than sufficient in a longer period and in an even more stressful time last February when I had to go to LA for Mama’s funeral.  So I am not that concerned about the state of our household while I’m away.  Still, there was that niggling feeling that made me uneasy when I got accepted in this programme.  So last week, I had a good talk with Ronnel.  It was really just about me worrying if it was ok to pursue the next level in my career.  Because really, being a mother of three under 5 meant with a busy household, would I have the energy and time to go further? Logically, I shouldn’t feel guilty, I should feel all 'woman empowerment' in me to go ahead but practically, it means less home time. I told Ronnel, I can actually just not pursue this, that I am okay just being where I am.  No stress, just do my job from 8 til 5 and start my other job as a homemaker.  My husband’s reply was “I am not okay with you just being okay.  I want you to be happy.”  And so I go on saying I am happy. I am happy being a wife to him and a mother to Aqui, Ia and Axle.  His response? “I know you’re happy. But I know you too.” And that’s true, Ronnel knows me too well. Being together for almost two decades, there is nothing to hide from each other.  He knew and loved me for being the driven girl that I was when I was 17 and that hasn’t changed despite the weight gain.  At the end of the day, he says, we are in this together. It wasn’t me and him, it was us. And that’s why I love this man so much. 

This brings me back to our first year of marriage, and the first big marital decision we made.  At that time, Ronnel was a junior programmer while I was a project manager at the same company.  Both of us were at a point in our careers when we were looking for opportunities elsewhere because we didn’t get the satisfaction we expected from the company then. The tipping point was when due to stressful overtime periods, Ronnel had swollen lymph nodes which had to be treated — and the company didn’t cover the cost.  I had a senior pm role offer from another bank and he got an offer to work in Malaysia.  So it was either he stays and looks for a job locally while I take the offer or I go to Malaysia with him.  There was never an option of us separating, and when I mentioned it, he asked me what was the point of getting married if we were going to separate anyway? So we prayed hard and made the decision to do the latter.  I remember we went to Nuestra Señora church when we had made that decision. There was something about the priest’s sermon. I don’t remember what it was but I remember how we felt it was THE sign. And it was the start of great things to come.  It wasn’t easy though.  Ronnel had that accident and it was the lowest of the low for us but we survived that.  One day, a colleague of mine mentioned he was looking for overseas work as Malaysian permanent residency was quite hard to attain.  So I asked Ronnel to try looking as well. With his skills and experience in IT, it was not a surprise for him to get good responses. New Zealand was just the first and fastest to respond. And so, true to our vows, we stuck together.  And that decision has never failed us.  

I always wondered where this ‘drive’ came from. I think it is from my parents, even more from my mother.  She always pushed us - my dad, my siblings and me.  She always said, “the talent that was given to you is not yours to keep, it’s something you need to hone and let others experience. Keep it, hide it and God will take it away.” Then she follows this up with the parable of the talents  (Matthew 25:14–30). Years of drilling that into our heads, seeing it with my own eyes as Mama set up companies here and there to achieve her dreams (it wasn’t always successful but she stood up each time and started all over again) and one day, I was just like that.  This is probably why my sister isn't ready to give up the life she and Mama had started in LA, despite all the challenges.  But I am neither jaded nor am I looking at this with rose-coloured glasses. I also saw with my own eyes how too much of that drive can lead you astray.  I also saw first hand how a marriage can slowly crumble with that. How you can drown in debt when trying to get to your dream in haste.  I am blessed to have Ronnel as my anchor, to pull me back when I go too far. He sets me straight before I go feral with ambition. He reminds me about what really matters. He is my conscience, my personal Safeguard commercial so that we are able to make decisions consciously, conscientiously and definitely not alone.  We seek counsel. We pray.

Having three kids is not easy. It is double-standard because it is the woman who bears (more of) the brunt of this.  I remember when I was back from my parental leave with Ia (our second), I would be in tears at work because I felt that I was left behind. The skills that I had were parked for a while and became rusty which meant I had to work harder to catch up.  My colleagues who were at the same level a year before were now in roles that I could have applied for.  It was frustrating. And my mood swings were bad, probably caused by hormones and swinging levels of breastmilk supply. But after a while, I got my game back but even so, the opportunities were no longer there.   With Axle, the timing was a bit off too because I just started my new work.  Ronnel manned up and said he will take half of the parental leave share.  I only took three months off and Ronnel became an at-home dad for the following three months. Can I say again how much I love this man?  

