After living with my Lola for the last five years, through my brief year in law school through multiple work trips and emergencies, I was beginning to think she was going to last through some of the major milestones in her grandchildren's lives. Even being stricken with pneumonia, being diagnosed with Parkinson's and just all the ailments that come with age, my grandmother was a strong woman.
After a few weeks in the United States, I heard the tough news from my sister that my grandmother had suffered a stroke. My heart sank at the news because I knew she was tired. She was pretty old and had lived an incredibly packed life. She'd outlived so many of her peers. But somehow, I think we all knew it was heading towards the end of her story.
Sure enough, a week later, the morning after they brought her home to rest in her own bed, my Lola passed in the early hours of the morning.
It was tough. After living with Lola for so long, I knew that I wanted to be around when she passed. But somehow my first long trip abroad, that's when she went. It's tough because I didn't get a chance to really talk to her before she left us. But it's not about me and she was able to get all but one of her nine kids with her in the Philippines before she passed. And that is pretty amazing.
I knew I loved Lola a lot but I don't think I realized how much more I did until after she passed. And so to say a proper goodbye, here's a little eulogy I wrote for her.
We're saying goodbye to Lola Carmen today. I can't say a eulogy because I will be a basketcase but it is an honor I can't pass up to say goodbye to my Lola.
Lola Carmen was amazing. She wasn't the first mother to raise 9 kids, who with all their opinions, is multiplied into an army. She wasn't the first grandmother to have 13 multicultural grandchildren scattered in all parts of the world. She wasn't the first woman to have a career and be a mother.
But she was the matriarch to hold our huge family together in spite of only a few of us living in the Philippines. She was the mother who obviously had an indelible impact in all her kids. She was the grandmother who flew to wherever her kids needed her and many of us grandchildren were lucky enough to live with her for some years and months, myself included. Lola Carmen believed that reunions were important, to stay connected as a family and so every year and a half, we would take a break from ordinary life and fly to the Philippines or other parts of the world and reconnect with each other. It was an inspiration to us grandkids and as we get older, we value the rare times we spend together and look forward to these special times and we will continue this and stay connected, in spite of whichever stage in life we will be.
But Lola wasn't just about family. Her long and full life involved multiple careers. To be honest, she didn't need to. She was born into a life of privilege but though it showed in the way she carried herself, Lola went against the norm and went to college and got her Masters in Social Work, alone in the U.S. while the World War was changing many, many things back home. She was the first social worker in the Philippines, working back in the time when the Philippines was not even a national Red Cross but an Philippine chapter of the American Red Cross, founding the national association. Lola was my great-grandfather, Aurelio Montinola's hostess back in the time when he was the Secretary of Finance and his other business dealings. She used to tell me that her suitors would visit her at work and bring her flowers AND their friends because they were amazed that a woman, especially one with her background, wanted to work and work for real. In spite of many boyfriends which could have meant an early marriage, Lola worked and settled down much later than most. It was an inspiration to us grandkids, especially us girls, because then our parents encouraged us to work like we didn't have limits. She was a quiet and real feminist.
Before martial law, Lola moved without complaint with Lolo to Vancouver with 9 kids, leaving a huge extended family and a lot of comfort in Forbes Park to a life more simple and lonelier and definitely harder. It was not the life she grew up with but it was what she accepted and we all know that there were sacrifices that many of us don't know about. It was an inspiration to us grandkids because my grandparents, in spite of having less, gave their kids every opportunity and they took it. They taught their kids the value of hard work and they learned it. And paying it forward, us grandkids have had every opportunity given to us but have also learned to seek other opportunities for us as well.
Lola had a background type of personality but she was never in the shadows. In reunions and in everyday life, she'd be quietly listening to us and smiling. She probably didn't understand all the things we did, but I'd hear from other people of how proud Lola would be. And in return, we loved having Lola and the one we had was not the usual. It was an inspiration to us grandkids that character is important, that simplicity and humility is valued, and that hard work is necessary.
Lola was a pretty liberal Lola when she wanted to be. She wasn't the norm in the sense that she wanted us to settle in our careers first before marriage. 'Collect and Select', she told us. And so Lola has seen us grandkids through multiple boyfriends and a couple of marriages. Unfortunately her advice has not led to her seeing anyone beside Reshma and Hanna get married but she made it to her great-grandchild, Sophie, and for that, we will be happy. But she is an inspiration to us for wanting to settle down with someone we will be sure of, not wanting us to settle into a culture of broken vows that happens a lot today.
I'm profoundly sad she's gone. But from the stories of watching Edith Piaf live, watching the original Cats on Broadway, racking up hundreds of thousands of miles and seen many countries, raised children and grandkids, bumping off Pres. Quezon off the flight from the US to the Philippines after the World War, introduced some really interesting friends to us, helped people financially and quietly along the way, and so many infinite adventures... she did everything she wanted to do and she was ready.
For all your well wishes and condolences to my wonderful, beloved Lola, thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts.
Abbi is a petite human, blogger, amateur photographer, permanent humanitarian, avid traveller, culture addict, giant bookworm and impossible foodie.