I was teaching at St. Theresa’s College. I taught Grammar and Literature to high-school students. I taught for three years, and then I was swept off my feet by my husband. Back in the ’50s, the school did not accept married teachers, so at the end of the year I had to retire. I remember Letty Magsanoc, your editor in chief, was my student. She even wrote an article about me.
You had a happy life and a happy family.
Yes, I had four children, three who eventually ended up living in the US. One of them also lived in London. My oldest is in his early 50s, and the youngest is in his 40s. I have three boys and one girl.
Tell us about Sylvia, your daughter.
Sylvia was 38 when she had the heart attack. This happened January of 1999. She was living in the States with her husband, a Filipino, and her two sons, Miggy and CJ, when it happened. I received an early morning call, around 5 a.m. I answered the phone, and it was my eldest son Pocholito. He told me that Sylvia had a heart attack. She was rushed to the hospital. Her heart stopped.
How did you react?
I was weak-kneed. I remember I did not want to break down. I tried to be strong because I didn’t want my husband to see me. Then I called her very good friend Kata Belosillo, and I asked her if she could stay with me at home. Kata came and she suggested that we pray 2,000 Hail Marys. We prayed from 3-9 p.m. I was like a zombie. Sylvia’s friends and our relatives started coming to the house. They joined us until they had to leave, and then other people would come to pray with us.
All throughout the ordeal, I had the care and concern of my friends and family.
You and your husband flew to the States the very next day. How did you feel when you first saw her in the hospital?
Her eyes were closed. She had all these tubes. I could not help but break down. Then a week passed. She was still unconscious. That’s when the doctor told me: “Everything is in His hands now.” I knew already she couldn’t wake up. My husband went home shortly after but I stayed two or three more months, hoping, waiting. I was hoping there would be a change.
Did she have a heart problem?
When she was about 17, she was playing tennis, she complained to a friend that she tired easily. I had a doctor check her, may valve daw na hindi nagsasara—but no problem, she could live a normal life.
How did you and your husband react when you found out she wouldn’t wake up?
I was numb. I must have cried quietly. My husband also took it quietly, he was a very self-assured man. He passed away four years ago. But during his wake, his friends told me how he really felt. They said part of his life had crumbled because of what happened to Sylvia. He was carrying all of that quietly, all along, until he died. I also thought about her children, who were both in grade school when it happened. Who will take care of them?
How was Syl as a mom? As a friend?
She was a very good mother. I remember, she had an MBA from Santa Clara University, but when Wal-Mart opened in California, she applied, on the condition that she could bring her baby to work. She was a hands-on mother. I would see her eldest prepare his homework and I would ask him: “Where did you learn that? Who taught you that?” And he would say: “My mama taught me.” After Sylvia’s stroke, he matured very quickly. Her youngest son was also very affected. He started clinging to his father afterwards. His father became his crutch. Sylvia’s husband got a child psychologist to talk to the children, which helped. The community where Sylvia worked loved her. She was active in her religious group, her social group and in work.
It was a waiting game then. What happened after?
Sylvia has so many friends who are priests. There was always a mass in her hospital room, and I appreciate it so much, how her friends really rallied around her. Now I don’t know if her friends still visit her, maybe they had to move on.
They had to transfer her after a while because in California, they couldn’t keep a patient in a coma. Her family brought her home but the caregiver could not handle it. Her husband eventually found a very good hospice in San Mateo. She’s very well taken care of. A lot of the caregivers in there are Filipinos, sometimes we give them items from Goldilocks.
How is her family now? Her two sons?
When the oldest graduated from grade school, Sylvia was still in the hospital. He delivered something like a valedictory speech and everyone in the audience was teary-eyed, even the students. They gave him a standing ovation. They all knew his mother could not be there on this very important day of his life.
He and his brother then went on to get a Jesuit education, like their mother. The kids have now moved on; one is in his first year of college in Stanford, the other finished in Georgetown and has a job in Washington. They did very good. The father is also busy, he’s now in another state.
