On Sunday afternoon, March 11, 2012, on the eve of my mother-in-law’s first death anniversary, the family and close friends gathered in the chapel of the Maryknoll Sisters’ Residential Center in Ossining, New York.
The Nuns ushered us all in. After some familiarizing with the important passages and songs, we proceeded with the mass. We celebrated her life and her passing. This was a place familiar to her. She had spent a few holidays there when the family threw holiday parties for the retired sisters.
After the mass, we proceeded to Agnes’ house for merienda cena. I guess the closest thing to this is High Tea. Or, merienda-cena
accompanada de te. Not quite the mid-afternoon snack because it’s quite a spread of food. Not quite dinner either because it’s a little early.
First there was the pig. The poor thing did not stand a chance. It was roasted to perfection, crisp on the outside, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful inside. Imagine about forty people on a feeding frenzy! With a glass of red on one hand, we poked and prodded until we had our fill. Then, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the table.
Then there was the spread in the main dining room. These were mostly her favorite foods: More lechon (the roasted pig), Dinuguan served with rice puto on the side, beef kaldereta, pancit malabon, Merle’s fresh salad greens, roasted Peking duck, Biriani rice with curried shrimp from Leoni, mixed vegetable saute from Agnes (to keep a semblance of a balanced meal!).
You’d think we’d go very austere for dessert after this, right? Think again! Out came the multi-layered decadent chocolate cake, sapin-sapin with toasted coconut on top, bibingkang malagkit, polvoron and boat tarts, bibingka galapong with salted eggs and cheese, and the sansrival. Some of us had to have our coffee and tea to get us through.
As the evening wore on, stories abound. We remembered the last three years. Everyone called her “Nanay,” which means mother, in Tagalog. It did not matter if you were related to her or if you were one of her regular customers at her dress shop. She was “Nanay” to practically everyone who knew her.
And so, we look back to the time that brought us to March 12, 2011, when she passed. She was healthy until the last two years. She had always taken care of herself. In spite of a major setback in September, 2009, we could see that she fought hard to regain some of her strength. She had always been a strong person. And at this period in her life, she was determined to go in her own terms. In her own time.
Nanay wanted to die at home in Manila. She wanted her family around her. She did not want to suffer or be in too much pain. We all did our best to fulfill her wishes. No heroics. No fanfare. Just quiet company beside her. Louie to control her discomfort. The family to wait patiently with her. In the end, it was a good death. It was a beautiful death.