I spent the weekend at my parent's house and alas, no real chance to post. I wrote this Sunday night, May 6.
I am at my parent’s house in sunny California this weekend. My sister came down from San Francisco to spend the weekend here as well, and tonight her boyfriend drove down for a family dinner.
Mom made lamb, using fresh herbs from her garden. She roasted new potatoes and steamed asparagus. She laid out a fresh plate of tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado. Dad opened a pinot noir and we ate outside next to the rosebushes and orchids.
The wine loosened my mom’s tongue, like usual, and out flowed this story about her father, and her, and me. I don’t remember her father very well. He died in the Philippines when I was in the first grade. For a while he lived in the bay area and mom had told me several years ago that she and I would go visit him every week in the old person’s home he lived in while he was here. I don’t really remember going, but I do have a sort of still picture in my mind of an old, bald, Pilipino man sitting across from me, leaning a little forward on his cane, with a look of sorrow and an imploring expression, like he had just asked me to do something really really important and wanted me to understand completely and say yes. The still photo in my mind gives off the impression that there was a large chasm between him on his chair and me across from him—one that would never be crossed, no matter how much he may have wished it.
Tonight I learned that he had a stroke when he was 59. He had another stroke some years later and soon developed Parkinson’s disease. He shook so bad that he couldn’t eat, or stand on his own, and mom got him into a treatment study that Stanford was doing. She said that three times a week, while dad was at work, she would drive down to Santa Clara to pick up her father and take him to Stanford for his treatment. I was about 1 ½ years old, and my sister was a newborn. Mom would haul the three of us there and back.
Stanford put him into a treatment study which mom said helped my grandfather, to the point where he could walk again and feed himself.
Then mom said that the side effects of the treatment began to manifest in her dad as crazy. I guess one night he tried to kill my grandmother because he thought she was an intruder. My grandmother I guess called the cops. Mom says the next morning she took us down to see what had happened, and that when she walked in, her dad started hitting her about with his cane. Mom did all she could to protect us from him.
He ended up in a brand new residential senior living institution. That’s where we would go see him every week.
Mom says the whole ward would know when the Angeles daughter was coming—that was mom—because she’d bring her kids with her. I was always decked out in the latest goofy outfit my grandmother made me—apparently everything I ever wore as a little child my grandmother had sewn by hand for me—which always had pockets. Apparently I would stuff my pockets full of candy so that when we got there, I could give all the old people candy. I wouldn’t leave the house until I got my pockets all stuffed with candy. Mom says that most of those people never got visitors, so they were all excited when we would come by, and they would stand there with their hands out while I would place candy in each of their hands. Mom says many of them would cry. Mom says she would cry. Mom says that I would ask after my grandpa’s roommates when I didn’t see them, and I would have to be told that they had died. I guess that happened a lot. Knowing myself, I probably took my job really seriously. Knowing myself, I probably understood how important it was for me to give all those lonely old people candy. I was about 2 years old.
I’m sad that I don’t remember any of that. I’m sad that all I remember of my grandfather is a frozen image and a sense of loss. He was an educator and loved history; he dreamed of coming to the US and seeing the historic places. He loved WWII history and wanted to see Europe. It was a sad thing that when he finally came to this country he was a broken old man in a wheelchair, and he never got to travel like he had dreamed.
My mother didn’t get along with him very well when she was growing up. He was a very domineering and controlling man, my mother told me. Mom is very stubborn and headstrong so you can guess how many times they clashed. One of my aunties, mom’s older sister, told me once that he wasn’t as strict or terrible as mom makes him out to be. She told me that every Sunday he would get all 9 of his children together and have them sing. He taught them to harmonize and my auntie said that was one of the best memories she has of her childhood.
After a couple of years in the nursing home, his head seemed to have straightened out and he told mom that he wanted to die at home. Home being the Philippines, in the house he had built for his family.
The youngest daughter was still living in that house, so she agreed to look after him. Two years later, he passed away.
There is a lot of sadness in my life right now. There is a lot of loss and grieving going on. There is a lot of heartbreak and hurt right now in people around me. I feel kind of like the eye of the storm. I am trying hard to hold down the center and bring as much love and healing to the hurricane that I can. I didn’t realize how much my heart could break in response to another person’s grief. I don’t know why my mom started talking about her dad tonight. I do know that I needed to hear her story about him, and that adding him to those being grieved seems right.