Below are excepts from the eulogy delivered by Noel dela Merced at the wake of his mother, Ligaya Silverio-dela Merced, who died on Nov. 14. She was 72.
I am Noel, the youngest son of Ligaya Silverio-dela Merced. I am the son. I say this because for those who may be unaware of my mother’s story, here’s the condensed version.
As she was giving birth on April 21, 1973, she suffered an overdose of anesthesia, which led to cardiac arrest and hypoxia, which affected her mental functions and caused irreversible damage. She was 26 years old, reduced to having a mental capacity of, perhaps, a 3-year-old.
Like a medical drama, there was a dilemma of saving the baby or saving the mother. Perhaps that was the case. Of course, this may be an overly dramatic depiction of what had actually happened, because while I was there present— possibly the only living witness left among those inside that operating room, to this day, I don’t know what transpired, in full accuracy.
Because I was that baby.
Twenty-six years old. Others haven’t even begun their proper adult lives that age. She seemed to have savored every moment, I was told. The glory days. She had the looks. She had the personality, the style and, most notably, the means. She was indulged by my Lolo Silverio. She lived life. And to the fullest. Happily. Unapologetically.
Then just like that, time stopped. And so, frozen in her veins are the happiest memories of my family’s heyday. Decades later, sadly, the same is no longer true in our family. If my birth had saved her from experiencing this, then probably it was written.
I sometimes wonder if I am the unluckiest of us three brothers. I think, “Well, at least, my eldest brother Richie had five years with her. My second brother Bambi had three years.”
But the truth of the matter is, how could either of them be luckier? Both were far too young to even bank on substantial memories, no more than I.
I wish to not parade our mother’s sad accident, and burden you with what is supposedly us brothers’ “misfortune.” However way you put it, this quote-unquote misfortune has been the solid foundation on which we built our unbreakable bond as brothers, our beautiful relationship with our mother —however unconventional it may be—and our respective wonderful lives with our spouses and children.
The irony is true that rock bottom is the most solid surface to build an edifice on, albeit that I was and still am probably the Empire State Building to my brothers’ Twin Towers …
As children, we never felt short of love. We had our grandmother Dela Merced, who took care of us so lovingly and unconditionally. We had the parents of our friends who treated us as their own. We had relatives who would check on us.
We had a father who may not have been physically present at all times, but was there when we called and needed him. We were sent to good schools. We were indulged with toys, trips, and other trivialities kids desired.
For the majority of you who grew up in the more conventional way of Dad-Mom-kids, ours may sound like an entirely different reality, and you may think that what we had was not sufficient.
It was not picture-perfect, but we were unaware of what “perfect” meant anyway. So a certain cliché comes to mind, “Ignorance is bliss.” We didn’t know. We just didn’t know any other reality.
Unknowingly, our perceived “misfortune” became the catalyst for our profound relationship as brothers and as sons to our mother. Can you imagine, three clueless boys, sharing the task of bringing our mother to a salon for a haircut? Or choosing clothes for her? Or buying her makeup?
Picture this: three adolescent boys who couldn’t even fix their own beds or still needed forcing to take a shower, in a roundtable “business” meeting, and the agenda is to schedule who’s going to take Mom to get her nails done and buy her monthly feminine product necessities.
But never did we view these tasks as chores as normal boys of that age would. We grew up caring for our mother because of her condition. We were glad to do so because we got to spend time with mom, regardless of whether she understood us or not. Taking care of her was our happiness.
I told my wife recently, it’s like that film “Three Men and a Baby,” as though we had a beautiful doll we were nurturing, except we were not yet men, and she was not our baby. Because technically we were hers.
Through these experiences, we discovered the most honest and unadulterated meaning of unconditional love, compassion, kindness, patience, flexibility, self-reliance, resourcefulness and respect. In their purest forms.
And because of our “business” meetings about the funniest, most mundane things, us brothers learned the truest meaning of sibling love, support, unity and brotherly solidarity. Of course, we had paid help, but really, if we, boys, didn’t do it, who would?
So you may wonder, who attended my PTC meetings? Kuya Richie. Who tutored me in math? Kuya Bambi. And not that I ever got into any fights back in the day … but you picked on one, you pick on us all…. I knew my brothers had my back, and I had theirs.
These days, when I wake up or while I go for my morning run, and contemplate the man I have become, as well as my brothers, I am proud. We all turned out okay, and I honestly think and genuinely believe, Mom would’ve been proud. We developed to become such for her. Because of her.
We all finished college in good universities with fairly good marks. We even got our MBAs. We’re all comfortable and managed to attend to our mom’s medical financial needs on our own.
Better than most
We’re all happily married, I think, all with beautiful children. We send our children to good schools off the back of our own blood, sweat and tears. We managed to provide the best we could to our wives through our own old-fashioned, traditional hard work. It may not be as lavish as others, but better than most.
And I reflect on the matter, given our history. Easily, you can imagine how the story could have unfolded in a totally different direction. We could’ve gotten into drugs, destroyed our lives, tangled with very bad people. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. We had our mother to be responsible for …
As you may expect, I knew very little about the kind of person my mom was before the incident, except the little I had been told—that her energy and personality lived up to her name, Ligaya. She loved fashion and traveling. She had lots and lots of friends. Her favorite color was pink, and she drove around the University of the Philippines in a pink Toyota Crown with her pink poodles.
So many of my wife Ginggay’s titas, godmothers and [my mother-in-law] Mommy Susan’s friends were very good friends of my mom. So I got to hear the stories, learn more about her, through their memories … Sometimes even before Ginggay gets to actually introduce us, they’re already hugging me, “Aaaay anak ni Ligaya!” And it’s heartwarming, that my mom was so well-loved and that so many people speak of her with twinkling smiles …
Mommy, I love you. Thank you. I am not the son you lost your best years to. I am the son who preserved the best years for you.