There is a lot of catching up to do, and I think the best way to start is with the most recent events. It’s been hard to get back into the regular flow of things for the past week. The weather here on the East Coast two weeks ago, with its strangely named ‘bomb cyclone’, meant that all the snow and ice canceled our flight back home from Vegas. Of all the cities in the world to be ‘stranded’ in, Las Vegas would definitely not be the worst, but there were some difficulties getting a hotel room last minute, complications with extending the car rental, and concern over how when we did get back we’d be able to get into our house without anyone around to clear the two feet of snow and thick slush that had definitely piled up.
The night we finally returned we were hoping to just pick up and recover from the two extra days we had lost, when my mother got a call from the Philippines. My grandmother, her mother, had just passed. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and over the past few months it had gotten progressively and exponentially worse. She could no longer recognize anyone, was no longer eating, and apparently that night my grandfather and my uncles still in the Philippines were going to meet to decide if they would go with the doctor’s recommendation of keeping her on an IV. Her health was deteriorating at an alarming rate. It seemed that the conversation was moot, as during the night, my grandmother, Aida M. de Vera, passed peacefully in her sleep.
Everything after was a blur of activity. The next morning I was calling up old friends from my travel agent days to help book last minute tickets for my mother and father. Not 24 hours after getting off one plane, they were packing again to board another. From one six hour domestic flight to a twenty one hour trans-Pacific flight, there I was hugging my parents goodbye as the Uber driver came to take them to JFK, leaving my brother and I at home for the past week to take care of other things. (The sudden extreme cold weather proved to be too much for one of our stores, and while we were in Vegas the old pipes burst, covering everything in water and then freezing, damaging everything inside. Electrical equipment, walls, ingredients, all lost to water and ice damage. I had to have meetings with our insurance agent, claims adjuster, and contractors in my parents’ stead.)
I’m sad to say I don’t have too many memories of my grandmother. When my mother had me she was young and scared and completely unprepared, away from home for the first time in her life and in a country thousands of miles away, across two oceans. My grandmother and grandfather came here and helped raise me the first year. My grandfather even took a job at a local 7-11 to help out, while my grandmother passed on all her knowledge and experience and expertise to my mother. How to feed me, bathe me, and my mother even told me stories of how my grandmother would massage my legs at night while I slept, to help straighten my legs and prevent me from becoming bow-legged and my feet from pointing out. Though she was an integral part of my upbringing, I was too young to remember anything personally. Just stories and pictures. And because, for various different reasons, I’ve always been reluctant to go back to the Philippines, I haven’t seen my grandmother for around ten years, since my last trip. I would never have thought that ten years ago would have been the last time I saw her, hugged her. I would never have thought that the still strong, vibrant, loving woman I saw then would in time shrink into herself, become wary and paranoid and fearful of everyone, eventually lose memories and expression, and then pass on forever. There were always opportunities, chances to go. My parents and my brother have been there and back at least five or six times in the past decade. But I always found more reasons not to. They would tell me stories of Lola’s condition, the fleeting moments of coherence, the joys of recognition, always mentioning, wondering, if I had been there, would she have recognized me, would it have made her happy to see me.
I’m ashamed to say now we’ll never know, and I’ll always have to cling to far distant recollections of my grandmother, never having the chance to replenish old memories for new. But let me tell you, I do know this. When my grandmother passed there were plenty of tears. I cried for old memories. I cried for missing the chance for new ones. I cried for missed opportunities. I cried for shame, and in longing. I cried for my mother, crying in the hall, shaking, trying to stay standing, asking to no one in particular, ‘what do I do, what do I do, what do I do?!’
I will forever know my grandmother through the lasting effect she had. I will know my grandmother through my mother, who possesses so much of the strength and tenacity and ability to overcome and adapt that she saw in her mother. I will know my grandmother’s love through the love she showed my mother, and the love my mother in turn gave to me. I will remember my grandmother in every proud, straight step I take into the world.