It was her stories that first drew me to her. And in the end, it was again, her stories that brought us together.
I first met Tita Moonyeen when I was a wide-eyed first grader. Her daughter, Carissa, was my classmate, and later on became my life-long friend. At the age of seven I was in awe of Tita Moonyeen’s gentle demeanor and grace. She had a lovely smile and a kind voice, and she was always so elegant and simple.
In the fourth grade, around the age of nine, I began reading women’s magazines and was surprised to discover that Tita Moonyeen wrote for the then newly launched “Mod” magazine. I was struck by the idea that a woman like her could raise a family of three young children, be wife to a successful banker and find the time to write. Beautifully, at that.
In my nine-year-old heart, I thought to myself: “When I grow up, I want to be just like her.”
And so the years went by.
In high school, the Singson home in Greenhills became our “clubhouse.” Group practices were often held there, and in the warmth of her lovely home, we would always be fed and cared for. It was during these practices that I got to see how devoted Tita Moonyeen was to her father and to her other elderly relatives.
During occasional chats, Tita Moonyeen liked to regale me with stories about this elderly aunt or uncle, her trips and her children’s exploits (Jay and Gerard came after Carissa). I was always in awe of her great love and quiet devotion to Tito Gabby, her children, her siblings and many others. She was always present in every moment. When she listened to you, she listened intently.
Nine years ago, Carissa invited me to her parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful and memorable evening filled with much love and laughter. By then, Tito Gabby had retired as governor of the Central Bank and there was a lot of time for travel and bonding with the family. The grandchildren had also started to come. It was a beautiful state of life to be in.
However, a few months later, Tita Moonyeen was diagnosed with the Big C, and from there it was a courageous and uphill eight-year journey for her and the whole family.
In spite of the pain and sadness, there was much joy to be celebrated in those ensuing years. Tita Moonyeen made sure she lived those years very well. The travel and adventure with family continued and until the very end; her spirit was not broken. The gracious smile never disappeared, and the peals of girlish laughter continued to fills the halls whether she was in Singapore or St. Luke’s for treatment, in Tagaytay where she spent much of her time after getting sick, at the family home in Greenhills, or whenever she was with her grandchildren who brought her so much joy. The Field of Faith, a retreat and prayer sanctuary in Calauan, Laguna, which she set up with the family during her periods of remission, stands today as a testament to her love of nature and her unwavering faith in God.
During the last year of her life, Tita Moonyeen and I began weekly journaling sessions as a means of working through her feelings, and as an adjunct to the treatment that she was receiving back then.
Every Saturday afternoon, Carissa, Tita Moonyeen and I would sit on the patio by the garden in the late afternoons and move indoors when it became too dark outside to write, listening to her read aloud what she had written down.
I will always treasure those times spent with her, for it was in those moments that she truly opened her heart and spoke to us about what mattered in life.
When I think about it now, as a young girl, it was her gift for storytelling that first opened my eyes and set me off on the road that I now find myself on. In the twilight of her years, the gift of stories was one that I was able to return to her.
It is both painful and joyful to spend time with someone who you know may go anytime. But it is those moments that make life so much richer and meaningful, leaving you with nothing to regret later on. Listening to their wisdom, or simply sitting with them and holding their hand, is always time well-spent and remembered.
In the book “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Morrie tells the author Mitch Albom: “You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship. Money is not a substitute for tenderness, and power is not a substitute for tenderness. I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
Tita Moonyeen who lead a beautiful and privileged life, knew this lesson so well, and she took it to heart by giving of herself fully and unselfishly to everyone she loved. It is a lesson she was able to pass on to her family and all of us who loved her. She always knew what was true, and what was real. So toward the end of her life, she was constantly surrounded by family and dear friends, always wrapped in love.
“Love your families but remember that you must never lose your true selves. Life is short diba? Don’t postpone anything because you never know,” she would often say. Thank you for gracing our lives with your simplicity, laughter and grace, Tita Moonyeen; in God’s garden, you are finally free.