I woke up at 4:24 a.m. on Sunday, April 7, which was unnatural, since I had just gone to bed at 3:30 a.m.
I decided to sleep some more as the only morning activity for me then was Sunday Mass, and the birthday lunch of my youngest, Sandino. And in the afternoon, a visit to Tita Llita Logarta, who was back in the hospital.
My two phones were off when I got home Saturday night. Margie and Michele were calling me early Sunday morning to relay the sad news regarding Tita Llita. I was only able to read their text messages at 8:37 a.m., when I woke up.
I started to cry when I realized why I woke up at 4:24 a.m. Tita Llita couldn’t wait for my visit, so I thought she came by to say goodbye.
She had been confined for two weeks in early March before I came to visit her at Capitol Medical Center. On March 13, I asked her to wait for me to get back as I would be away for two weeks.
Saturday could have been the best time for me to visit, but I decided to rest, as I had twisted my ankle.
I met Tita Llita in the mid-’80s, when she was connected with Mr. & Ms. Magazine, but the real friendship actually started when two of her daughters left to work abroad.
Margie first went to Singapore, then to Hong Kong to become a travel writer, and now she is an editor-at-large. Nanette accepted a post in Atlanta. She continues to be a top corporate lawyer for UPS.
Margie made me promise that I would keep Tita Llita company while she was away. And I thought I did.
Tita Llita never minded going to my humble abode in Payatas for Christmas and New Year dinners with my family. It became a 10-year tradition, until my children and I started traveling during Christmas breaks.
She loved all my four kids. She was especially fond of Bambi and Sandino, who always tagged along to all the CCP shows, plays and concerts she had secured extra tickets for.
She was my prayer warrior. For every board, bar and final exam that the kids had to hurdle, every pain that wouldn’t go away, every problem that seemed unsolvable, I would request her to pray with me.
Tita Llita wished she had attended all my children’s weddings. Unfortunately, she got to be present only for Bambi’s since she got sick when it was the turn of Oliver and Omar. But it was all right as she was always there with us in spirit.
Tita Llita and I traveled a few times, and the best recollections were those in Korea and New York.
She gamely climbed Mt. Sorak with me one chilly, windy day in autumn. I was ready to give up as we were slowing down, carefully crawling, lest we slip into the ravine. But seeing how determined she was to get to the top, I was too embarrassed to give up, so I just followed her.
I was so glad we completed the climb. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of viewing Korea’s autumn splendor! Truly one for the books.
Tita Llita was a most creative person. When she wasn’t writing and editing, she was painting or creating something out of nothing. One time, I watched her put together dried flowers, twigs, vines, cones and recycled ribbons and turn them into beautiful wreaths for the holidays. I kept ordering for clients and friends until she complained I was overworking her!
She had an art show in New York, and I was lucky to be on an official trip to San Francisco at the time. I flew to New York after my event, and met all her New York relatives and friends. She introduced me as “my adopted daughter.”
Tita Llita was my second mom. With her, I found another shoulder to cry on. When I couldn’t even tell my own family my problems and heartaches, she was always there for me, ready to listen. She gave me valuable advice on how to deal with life’s rude awakenings. She said I could call her no matter the time of day, and I did many times.
All celebrations hosted by her family for her included me. Until her birthday last year, these were simple occasions loaded with love and affection.
Aside from Margie, Nanette and Michele, Tita Llita raised five fine boys: Buddy, Bong, Dr. George, Nicky (+) and Tootoot. She doted on grandchildren who filled her La Vista home with laughter.
She enjoyed her retirement. She never stopped writing. She accepted book projects. She continued to paint. She traveled more often to visit her children abroad. We had more time to watch concerts, pig out with our own eating club with Ester (Dipasupil), Corito (Llamas) and Winnie (Velasquez), and go on regular “out-of-town” trips to Alabang to visit her good friend, the late Tita Doris Nuyda.
When Tita Llita had a stroke, she got mad when Margie told me. She said it was very minor and it was unnecessary for people to know. She survived the stroke, but her knees hurt with arthritis. When she became wheelchair-bound, she didn’t want to go out anymore, saying she didn’t want to burden anybody.
Initially she preferred us to just visit her at home. After a while, she said she was happy to just talk to me on the phone. There was no need to visit her. So I kept calling.
Michele and Jovy, three caregivers and a night nurse stayed with her in La Vista. Dr. George and daughter-in-law Dr. Cora, and Bong regularly visited her. Grown-up grandchildren would pop in unexpectedly to cheer up their granny. On long holidays, the foreign-based kids were home to buoy her spirits.
During her last hospital confinements, Nanette and Margie rushed home and stayed with her 24/7. When she passed away, her Manila-based children were with her.
She developed cirrhosis of the liver. She never drank, smoked or ate excessively, but Dr. Cora said her liver was assailed by all the medicines she took for her other ailments.
The night nurse told the children that since two weeks ago, she actually saw Tita Llita’s late son Nicky in the hospital with his siblings, watching over Tita Llita.
At the crematorium last Sunday afternoon, I requested the Loyola staff to look for green-colored bones of Tita Llita after her cremation. The Chinese believe these bones signify the good deeds Tita Llita had done in her lifetime, and that these had to be kept by the children for good luck. Michele was given a small packet of these bone fragments.
Tita Llita had an indomitable spirit worth emulating. Despite her own heartaches and pains, she was determined to live to the fullest. And she did!