When I wasn’t looking, I turned 83. And my life is full—of writing and painting (until 3 a.m., which is the best time to paint and get insomnia).
It is heavenly: I have a terribly bad cataract, almost obstructing the view of my left eye. I see things from over and under and around it, but I like its distortions and weirdness. You can see it in my drawings, and sometimes people like it too, and buy it too, haha. (Hi, Dr. Alvin Agustin. I finished my eyedrops!)
A week ago, I had my yearly blood exam and got perfect scores in everything. Which means unless the top bacteria gets to me, I will not die anytime soon.
Now that is bothersome; I do not like to live too long. You get sick, gnarled, forgetful and crazy and everyone wonders why you’re still around. You live too long, you finish the savings that are supposed to last the rest of your life.
Of course your children are well-off and love you and will support you and care for you even when bedsores have eaten you up, but do you want that?
Some people die instantly or in their sleep, but unfortunately, that happens only to those with undetected ailments, not to people who have regular blood tests, even a glucometer in their house.
There are many kinds of swift deaths to choose from, said Mariel. There’s death by “Ondoy,” death by lightning, by fire, by hanging, by murder. Do you want to be passing by a road and a whole concrete wall lands on your head? “That’s definitely swift.” Sometimes (very seldom), Mariel gives up and changes the subject. She wants to treat me for my last meal. I am pleased.
In general, people want to wish you a long life—like 100 or so. Save me from that evil wish! I saw a recent issue of National Geographic with a Kenyan child on the cover and a caption saying, “This baby will live to be 120.” But will the child want to live 120 years more? Would Juan Ponce Enrile want to live 120 years more?
Old age has been romanticized far too long. Ask the seniors themselves. I recently visited a beloved friend, Narita Gonzalez, widow of the National Artist, NVM Gonzalez. “I cannot see you anymore,” she said feebly. “And I have a hard time hearing, so better speak louder. And I can’t walk. I can’t write and I can’t paint either, which are two things I loved doing. But my bodily functions are fine. So I’m here, just waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting…”
In the evening, my dear cousin Cheping Rivera Ymson texted to wish me a happy birthday, right on the nose. A colossal feat, if you ask me, since I usually miss everybody’s birthday by a month or two (or three). Cheping is 95 years old. I call her every time I need to remember anything.
She is a Born Again who leaves everything “up to Lord.” She hasn’t seen a doctor in 10 years and doesn’t need to. “My daughter Googles health info all the time, especially vegetables,” Cheping says. “I have a good memory. My son taught me Sudoku and I love it, but now I get impatient and sometimes turn to the answer before finishing. I read a lot—I have a stack of old Reader’s Digests where I read the inspirational stories, they never grow old.
“My children, who are grandparents themselves, sometimes tell me to do things I don’t like. Since I don’t have the strength to protest, I just make sumbong to one child or to another, gano’n. No need to be so emotional. When my sister Remy, also in her 90s, comes to Manila, we hold hands and pray together.”
Later in the afternoon I phone my first cousin Vinang Mendoza. She is 93 years old and wants to know what mission she still has on earth, why she still hasn’t been called away. “I lost my Baby Johnny when he was 23,” she relates. “He would have been 72 by now. Then it was Jimmy at 59 who died of diabetes. Then Marissa, of lung cancer at 53. I think I still have to take care of Melinda, my second daughter who is 70. She is bipolar.”
Letty Delgado and I like to paint and pore over paintings. Letty, now also in her 90s, had a very difficult marriage when she was 16, to a boy of 16. They had many children, and her-in-laws looked down on her. They had a bitter separation. She could hardly support herself and felt lost for years.
“Then at a ripe age I married Toto Delgado,” continued Letty. “He really loved me, I was accepted, respected and loved by his family, and I have loved them infinitely in return. All I can tell you is, life is like that. Sometimes you’re down, sometimes you’re up. Just be patient.”
Well, if I had to make a capsule review of old-agers, their survival formula is a combination of reading, praying, painting, sacrificing and vegetables.
I didn’t realize how many living friends and relatives I admire are still around, in their 90s or 80s, until I wrote them all down: Coring and Pepe Abueva; Billy Abueva; Pepsi Aro; Louie Ascalon; Lucing Barracoso; Ning Basa; Letty Santos Bonoan; Gregorio Brilliantes; Letizia Constantino; Violy Tablan Cruz; Araceli L. Dans; Leticia Ledesma Delgado; Mila D. Enage; Juan Ponce Enrile; Nona F. Esquivel; Leni T. Faustino; Narita Gonzales; Carolina Guerrero; Belen Siasoco Jose; Francisco and Tessie Sionil Jose; Lorna Laurel; Mayor Alfredo Lim; Oscar and Connie Lopez; Remy Llamas; Perla Macapinlac; Imelda R. Marcos; Virginia B. Mendoza; Lourdes Reyes Montinola; Carmen Guerrero Nakpil; Rosalinda L. Orosa; Tito Pronove; Conchita Razon; Alex Z. Reyes; Alfredo Roces; Louie Reyes; Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales; Helen del Rosario; Sebastian B. Santiago; Jose Luna Santos; Techi LaO Velasquez; Sylvia M. Ventura; Menci de Vera; Julie Villeareal; Cesar Virata; Josefa Rivera Ymson; Vivencia Yuchengco.
If I have mislisted anyone nearing heaven, forgive!
We can still live meaningfully at the ‘point of departure’