The great thing about New Zealand employment is that qualifications are secondary.  I do not have a Master's Degree let alone a Doctorate and it didn’t matter.  Because the results mattered more.  Of course it helped a lot if you had people (and bosses) who believed in you. And in my whole career life, I was blessed with good bosses who believed in me. In NZ, it is okay to stretch the limits of your job description to pursue career advancement. It means do more for the same pay at your initiative and see where it leads you. I just did the same this time- I saw the leadership programme on the intranet, applied for it and got accepted. Just like joining all those competitions and I won stuff. Do you think I win at every raffle I join? Of course not. I just took chances and so far, it has lead me to more opportunities. It might get me somewhere or nowhere but I would never know if I hadn't tried - or if Ronnel didn't encourage me to try.  That's why it was so important for me that he is ok with this because searching and trying takes time and effort, not to mention the risk of failure. And I have failed many times before but I just didn't take them as failures, just a bit of setback from the goal.  If we were in the Philippines, a way to advance is to get qualifications. There is a clear advancement path in the Philippines. Here, it is all on you.  If you want to advance, you have to be on the look out for opportunities. You have to apply for the role. But it also means that you are limited to the opportunities presented to you. If there is no vacancy for the role you want, then there is no choice but to look elsewhere. There is no such thing as 'getting promoted'.  In the Philippines, I could have stayed in the same role and rise in rank (Assistant Manager, Manager, Senior Manager, Assistant Vice President, VP, SVP, EVP). In fact, that was my father’s career path. He rose from the ranks after years of hard work and loyalty. It stops at EVP because you need a certain bloodline to get to the next level.  When I was little, I wanted to go that path because it was the only path I knew.  Working overseas really opened my world.  Ronnel and I are both ‘iskos’ and in UP, they instil in you that national responsibility - to give back to your country.  So really, leaving the Philippines wasn’t in our plans. But I think we have given back so  much more now than if we stayed. If the disappointments we had back then in our old workplace didn’t happen, we would probably be still with the company.  So maybe that somehow explains the Philippine diaspora, or maybe just ours.  Also, career moves don't always equate to more money, more power. I'm picking Jessie J over Jerry Maguire when I say 'It's not about the money.' It boils down to what matters to you most. 

One thing Ronnel and I have in common is that we are very loyal.  We stick to one.  Ronnel is still with the company he’s been working with ever since we came here. He is treated well. He is happy. He has no reason to leave now.  I left my old company here in NZ not because they didn’t take care of me — they did. But I just felt I wanted to do something more, something different. Maybe one day, when this fire in me has died down, I will go back there, who knows? I haven’t burned my bridges. In fact, I am still a part of a club that meets there regularly.  And it brings music to my ears meeting ex-colleagues who wish I was back there. Or maybe they’re just saying it to be polite :-) So here I am in a totally different industry, a public servant and learning many new things.  My hunger to learn and be the best that I can be is insatiable at the moment and Ronnel feels that. The great thing is, he gets it. He lets me fly. So I am flying (literally because I am writing this during my flight and figuratively of course), and Ronnel is the wind beneath my wings. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mama Part 2: Days 6-10

Day 6
Family and Friends 
If there is any good thing that death brings, it would be the coming together of Family and Friends. Mama's death pulled the family together- even the extended ones. After the Christian service, my sister and I stayed in my aunts' hotel rooms with them. These are my aunts whom I've met back in my New Years visit, my aunts whom I've only seen 30 years ago prior to that NY's trip. And so, there was a lot of hesitation and worry. Will they like us? Will it be awkward? Will we have anything in common? Will they look down on us or worse, will they hate us?
All of those fears vanished when we felt how they put our needs above everyone else's, even their own. They made sure we were fed and stripped of unnecessary worry. They gave up a bed so that we can sleep. That night was the first in a very long time that my sister slept on a proper bed. Before that, she slept in the hospital's couch, even the backseat of her car just to be near mama. When I got here, my heart broke because even in her own room rental, she only had a couch makeshift bed. Her roommate gave up her bed for me to sleep for the days that I'm here and sleeps in the living room couch. (Thank you Maiqui.)
I felt sorry for my sister but like my mom, she is such a fighter and just shrugs it off. Mama wanted her to look for a better place to stay and that's what we are working on.
