By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Six months before her 104th birthday my mother, Cecilia Cunanan Ocampo, quietly breathed her last at dawn on May 24.
She passed away where she had wished she would: in our farmhouse amidst tall fruit trees and vast ricefields in Dampul (Barangay Sta. Monica, Sta. Rita, Pampanga). When she departed, we seven of her 13 children stood around her bed.
Along with her grandchildren, we had kept watch over Inang since the previous day, when her weakened body showed telltale signs of ebbing life. Although her face and body remained warm, her breathing regular, the tips of her fingers and toes had grown cold and bluish.
And she no longer responded when we called her name and urged her to speak to us.
Still we all sensed that she was aware of our presence, that she appreciated our caresses on her forehead, shoulders and hands, and relished the manifestations of love we whispered into her ears.
In fact, when a granddaughter-in-law played some old Kapampangan melodies on a DVD player beside her bed, Inang’s hands and feet moved in cadence with the music. We smiled at one another in amazement. I remembered that on her 100th birthday, she had even rendered two old Kapampangan songs to the delight of the throng that celebrated with her in Dampul.
(The ArtiStaRita chorale, which had recorded the songs, was brought in on the second day of the wake by Andy Alviz, the cultural group’s founder-director and a nephew. As they serenaded Inang and the crowd of mourners with a repertoire of jolly tunes plus a hymn created by Kapampangan revolutionary guerrillas, Andy and I explained the origin of each song and translated it into Pilipino.)
It was the second death in the family in recent months. Six months ago, just after Inang’s 103rd birthday, our second eldest sister Lucia succumbed to the complications of a mild stroke. Our mother must have been deeply affected by Ate Lucing’s death, for her mood and physical condition changed sharply starting last February.
She lost the hearty appetite she had before that. When food was spooned into her mouth, she pushed it out. She had difficulty sitting up by herself. She hardly spoke and slept much of the time. My younger sister Herminia, who with a son and daughter had devotedly looked after Inang, was distressed.
(The last time Inang agreed to sit in her rocking chair and be brought out of her room to join the family in a photo op was during my 75th birthday in Dampul in April.)
On April 21, upon the urging of our eldest brother Jesus, Inang acceded to be taken to a hospital. X-ray and laboratory tests showed that she was dehydrated, with incipient pneumonia, and the hemoglobin and potassium in her blood had run low. Because she wouldn’t eat, she had to be fed intravenously. She vehemently resisted and wanted to pull out the needle inserted in her arm, relenting only when we begged her not to.
A week later, Inang was discharged from the hospital. The doctor said she had no serious ailment that would require further confinement. When she got home, she consented to take bits of soft-boiled eggs with a little milk. For a few days she was able to sit up and speak, but then declined to eat anything at all after that.
On May 23, I dropped what I was doing — writing my column for May 24 – and motored to Dampul, after receiving a text message from Amado, our youngest brother: “Inang is signalling that she wants to rest finally.”
We had all agreed that once Inang indicated definitively that she already wished to go, we should let her. As my daughter Sonora posted on her Facebook page: “She was one of the strongest women I know, and she lived a full life. Rest in peace, Apo Cilia.”
Strong indeed was Inang in many ways. When our father, Macario, died in 1975, she (assisted by two sons-in-law) took over as tenant of the ricefields he had tilled since the 1930s. She continued toiling under the sun for as long as she could, because she loved cultivating the land that has nourished our family and many other families besides.
Inang and Tatang had big hearts for others, especially those in need.
Over the years Inang monitored with close attention our nuclear family growing exponentially to 205. That total constituted 13 children (third elder sister, Cecilia, died at 3), 49 grandchildren, 87 great-grandchildren, 6 great-great-grandchildren, and 50 in-laws. She used to recite with pride the name of every apo. Besides our two sisters and a nephew, five in-laws have passed away. We are now 197.
Most of us reside in and around Metro Manila, but we have maintained the family’s cohesiveness by getting together in Dampul — where all 13 of us were born — on special days or organized reunions.
In the next gatherings we will miss Inang’s physical presence. We’ll miss her smile, her laughter, her teasing, her story-telling, her quick and sharp wit, and her nuggets of wisdom.
Dacal pung salamat, Inang!
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May 31, 2014