Two days after Christmas, I received a message on Viber from my sister Bem that Nanay, my mother’s eldest sister, was rushed to the ICU; a few seconds later, my sister declared she has died.
I don’t recall the reason we called her Nanay, perhaps because we wanted to avoid confusing her with our mother whom we call mama. She married last among the four sisters because she was sent early in her life to Mindanao to be employed as a factory worker for Dole Philippines and had to support her younger siblings to school back in Iloilo. My mother also attempted to work for Dole, with Nanay’s invitation, but lasted only a day. My mother cried, from her recollection, when she saw her older sister waving at her from the production floor removing crowns of pineapples, peeling their heads, and removing their eyes. That day she wore for the first and the last time that pair of soccer shoes Nanay gave my mother as gift to celebrate her first day working at the pineapple canning factory.
My mother married first, at 23, that’s why among us cousins, we’re considered the kuyas and the ates, although they never attach those before our names as the tradition in our family. The other two sisters also started their families very early. This fact made my Nanay bitter, that she worked hard to support her sisters and they ended up marrying or getting pregnant at such an early age. She got married when she was in her 30s, and the only one among the four sisters who had a wedding that looked like a “real” wedding, as far as I can remember — white wedding gown, flower girls, a wedding cake, and trinkets for souvenirs.
She was a very gentle soul. I don’t remember she ever scolded us when we were young. Before she had her own children, we received all the love she could give meant for her children. Maybe that explains why we called her Nanay. When I was in the university, whenever I went home for the holidays, she’d give me a small amount to help me with my studies. And I don’t know why, but my memory of this is always my saying good bye to her while she’s doing the laundry of her family by hand after arriving from her night shift peeling pineapple at the cannery.
Aging ravages us and renders us little by little unrecognizable. This was what happened to her as it would to all of us. Three months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her decline was too fast, I did not have time to see her before she went. We spoke on the phone, but it was a voice that sounded tired and fed up with life. My mother was with her the whole time, sitting by the sickbed of her elder sister whom looked forward to spending their old age together.
Two days after Christmas, Nanay left. She was survived by her four children and her husband.