Death in the family

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Friday last week (Nov. 22) my mother, Cecilia, turned 103 years old.

When our large family — 203 as of last count — celebrated with her last Sunday at our farmhouse in Dampul (Barangay Sta. Monica, Sta. Rita, Pampanga), Inang showed both the will and capacity to keep adding years to her remarkably long life.

We could not help but marvel at Inang’s physical endurance (although she now has difficulty walking by herself) and her mental resilience. She was fully alert. She correctly identified most everyone who greeted her. She aptly responded to queries and carried on conversations with one well-wisher after another.

Inang even replied playfully, as she used to do, to a great-granddaughter who asked how old she was. “One hundred and 23 years!” she said with an impish smile. Was she signaling that she hoped to celebrate her 123rd birthday?

Because of this, our brood of eight brothers and four sisters had hoped to stay intact for as long as Inang lives.

Since our celebration in Dampul of her centennial in 2010, we had thought that entirely possible, especially after Inang brought the affair to a rousing climax by spiritedly singing her favorite Kapampangan melodies.

Alas, our hope for collective longevity was dashed just after Inang’s birthday. On Monday morning, our second eldest sister succumbed to what had seemed to be a mild stroke. Ate Lucing would have turned 81 in January.

Before Ate Lucing, we had lost three in-laws. First to go was Zita, our youngest brother Mading’s wife (Feb. 9, 2009). She was followed by Kuya Mel, our eldest sister Oping’s husband (Aug. 23, 2009), then by Kuya Aming, Ate Lucing’s husband (Feb. 10, 2012).

When I broke the sad news to Inang, she uttered in Kapampangan, “Nano, mete ya i Lucing? Dios ko? (What, has Lucing died? Oh my God!)”

With my palm, I wiped off the tears flowing down her cheeks. Yet Inang remained calm with nary a sob. She looked intently into my eyes, then stared at the tall trees surrounding the house.

“Sunday before last, Lucing was here with me almost the whole day. She was all right when she left at dusk,” my mother said. “And now, I won’t see her again.”

Indeed, Inang didn’t ask to go to Ate Lucing’s brief wake (we interred her last Thursday). She didn’t wish to see her daughter in a coffin. She preferred to remember Ate Lucing as her caring, loyal and hardworking helpmate in running the household and working, along with the menfolk, in the ricefields and vegetable patches.

Yes, when there were only eight of us in the late 1940s, Ate Lucing decided to stop her elementary schooling to assist Inang and enable the rest of us to pursue our education. A decade later when we had become one dozen, a younger sister, Herming, opted to do the same.

Ate Lucing and Herming, who has been looking after Inang in her advanced age, both married tenant farmers. They and their husbands took over tilling the five contiguous ricefields and one isolated patch that our father, Macario, had rented since the 1930s from kindly small landowners.

Tatang passed away in 1975 due to bone cancer. He was 67. Until he became bedridden, Tatang continued to farm, assisted by his two sons-in-law and all of us children. We took turns in tending the carabaos, weeding the plants, and bringing fish, frogs, or snails from the fields and creeks for our simple meals.

Father never let the land lie idle. In between rice crops we planted all sorts of vegetables: corn, watermelon, monggo, stringbeans, peanuts, ampalaya, eggplants. These secondary crops helped nurture our growing family and a host of our relatives and even non-relatives, besides bringing in some cash for our daily needs.

The tenanted land (about a hectare of which Tatang eventually bought, which is now tilled by Ate Lucing’s second son) has been so good to our family that we couldn’t leave it.

Thank you, Ate Lucing, thank you, Herming, for choosing to remain in Dampul with Inang to carry on Tatang’s exemplary farming legacy.

With our parents’ persistence and encouragement, we endeavored to help one another to gain an education, pursue our chosen callings, and raise our own families away from Dampul. Only our brother Nick lives with his family abroad, in Guam.

We shall, however, keep going back to Dampul, our common birthplace — our own Mecca, as I wrote three years ago — to sustain and strengthen our filial bonding, honor Tatang and Inang, and pay homage to the land that helped make us enjoy relatively long lives.

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November 30, 2013

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