All the family members were already there. Brothers and sisters from across the seas, distant cousins from distant lands. I was the last to arrive.
It reminded me that indeed, I was the last one she gave birth to.
I immediately went up the house and looked for her, and now what used to be her. The lines on her face seem oddly different from the last time I saw her. I stare at the face but I don’t see her.
Somehow I knew it’s Mama but my mind can’t seem to comprehend if she’s really there. Or was it just somebody else trying to be her? Still, beneath those empty glass lies somebody else who oddly looked like my Mama.
I looked around and saw my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews, all the people who loved her. They live. They mourn. I looked at them, each and every one of them. I try to discern what lies beneath those flesh, what they feel, what they think, simply by staring at their faces. Such brave faces. Such loss.
I cannot grieve. The last time it hit me, I almost hit the slopes. With my erratic blood pressure, I am weary but careful. If I grieve, I was afraid they would be the ones grieving for me. And beside my selfish reasons, I myself had to put up a brave front. Not just for myself, but also for the others.
And perhaps to let Mama know that, yes, I’ll be okay.
I spent the last two nights wondering where Mama was. And just looking at her remains and everyone else. I had nothing to say, I had no willpower to do anything else but stare. What were they thinking? Why were they here? And where is Mama?
I can see all the smiles of homecoming. The warmth of family reunification. The sharing of old stories. The laughter at old photographs. But sadness betrays the atmosphere of our collective joyful pretenses.
On the last night of the wake, while staring at everybody else, I finally saw her. She was in the middle of the crowd, her wavy hair nicely-pulled back. She was calm, and with a heavenly gaze, she was smiling back at me. It took me a second to realize it was her. When I did, I tried to reach her with my left hand. But then she slowly vanishes in the haze like clouds of smoke. Just like that, and she was gone.
I went back inside to where her body lies. I looked again at the remains that they say belonged to her.
She was sleeping. Except that I hear no snores. Oh, those lovely noises I’m so familiar with when I used to sleep beside her. I’d rather hear them than listen to the silence of this stiff hollow body lying next to me. I waited for hours to hear her snore. I lay my head to the whiteness of the part-wood-part-metal coffin. Perhaps that way, I can hear the distant echoes of her breathing.
But nothing, I can hear nothing.
When we finally brought her body to be with Tatay’s, I said to myself, this is the part where hysteria comes in. To my surprise, except for a few whimpers, none came. In an awkward few minutes, I looked around and studied everybody’s faces. There were no brave fronts, no disguises. As if to say, not to worry Mama, we’re gonna be okay.
For a second I hoped what I saw was acceptance. But no, it simply was resignation mixed with surrealism. We have lost. And the pain of such loss somehow detaches us from the reality that our Mama is now gone. I can see from their blank faces, they haven’t fully grieved yet.
I wanted to look some more, so I could feel more. Make some sense of how all of them are grieving, so I myself can grieve. But I had to leave. One by one, I looked at all my brothers and sisters faces as if it’s gonna be my last.
Even without the words, even with their bravest faces, I can feel their undying love, and unfortunately, their loss. And despite their pretenses that they are okay, they are not. I then realized we all are feeling the same thing.
And their loss was as bad as mine.