What about her husband? Was it till death do us part?
Although her husband is a devout Catholic, he remarried, but I was told they parted ways. He introduced me when she was his fiancé. I didn’t take it against him, but I told him that in the eyes of God, and as far as I’m concerned, you’re still married to Sylvia. He requested the court to appoint him legal custodian for Sylvia when she was declared brain dead.
What about all the expenses?
Sylvia had insurance. After a certain period of time the insurance company does not cover the expenses any more. The state now takes care of it.
It’s been 12 years. Are they still in pain? Are you?
We don’t talk about it anymore. The eldest, the one in Washington, would sometimes call and tell me, “Nona, I’m going home for Thanksgiving.” I’ll just say, “Don’t forget to visit your mom.” He’ll say, “Yes, I always do.” I’m at an age where I can no longer take the pain. Hindi ko na kaya. Even when my husband was still alive and he’d tell me to visit, I’ll say no. Nahihirapan na ako. It’s an emotional pain beyond words.
When my husband and I used to visit, I would need to prepare myself in the car. Even my husband stayed outside the room, then he’d come in and say, “Syl… Syl, Daddy’s here.” Then he’d go outside again. She’s his only daughter, the only girl. My two other children who live there visit her regularly, still hoping to wake her up.
I always wondered if there was a difference between pulling the plug and not giving treatment. Yet many believe in the dignity of dying since there is no pain or suffering. Do you believe in euthanasia?
No. I never even considered it. I don’t even want to think about it. I don’t even want to consider organ donation because I’m scared they might kill her. A priest once said, “Alisin mo na mga tubo ni Sylvia.” I said “Father, there are no tubes. She only has one tube, for food.” The priest said, “’Yan ang huwag mo alisin.”
Did you ever wish that Syl would go naturally?
She is brain dead and that is what is most painful. Sometimes it feels as if she can hear me. She can open her eyes. If they’re open, she’s awake. Her eyes are so glassy but she looks around. She also moves her head. Sometimes she looks at me but you see in her eyes that she sees nothing. But when I call her, she will turn her head. I ask her, “Can you hear me Sylvia?” Sometimes I say, “Sylvia, let’s pray the rosary.” Then I’ll sit down beside her and we’ll pray.
I think about what will happen when no one can visit her anymore, because nobody can stay with her every day in the States. Sometimes I say, “God, take her already. If she cannot come back to us entirely, I will submit to Your will.” But then, I would not know how to deal with her death if ever that did happen.
What is one good thing that you will carry from this?
I worry about her children. But I think Sylvia did a very good job with them. They are well-brought up. They don’t have any chips on their shoulders. No self-pity. Very strong, like their mother. Sylvia’s heart is so strong. That’s what has kept her alive.
Did you ever get angry with God? Did you ever give up on Him?
No, I never gave up on Him. It’s not for me to decide. There is always that lingering hope that God will bring her back to us. Every night I resign myself to God’s will, but I also tell Him, God, if you want to heal her, you can.
How do you cope? Have you moved on?
Moving on and forgetting are very different. I don’t have a job or any business so I don’t have any obligations to worry about. So I pray and go to Mass. A short vacation for me is playing a friendly game of mahjong. It’s also to avoid Alzheimers. I always pray to God to heal my memory. I don’t want any bad or bitter memories.
I always remember my husband, but I remember him with fondness. Someone once told me after he died, do not grieve for him, mourn for him. Yes, I am moving on, but I’m not forgetting. My daughter and husband are in my heart and head all the time. They are always in my prayers. I can never forget.
What is the most difficult part of the ordeal?
The good memories. Coping. Sometimes you ask, “Where are you? Sylvia, where are you?” Sometimes I think, “Why?” But I don’t want to question why. I was never angry, and I never stopped praying. If I was not prayerful before that, now I really am. I have heard some friends say na hindi na sila magsisimba kung ganyan din lang, but not me. I always hang on to my faith.