Our family is not a perfect one. It is full of drama but also laughter, just like my favourite teleseryes and kdramas. They say it's because of the Dela Cruz blood. When God showered feistiness and strength, my ancestors took it all. And so, we all grew up in that environment, with those role models. My sister is mini-mama. She has her style, her tastes and yes, even her fiery tongue. I too, was like that, and maybe a little bit still. Mama taught us (because she was taught the same thing) to speak our minds and be frank, others be damned. If they can't take the heat, they should walk away. And for a while, I truly believed that. But my sister and I saw the cost that came with that. For me, I lost friends and made bad vindictive enemies. The good thing though is the ones who stuck behind are the really good people. I've seen the same with mama, the ones who stuck by her in the last stretch are gold-hearted people, people who are selfless and sacrifice for mama. You want to know who the really good people are? Have Cancer and you'll see.
But is it not possible to get the best of both worlds? That was a decision I made in 2006 when Ronnel and I moved to NZ. At first, I actually had to just be by myself (and Ronnel) to avoid situations where I'd speak my mind. I needed to practice and change my perspective, always reminding myself that when I point a finger on someone, 3 fingers are pointing back at me. It took a lot of restraint and effort to unlearn years of training. It was only in 2007/8 that I started building friendships again and even then it was in the safe environment of a church community, Couples for Christ. Because I knew that if I said something that might hurt another, I would be corrected, understood and prayed over. And I prayed for myself as well as prayed for people around me. Fortunately, that hasn't happened yet (to my knowledge) because the friends I made are inherently good people. And I have started thinking before I speak. Plus Ronnel is my avid corrector/conscience. We are not perfect, but we make allowances and understand each other.
Shall I show you how good our friends are? When they learned I was leaving for LA, leaving 3 kids with a husband who is a novice in the kitchen - they told me, "Go. Don't worry. We will take care of your family." And they really meant it. They organised a roster of people who bring food to our house everyday. I cooked a lot of food before I left and put them in the freezer for Ronnel to reheat. He hasn't had the chance to touch those because there's a steady stream of food coming to our door. Some drop by with kids to play with the girls, some even pick them up for play dates. Ronnel is very independent and is quite uncomfortable relying on other people so it took a little bit of adjustment but even then, friends understood and continued to help without intruding. They were just there to offer a hand if it got too tough for him. Imagine handling a highly inquisitive 5 year old, a feisty 3 year old and a 7 month old baby. I'm surprised Ronnel hasn't gone crazy yet. He is holding up really well. So I thank my husband and our friends for being there for us. 
I was blessed because I realised this a bit early, that I could get the best of both worlds if I just changed my perspective. And that's what I'm teaching my sister. It is good to speak your mind but make sure when you do it is not something you will regret later on. That you can always change the manner of delivery without compromising the message. I will not lie, Mama's tongue is sharp. It lashes out quickly and it hurts a lot. I should know because I grew up with that. My insecurities are because of that. Only now I find out that she regretted those words. That I still can't believe it when someone tells me how proud mama was of me. In her journals, I read how she spoke her mind and a lot of times only said these words at the heat of the moment. I believe when the Cancer took her voice, she felt frustrated but also maybe relieved because she was stripped of the ability to hurt others with her words. I remember back in New Years, I kept on reminding her to be a bit gentle with her words to the nurses and caregivers around her. They too are people, with a patient ratio of 1:10, they will be on edge too. And I know it's hard for a patient and doubly hard for mama. I'd like to believe she took that on and became gentler especially when she moved to a new hospice. I met one nurse who looked after mama in her last days and he recalled how kind she was and how strong she was. He was teary-eyed when he said those and I am happy because even in a short time, mama's true heart was acknowledged by someone who didn't have the luxury of time to really get to know her.
The friends Mama had, the really good friends, they are the ones who forged the friendship through time. Mama is magnetic- she has a pull that you cannot fathom. You either stay away for good or keep coming back for more. Once you look beyond the sharp tongue, you will see her true heart and you will not regret it. Unfortunately, it takes courage and strength to look beyond the lashes and stick for the long haul. Mama was blessed with people who looked beyond the lashes, who were strong to withstand the surface pain to experience the love she had deep within. And I was wrong if I thought there were only a few who could do this. The memorial service showed me how there were a lot of people whom God sent to mama. There were even two memorial services to show me that. Several came to me, telling me stories and memories they share with mama. And in every story, it would always have "you know how your mom is, right?" They were fond memories and it showed how they looked beyond the surface to really know her. In every story, my mom's strength shone through.

