The human heart was—and remains—a mystery to me. But I’m learning. I have to. —Anthony Bourdain

My Lola, and maybe me.

My grandmother passed away 40 days ago. While I was having the time of my life with my friends in Palawan. We got a call from my mom to tell us that she had passed away after living a full life. She was 87.

I didn’t cry. I think I was the only one in the family that didn’t. I didn’t cry because for me, I had lost my grandma years ago. What was left was literally a shell of this person that I knew for my whole life. A person, that in the last years of her life, wasn’t even recognizable to me.

See, my lola was and will always be known as a businesswoman. It was what she did best. She attracted money, and she knew how to make it grow. She, after being a teacher, opened a simple business and supported not only her family, but all others who asked her for help. Coz that was what she knew how to do. She did not raise her kids, someone else did, but she made sure that they were fed every day and had the education they deserved. When people asked her for help, when they could not pay for their kid’s schooling, she lent them money. She lavished gifts on everyone she took a liking to. She showed her love the only way she knew how, through material things.

I am not judging her ability as a parent, her two kids grew up well. After losing her husband in his 40s, she was a single parent. These two kids sprung from a single parent household finished school, raised kids, knew how to be firm disciplinarians yet show their affection in unique ways, that you had to know them to appreciate how they did it. They, my father and my late uncle, were not the most affectionate, not the most verbal sorts, but they, as they had grew up on, asked for the best of us and made sure we never went hungry and never to want for more. Prudent, practical men, they were the products of a strong willed woman, this woman that was never the cloying type, but never left you by the wayside either.

She went through a lot. Like I said, she lost her husband to a stroke when they were still young. My uncle, even younger. Died at 42, the only person left in her house, she took it as a huge blow. And i can never imagine the pain of burying your own child, I hope I never do. After that loss, it was only my dad and us left as her immediate family, and we did what we could to be there as often as we could. Strong, smart and independent, she refused to live with us in our house and stayed in hers in the province. She liked it there, she could go to church everyday, take care of her business. It was the place she knew and loved, and we understood and went there weekends to show our support, basically just showing her she still had people for her.

I don’t know if it was the right decision, leaving her to be. She went to our house for New year’s eve every year, but she didn’t like it, was always asking to go home as soon as January 1 rolled in. After years of calling every other day, she called less and less, finding comfort and affection in the hands of her househelp, who had been with her since i was a kid. Making a few decisions that didn’t go over well with my parents, there was a time she stopped calling at all.

She put her trust in the wrong person. I guess she was so starved for affection and attention she didn’t know, or didn’t even care at some point that she was being robbed blind. All her savings, everything, was wiped out, bankbooks cleared, debts incurred in her name, jewelry and other valuables, stolen.

That’s when we lost Lola. The thievery was only discovered as she had to have an operation for a broken hip. When checking for money to pay for it, it was only then that it all came to light, everything was gone. The help, disappeared with the boyfriend my lola let stay in her house because he could give her what we couldn’t, attention she badly wanted. Affection she craved and lost when she started pushing people away.

After the operation she had to stay in our house, we couldn’t find anyone to stay with her. And the woman who stayed with us, I didn’t know. Spouting hallucinations and ghosts and insane ramblings of a woman broken were what stayed with us that year. We could tell she was unhappy. Temper always up, always an argument here and there. She missed her home and even if it was empty, she longed for it. After a year, when her helper agreed, she went back to the house she longed for.

Even if it was somehow worse, bouts of dementia, losing all the weight because she couldn’t eat anything with salt, she looked happy. Between the hallucinations and the gibberish, there was a smile and a laugh. Everything she said, even if it was unintelligible, was punctuated with a laugh, and a silly grin that growing up, I barely even saw.

The last time I saw her was June. It was one of the times we went home to the province. As I went into her room to say goodbye, she laughed, in her made up grin and said something intelligible. I brushed it off and didn’t think anything of it.

August 16, 2010 she passed away. After years of Alzheimer’s and dementia, I was told she was lucid for a week. She had a chance to say goodbye to the few people who still visited her. She called out all our names that day. But in essence, she died alone. No family beside her, no friend to hold her hand. She died as my uncle died. Of negligent care and of loneliness.

At the funeral, as I saw my cousins, my family, some of her friends sob, I shed a couple tears. Not because I lost her. I knew the person in the casket, and the person who lived in that house, wasn’t her. It was a shell of her. I cried because of my father, who did not deserve all the loss he has suffered through in his life. And even if she was just a shell of her former self, my father had lost the last binding family he had in that house. I cried for the loss of my family, I cried for the days to come when everything had to be resolved, as there always is after a death.

She lived a full life. She had kids, got grandkids, had a bevy of friends, indulged herself, lavished her gifts on other people. She lived. And she lived the life she wanted to live because she had the means to, means she took care of on her own.

They say of everyone, I’m like her the most. The features, even the demeanor, the coldness. I am the most standoffish kid in the family. I like material things. I do not take the time to be there for everyone. I pick favorites. I have a temper. I am selfish.

I am like my lola, and I hope I learn from her mistakes, her accomplishments. Her face I am carrying and her legacy, mine to take care of. And I hope, that when I die, i do not die alone. And I know now how not to.

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