"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief... and unspeakable love.” - Washington Irving

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Visit From Nanay

Let me tell you about Nanay*. Tita Sima to most, Nanay to us Torres siblings.

She was our nanny who we considered as our second mother. She had been with our family from the very beginning. She witnessed each one of us get born into this world. She took care of the 5 of us.

She was entrusted by our Mama to take care of our household. Mama entrusted her to take care of us. She was a governess. She handled 5 to 10 staff working under her. Everything would have turned upside down without her.

She was an integral part of our family. She was family.

I remember her taking care of our every whim. Life was easy and smooth-sailing because of her. Every move we made and with everything that we needed we ran to her.

The countless times she nurtured us when we were sick. From the comfort food she prepared for us to make us feel better.

We were spoiled rotten.

The way she consoled us when we were down. And the way she defended and fought for us when we were bullied or trampled on.

She gave her whole life to us. Her love was unconditional.

Then early this morning, I dreamt of Nanay...

The setting was Edsa Shangri la Mall. It was her favorite place to stroll. It was where we always brought her.

Jhon and I had just finished having dinner at that Mediterranean bistro near the carousel. On the way towards the escalator I heard a couple of people mumbling some words and with it the word "Nanay" followed.

I looked around to see. And there she was having just finished talking to some people and now she was headed towards the same escalator we were going. She was wearing her classic short bob cut with specks of silver hair peeping ever so delicately accentuating her hairstyle.

I immediately called out to her, "Nanay!" I was genuinely excited to see her, after a long, long time. My heart was fluttering with joy.


Memory Recap:

The last time I saw my Nanay was more than a decade ago. I remember very well the night before I flew back to the States, January 2000, when we were hanging out at the informal living room. She was sitting on one of the chairs while chatting. There she gave me a package as big as a shoebox wrapped in colored paper. It was her "padala" for me. It was customary to her. I knew it was packed with goodies that I craved for when I was away. Flat Tops, Magnolia Quickmelt cheese, Lucky Me pancit canton. The works, I would say.

I told her I would miss her so much. And while my feelings of love for her overflowed, I went to her and sat on her lap. I hugged her neck tightly, smiling while my eyes closed, still sitting on her lap.

I knew it probably looked funny for I am much taller than her but there I was enjoying every minute of my comfortable seat on Nanay's lap. That memory would forever be etched in my heart.

Nanay was never a demonstrative person. She showed her love to us through her nurturing ways. She took care of us more than she cared for herself. She would even occasionally give us gifts when she could afford it. She loved surprising us. From cute nighties, to food, to even money, she gave unconditionally.

She was extraordinary.

Even thousands of miles away from her, she never forgot to check up on me. Even though I - and I admit - most of the time failed to check in on her, she never gave up on me. She would send me greeting cards just to say Hi. She even sent me a gigantic musical birthday card one time. It said, "To Jet, Kamusta ka na? ... With Love, From Nanay." Her carefully written, shaky penmanship even made it more special. I showed off the card on top of my entertainment center for months.

One summer when Mama and Ate Belle visited me back in the East Coast, Nanay sent a greeting card for me. Her usual love note was inscribed. But what truly got me were the bills inserted in between the card. There it was, a bundle of dollar bills neatly gathered together totaling $200. It composed of mostly $1 and $5 bills with a couple of $10's and $20's. A $2 bill was even included in the stack.

My jaw dropped. I could not believe she sent those. It was obvious that it took her a good effort to collect that amount, more so have them exchanged. It seemed like it was her life savings.

She wanted to make sure I was okay and covered during my stay there. A little something to give me a helping hand. She knew Papa supported me and paid for my way. Though she knew times were sort of tough because of the Asian financial crisis. P60 to $1. I was still comfortable enough. She did not have to do that gesture, but she did.

I could not hold back my tears. All I could say to Ate Belle was, "Oh my God. I can just imagine how long she saved up for this. She didn't have much but she gave it all to me." Right then and there, Ate Belle and I cried loving tears for Nanay because of the unconditional love she had just showed me.

When she passed in 2000, I was living in the States. I did not get to formally say goodbye to her. I was not there when my family laid her to rest.


When Nanay heard her name, she turned to me, looked at me, and with what seemed to me as a semi hurt look, she turned away and continued to walk going up the escalator.

I was dumbfounded. I hurriedly tried to catch up with her using the adjacent set of automatic stairs. To my surprise both escalators were moving up instead of the usual "down and up."

I watched her intently while the 3 of us, Nanay, Jhon, and I, were lead to the highest level of the mall, our distance only a few feet away from her.

When we reached the top we saw a small water plane parked in an area resting on a pool of water. Apparently, Nanay was waiting for her new employer who owned that plane. Two security guards were waiting as well, one uttering to the other how it will take the owner some time to come out, "She's still hearing mass."

I took my chance to converse with Nanay and told her how much I missed her. She finally looked at me with compassion as I went towards her and gave her the tightest hug. I started crying hysterically.

I continued hugging her while I spoke. "Do you know I had a baby?" Still crying, I told her that he died. I told her that if she was there with me, to take care of me, I would not have lost Marcus. I told her that her care would have made things better for me. And that my pregnancy would have been easier.

Nanay did not speak a word. She just listened the whole time. She listened and patted my back as I vented my feelings to her.

Finally I told her, "Come back to us Nanay, we miss you very much. It's not the same without you."

She answered me without opening her mouth. And in my dream I understood when she said she can't. She works for a different family now, and they love her too.

I struggled to accept what she just had said. Though I knew ultimately that, that was true. This is how we would have to live our lives. Our Nanay is not there anymore.

The next few seconds after that were a blur. Eventually I found myself back to reality, I was awake.

How do I interpret this dream?

As always I narrated my amazing dream to Jhon. I told him that finally Nanay had communicated with me. After more than a decade after she passed, she finally came to me.

I knew she would have preferred me being there when she faded in 2000 and I would have done so too. The guilt of not being there will live with me forever. Though I know she knows how much I truly miss her.

But early this morning, she finally broke the ice. She came to me and comforted me. She gave me her shoulder as I cried for the loss of my Marcus. She listened to me intently as I told her how much I missed her. How much I missed her nurturing ways.

She knew I needed her, that's why she came.

I am also relieved that she showed me how she was. When she told me that she belonged to another family now, I knew she meant she is with God. The symbolism of the airplane said it all. Her new employer, her new family, had wings. They fly high.

Rest in peace, Nanay. You now have an "alaga" to take care of in heaven. Please watch over for Marcus. I'm sure you and Papa Jaime are taking good care of him.

Thank you for the visit. I love you forever.

*Nanay is Filipino for mother.

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