Day 7
As I said back in day zero, if the first visit to LA was for mama, this time it’s for my sister. And so, it’s just right for me as a big sister to guide and support her in the decisions she will be making now that mama is gone. Mama has always been my sister’s decision driver, thought bouncer and conscience. All that I need to do now with 6,705 miles between us.
Len wants to stay in LA and continue to build the dream that she and mama started years ago. It hasn’t been easy and it will not be easy but she is determined to do so on her own. With mama watching above, I am confident that she will make it in time. In His Time. As a big sister, I am supporting her decision and to support that, I need to confirm that her environment, the people around her will help her achieve her dreams and not drag her down. 
I’ve seen and now know that she is in a good church community. I can tell because I am part of one back in Wellington. It might be different but the underlying principle is the same. That Jesus is the centre. I’ve seen that in the Christian memorial service they’ve organized for Mama. There was little effort on that for us – just the flowers and Mama’s photo but the rest were all done by the church. They made it as stress-less as possible. I met her surrogate family for Len but for myself too, so that I know whom to call on should I need to check on her (mwahaha). We had lunch with her “LA big sister”, who’s around my age and had the reassurance that I was longing for – that she will be looked after. I told her that if she is a representative of the community that my sister is part of, then I don’t really have anything to worry about. And it is true. I’ve only met a few from their church but I feel their hearts are the same. One has even offered my sister a place to stay for the next 3 months, rent-free and this is a big deal for her because she needs to save every penny to get back up. Some have asked if my sister had someone special to help her through this, some, asking indirectly and some, just straight out, “Who’s that guy?” “Why second mother?” I am not going to discuss my sister’s love life or lack thereof in this post. smile emoticon But what I will do is share with you my insights on her good friend. A cross-cultural relationship is never easy, compound it with cross-religion – so it is natural to have complications. However, with our romantic aspirations, we will always think that love can shine through. There is truth in that but I believe more than love, there will be a mixture of time and individual maturity. And being good friends is the best option. What my sister has gone through is no joke. She needs to grow and be able to fight her battles. As a big sister, I had to ask “Do you have good intentions for my sister?” And there was no hesitation with the reply – “Of course.” And I will hold on to that. If things go wrong, I will do a Liam Neeson and use my “very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you… I will look for you, I will find you…” 
And of course she has Tito Ernie whom mama has entrusted my sister to be the “LA dad.” I think he was surprised about how open-minded I was about this. I have relinquished any right I have to nitpick when I look at the sacrifices he has made for mama and Len. I see that even after mama’s gone, he genuinely checks on my sister, ensures that she has food to eat and a good place to sleep. I cannot be grateful enough for the people sent to by God to Mama and Len. We are not worthy but still, all these have been given.
The good people around Len will serve as her weapons, some will be her cheerleaders and some, be part of a supportive audience. There will also be some who will be detractors, devil’s advocates or worse, spawns of Satan. What category do you fall into? As of now, I haven’t met any of the latter. I pray that it will be only good people but I am not naïve. I pray that my sister has the gift of discernment to tell the difference.
Now that I’ve been reassured, I can breathe a bit easily. Now, it’s my turn to reassure you. We have been asked about the funds. I would like to believe that when people ask this, it’s because they are curious and have no ill intent. Once and for all, I will do this reassurance and I will not talk about it again. Fundraising was our last resort. Cancer doesn’t hit you swiftly, it is like an expert thief that slowly creeps in and takes things bit by bit and then leaves you with nothing. My sister, just like my mom, didn’t want people to know. Even I don’t, because I’d like to leave even just a little bit of pride and avoid pity. But when the thief takes everything and leaves you nothing, then all pride vanishes just to survive. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Our basic needs come first. And so with careful and painful consideration, we used our last card – fundraising. People are inherently good and funds poured in. But people are also inherently curious and want to know where they’ve gone. Remember, it was the last resort. That meant, that for a while, mama and Len were living in debt and whatever I could send. As I’ve said in my eulogy, this year and the last were the hardest for us. I couldn’t look Ronnel straight in the eye because I’ve drained us with my papa’s stroke and mama’s needs. We have 3 kids and a mortgage. My brother also has his worries in the Philippines. And we had little time to prepare with mama keeping it all from us. 
