Searching and re-searching for the best restaurant experience, shopping and shop hopping in search of quality leather, maybe cashmere, or a weekend getaway, maybe a luxurious bedspread before the clock strikes 12 on February 3, every week leading to February 3, two years ago and every year before that without fail. That was me, for ten years, engaged in an annual obsessive hunt for the perfect birthday gift for my mama. That is until we lost her to cancer.
Losing a loved one is an open-ended repertoire of harsh realities. Especially losing them to cancer, a disease holding the characteristic of ubiquity and mystery at the same time. It is a journey a lot of people have been forced to take, an unwanted journey more often than not, culminates in the loss of health, hopes, dreams, future, and eventually lives.
My time with my mom involved more than the buying of expensive birthday and holiday gifts, surpassing what my wallet could bear at times. There were the family trips I would meticulously plan to get her out of the rut of overcast skies and the bitter cold of living way north. There were the pricy decisions of giving up what would be the equivalent of a full month rent so I can book a 2 day getaway and indulge her and the people she loves with a memorable experience. There was the waiting for the bus at 5am in the middle of winter, to start my day as a Tim Hortons cashier, to do whatever I can at that time to help pay the bills. There was the heart-pounding job interview with the government director, hoping against all hopes, that I get the job, so I can get a pay upgrade and eventually, a lifestyle upgrade for my mama. There was the labor-intensive, borderline obsessive, one-month-in-the-library phase trying to come up with a business plan, the requirement to a Canada business program that would eventually help launch my dream, Canadian micro-entrepreneurship, that will yield enough, just enough, to provide a comfortable life for my mama just so she can finally give up her housekeeping job. There was the time that I had to sell our bed, and I slept on the floor for months, just so I can help fund that same business when it hit nothing but a thousand and one rejections from banks and capital institutions, and a hundred and one doubts from friends and family, because there was no way, just no way, I would give up on that dream, even if I die trying. There was the time when my dad left, and then still a few months after, the inevitable selling of the only valuable material thing we owned, our house, her dream house, what they say was too expensive for a now two-income household (mine and hers). There was closing up shop, collecting the remaining furniture from a house full of family memories, and emptying it’s every nook and cranny, in the middle of a polar vortex induced cold, bitter winter, handing the key to the new home owner who is about to build their own family memories, having to go through that while my mom was a thousand miles away, back in the Philippines, mourning the death of my grandfather. The burial of a loved one I would have fought tooth and nail to witness, bid my last goodbye to the person who helped raised me up, but sadly could not, because I had to represent the other closure happening in our lives, the sale of our house with a heavy heart. what seemed to be things purely belonging to the pages of fiction novels or sappy movie plots. There were the times that I barely have enough to pay one rent, much more two rents, our condo and then the business’ headquarters, so I have to work overtime, give up any semblance of a prime-of-life lifestyle, and reduced myself to an unhealthy cycle of work, home, cooking, work, home, grocery shopping, work, home, so my mama does not have to touch a penny, not a single penny from her bank account, to help pay rent or buy the groceries. Then there was the cancer. Those 9 grueling months of extreme lows, again trudging the cold streets of Toronto with 2 heavy bags of groceries and all sort of remedies on each hand, choosing to sleep on a chair and give up 2 or 3 day showers so I don’t have to leave her bedside in the hospital, giving up every penny I have every moment I could to pay for the best groceries for her to eat, devoting every waking hour to searching and researching the best institutions she can go to recover. Then bringing her to Dubai and pay the most reputable doctor I can find to treat her here when time would no longer permit for me to stay in Canada, maxing out my credit cards for the endless medication, the pricy laboratory bills, the plethora of equipment I can buy to help alleviate her pain and discomfort and then the cooking of four or five dishes every single meal just so she gets to choose what ever can entice her to eat. And then there was her death. Just when I thought I’ve already hit rock bottom, to receive the news that she’s gone, to receive the news that the person I’ve been fighting my entire life for, I’ve been dreaming every dream for, I’ve been willing to give up my possessions for, to receive such news does not rival any pain I have ever experienced or heard of. Until the closing of her casket, I could not give in to emotions, I had to keep my weeping to a minimum, because there were things needed to be done, paying the funeral parlor, finalizing the cemetery plot, arranging for the flowers, making accounts of what resources can be liquidated to fund the expensive Canada burial, still reeling from paying the hefty price tags that come with cancer, requesting account closures to her Canada affairs, facing the funeral director’s apparent suprise when he saw only a party of three, my sister, my husband and myself, showed up for ‘family time’ — that time reserved for the bereaved family to take one last look of the body before they open the funeral hall for the rest of the “viewers.”
It’s been 4 years from that day we laid her to rest, and not a single day has gone by without me indulging myself with reflection of all the events. The one of few beautiful things that came out of this ordeal was I get to reflect on all the things I was able to share with her while she was still alive. Even those that cost me more than what I can afford at that time.
There is this one memory that keeps being my reference, that 2015 turning 2016 New Year celebration. I remember going through the rigmarole of booking and re-booking, calculating and re-calculating, as to what celebration I can afford for the family to have a good time as my mama was visiting from Canada. At the end of the day, I made the decision of what celebration to choose not based on my budget, but based on my gut feeling to abandon all cares, and go for what my heart desires. So I did. I booked the evening that cost a huge sum of money and I justified, we’re just gonna have to make the most out of it. And we did. Little did I know, which I know now, and will ever be grateful for, that decision, the decision to follow my heart, not my logic, my love, not my wallet, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. As it turns out, that was the last New Year celebration, the only New Year celebration I will ever get to spend with my mama. She passed away that same year.
What I’m trying to say is, money comes and goes. Opportunites, on the other hand, may come once, to never appear again. To limit ourselves with something like money, something that is so fleeting and fickle, would have been a tragedy, a disservice to ourselves and our loved ones. Human nature is to be selfish, but we have the Godly nature to be selfless. What opportunities to love, to show kindness, to pursue our dreams, to be extraordinary, to take on the world’s worst inequities, what opportunities are knocking at our door right now? Do we choose to ignore it because of what we don’t have or do we choose to make a decision inspite of what we don’t have? I believe in living each day as if it were my last. Not for any reason, except that it helps me be a better, more caring, more loving and kinder person. It also helps me make the decisions to go for it, follow my heart, pursue my dreams, never think that I’ve got something to lose. Most importantly, it helps me reflect on every opportunity I got, not to live in fear that I might not have the same opportunity tomorrow, but to live in gratitude that with even just one opportunity, I am blessed enough.