And so that’s where it went. When I came here I asked my sister for a breakdown of expenses and I was proud to see her Excel spreadsheet, with expenses broken down monthly, line by line with receipts to boot. And she was still in the red. She is living on a cash basis in America where credit rating is a must. That means she cannot rent a home on her own or buy anything to her name. Funds went to the backlog of payments for their living expenses, mama’s natural supplements, and she had the vision to leave some for mama’s passing. Not everything is free. The Catholic service, the flowers, the document processing, the death certificates, even the TSA packaging required for the ashes to be permitted in the plane. And I reassure you, that your donations were used for the purpose it was intended for and nothing else.
Day 8
With only a day to go until I go back to Ronnel and the kids, I wanted to make sure that the day was spent wisely - and what wiser way to spend it with my sister to just bond and spend time together without a care in the world. We went to places mama promised to bring me to before. My sister is a lot like mama -- she wants to maximise every minute to show me around places. I remember when we were kids and went traveling to other countries -- mama would have a full itinerary to make sure we maximised the trip. I keep on telling my sister that it didn't really matter to me if I didn't see all the hot spots in LA-- what mattered is that we were spending time together just being with each other -- not thinking about our pain, our loss, our debts, or what lies ahead. We just enjoyed just being alive. We went to UCLA and pretended we went to school there. We wondered what the best mode of transport was if you had a class from building A to building B which were miles apart. We pretended we were California girls in a top down Porsche driving along the Palm trees in Hollywood. We sang Katy Perry's California girls and forgot all the worries we had. We pretended we were amongst the rich and famous and went in luxury boutiques, ogling the Louis Vuittons, Chanels and Diors. We took photos and posed like the models on the big canvases. We even saw Taylor Swift (we believed it was her or a lookalike) doing a photo shoot. We wanted to get an autograph but she was busy in the shoot, plus fellow actresses don't need autographs. smile emoticon It was a day full of shopping in our minds - not buying anything except for a promise that we will be back in the future and do more than just ogle. In the afternoon, we went with our aunt to do more sightseeing. We took photos every second, wanting to capture the moment when tears aren't falling from our eyes. 
My sister and I are very different. We are different in how we cope with stress. I write. She sleeps. She is a very private person like mama while I have no qualms telling my friends (even acquaintances) about my life. She worries about what people will think, or that people will pity her. I worry but I am past caring. She overthinks. I simplify. But we are also similar in some ways. Both of us do not like asking for help because we think we can manage on our own and we don't want to inconvenience others or be indebted to others. I have since learned to seek for and receive help when given because sometimes I really can't do it on my own. We discussed several times the motivation behind mama's keeping it all from us until it was too late. She understood mama completely and said that she probably will do the same thing if she was in mama's place. For me, I don't think it's fair. If it was me, I'd tell my family as early as possible not because I cannot handle it on my own but just because they have the right to know. My sister argues that the less we know, the less we get hurt. I, on the other hand, think knowledge is power. That if we had known earlier, we could have spent more time together, we could have prepared longer, we could have prioritised better. We still haven't agreed on what is the right thing to do. Mama's wishes is to give away her belongings, burn all her documents, wipe out all her digital information and only leave the documents that are vital. My sister and I are torn between following her wishes and our own. We want to hold on to her memory but we also want to honour her wishes. And so we compromise. We took things that we value to remember her by -- clothes and photos -- and will get rid of everything else. We don't know passwords to her email addresses and we will not pursue finding out whatever secrets she kept from us. We will leave it at that. As her children, we are honouring her last wishes - and some, we are bound legally to. She doesn't want any viewing and that was why there was none in mama's memorial services. Mama's body is now in the science laboratory as she stipulated that her remains be used for research. She said that this is her own way of sparing someone the same pain she went through. Any remnant shall be cremated. She wanted her ashes to be divided amongst loved ones but this was against her Catholic faith so we conceded. My aunt will bring her back to her Mama (my grandmother) in the Philippines in May.
Day 9
Leaving LA
I leave LA knowing that my sister is a strong confident young lady who has a great future ahead of her. I remind her that life is never easy, but the important thing is that we are living. The harder things get, the more painful it feels, the more we feel alive. The moment we feel numb, the moment we let indifference take over, the moment we give up- that's when we insult mama's life. She is still young and has lots to learn for herself and I see her applying the lessons she's learned from mama's life day by day.
Here are some lessons I learned from mama's life:
1. Prevent not cure. My family carries the Cancer gene. Knowing this, we'd like to preempt the strike by living healthy as much as possible. For me, it's a bit challenging with kids but I will try. My sister is a bit stricter. She eats organic, goes to the gym and generally lives healthy along with mama before and is continuing to do so til now. 
2. No judging - Everyone has a cross to bear. To this day, I still cannot fathom mama's motivation for shielding us from the truth but I do not judge her. I also cannot judge the people who judged her and my sister for the life they lived there. They have their own crosses to bear and reasons for acting that way. I do not know the whole story and maybe that's the reason mama kept secrets -- so that I have no culpability when I get judged. 
3. There are good people everywhere but there are rotten ones too - just focus on he good ones and stay clear from the latter. We were surrounded by good people. People who went beyond their comfort zone to help us, people whom we've never met reached out to us, people who also were in dire situations but still pulled through for us. These are people whom we draw our strength and inspiration from. As for the negative people, we don't exert any effort dealing with them. We are drained. I'm not even writing another line about them. 
4. Family isn't determined by blood. I found that many who really stuck by mama were not tied to her by blood, rather by faith and love. However, when you are tied by blood, you have an instant connection with each other which should break any barrier -- especially when it's the first time you're meeting each other. The fact that the same blood runs through your veins should make you connected, make you understand more, empathise more, love each other more. 
5. Find the right balance between keeping image and the truth. Mama downplayed how sick she was until she couldn't hide it anymore. I asked my sister and she thinks it is because mama didn't like being pitied and she didn't want to pass on the burden to her loved ones. It is the same reason why my sister painstakingly takes care of her image, compartmentalising her life into different areas - work, church, friends etc - which do not intersect. I'm different. I don't compartmentalise. I have friends at work, at church and other areas who know what I'm going through now. I have nothing to hide. My sister feels that people will look upon her with sympathy. I feel that people look upon her as inspiration for her strength. She disabled her Facebook account because she gets stressed with people asking how she is as she doesn't know what to tell them. I tell her to tell them to read what I wrote and if they still don't get it, then just pray for them. More than coping with stress, I write for two more reasons: 1- to have a record of my thoughts of this ordeal for future reference and 2- for people who ask how I am. As I mentioned before, people are inherently curious. Since I do not like breaking down at work and crying every time I'm asked how I am, I direct them to my blog. So if you see me and ask me how I'm coping with the loss, I will direct you to my blog. This way, I can spare us both the tears and helplessness. 
6. Seek and you shall find. Ask and you shall receive. One thing we learned to give up in this experience is pride. Pride is the least of your worries when your basic instinct to survive kicks in. So we learned to seek for comfort and we found so much more than just solace. We learned to ask for a hand but were given an arm. My sister and I still argue because she doesn't want to get help because others feel sorry for her. I tell her it doesn't stop here, one day when she is able, she will give twice in return. It might be to the same person or to others like her who need help. Pay it forward. For now, we will be grateful and appreciate all the help we are given-- one day, we will give back -- we will make sure we give more than we receive. 
7. Cherish the people you love. When we learned about how sick mama was, only then we showed her how much we loved and valued her without inhibitions. My sister hugged her every moment possible. I said I love you frequently albeit via FaceTime. We gave in to her whims and did everything to fulfil her wishes. We were blessed because we were given time to do this. Maybe that's another good thing Cancer brings -- a bit of time. If it was a car accident or a death that was sudden, she would have gone without revelling in our love. It was not without effort especially since we are not the "showy" type. You can always argue that you can show love through other ways, through the food you bring on the table or the presents you give your loved ones, that actions speak louder than words. I am not saying you stop doing these. I am just saying you need to reaffirm your love with words. What will you lose if you tell your mother "I love you"? Are those 3 words too hard to come out of your mouth despite the knowledge that your mother carried you in her womb for several months? I do not have the right to preach because I struggled saying those words to mama too. I had a complicated relationship with my mother. I wasn't the best daughter and she wasn't the best mother to me. All the pain we've given each other didn't matter anymore. We asked forgiveness for all the past pain and focused on the present (then). Knowing then that mama might leave us anytime soon, our priorities changed. I believe that a person's value in your life can be realised with the number of things you can let go to make that person happy. 
8. Live life to the fullest but also think about the legacy you'll leave behind. I am still not sure that if mama knew that things will turn out this way, she would live her life differently. She may not. Would she have taken her health more seriously? Would she have told us back in 2011 when she first found out? Would she... I honestly don't know. One thing I know though through her journals is that she lived a life full of love. That in the end she was happy. How many of us would be able to say the same thing? Would I?
9. Love with all your might. Mama loved with everything she had. I know it's been said that when you love, leave a bit something for yourself so that when the person leaves you, you will have something for yourself. I think this might be a family trait. When I love, I don't think with my mind, I think with my heart. (My friends back in the 90's who know many stories: please keep quiet haha)
Just like mama. And that usually causes a lot of headaches and heartaches. But it pays off when you find the person meant for you. If you love and leave a bit of insurance, it's like you are preparing for bad things to happen. And learning from mama's life, despite some heartaches, it is still worthwhile to love wholeheartedly.
10. Have faith. If there's only one lesson I should learn from mama's life, it is to have faith. And never waiver. She knew amidst all the pain and suffering that God had a reason and a grand plan. By entrusting our whole being to God, we know that whatever we do, however we live, He has our back. That whatever life we live here on earth - whether it be full pain and suffering, or full of abundance and joy-- it is nothing compared to the everlasting unfathomable happiness we are promised in the afterlife.
Day 10
This will be my last post about mama's passing. From hereon, I will focus on the living and filling the void that mama left behind. I'm back in New Zealand, returning to a family that missed me while I was away. It will be hard, mourning and grieving cannot be done and over with just because I left LA. My sister is still grieving and more than anyone else, she literally is left with a huge void when mama left. She fills this void with work. When mama was still around, a day to her was more than 24 hours because after work, she needed to take care of mama at the hospice. Now, she has gained back that time and she fills that with work to save up to pay debts they've incurred to survive. I, too, need to work hard with Ronnel to give our children a good future and to make sure that we keep our promise to honour our parents and let them enjoy time with their grandchildren. And also keep my promise to pay it forward- to make sure to repay the kindness and generosity shown to my family. 
Know that when I post and it's not about mama, or my loss, our pain- it's not because I've forgotten or maybe have finished grieving. Contrary to that, it is a continuing grief process as I return to normalcy. Know that when I don't want to talk about mama or her passing, it's not because I don't care anymore, it's rather the opposite as it is still too raw. Know that when I do not respond to your likes or comments on my posts, it's not because I do not appreciate your words rather I feel warm inside, so warm that it is hard to breathe. Know that when I can only say "thank you" as a reply to your personal messages, it is not because I do not want to share rather it is because I want to spare you the predicament of not knowing how to comfort me when I inevitably pour out everything. Know that when I am smiling, I am doing this not only for my sake but for the sake of my loved ones too with whom I share this burden. 
My next post might be a photo of my kids, a competition I joined, a birthday greeting - the same ones I did before. Know that it's not because it's like nothing has happened, so much has happened that I need to move on. I do not just live for myself. I have my sister, my brother, my dad, grandmother, aunt, uncles, nieces, in-laws, friends. More than that, I have a good loving husband and three rambunctious kids who need all the energy and attention I can give. I have work that impacts the lives of others searching for peace and justice in my country. I have friends physically and virtually present, cheering me on as I move on. I have so many blessings to count that I do not have any reason to wallow in despair. But most of all, I am alive. And mama would want me living it to the fullest. 
PS: Photo posted is a page from a notebook we gave her in our visit last New Years. Aqui wrote a line and mama wrote the plea for rest which was granted. I think it's a great way to go with my post, don't you? 
PPS: I know we already thanked people for helping us in every way possible. Thank you. Words are not enough but still, thank you.

GofundMe Update:

My family would like to thank everyone who helped us through this difficult time. It has been 13 days since my mother left this world and life goes on for those she left behind. 
Through this fundraising site, my mother's last few days were made comfortable and her mind put a little bit at ease. The funds were used to clear some of the debt she incurred when she got sick and had to stop working - rent, food, medical bills. Some were used to support her natural diet - herbalsupplements, organic food and other natural means to delay the progress of the cancer. 
When she passed, the funds were used for the Catholic service as well as documentation costs. The remaining funds will be used in the travel arrangements for her ashes to be brought back to the Philippines, for interment at St. Peter's Parish. 
Again, thank you. You have put a smile on Emy's face during last days here on earth and we are sure that she continues to smile at your generosity and kind heart as an angel.
Faith and Love always,
Einge and EJ