I just lost the most influential woman in my life, my mother.
No matter how you prepare for the death of your parents (she gave us a three-year notice because she was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014), one can never be really ready.
I am grieving right now because of this profound loss. They say that there are five basic stages of grief namely: 1.) Denial; 2.) Anger; 3.) Bargaining; 4.) Depression; and finally 5.) Acceptance. The truth is I really don’t know where I am right now. Maybe because these stages are general categories not meant to be clear-cut steps felt one after another in a linear form, for how can one put a neat order in this messy roller coaster of emotions?
I thank everyone who extended love, sympathies, offered prayers to our family, especially those who took time out to visit us during our short 1.5-day wake. My mom really wanted just a one-day wake, probably because she didn’t want to burden us with a prolonged, exhausting one. But I was able to haggle for two days during one of our lighter conversations last year.
It was heartwarming to see friends and relatives we have not seen for years. When people come to a wake and try to console you, the usual question is, “How did she die?” In the tradition of The Last Samurai, I would rather tell you how she lived.
My mother Josefa “Pepay” Maquera Fres was a loving mother of five, grandmother of eleven, great grandmother of five, and the strong yet very sweet wife to my dad all throughout their 61 years of marriage.
During her wake, we encouraged people to write notes about her by providing a nook for this. Their messages were so emotionally uplifting, both the written ones and those verbally narrated to us.
Let me share with you SIX THINGS ABOUT MAMANG:
- She was a bit “astig” growing up that her siblings and cousins called her Here’s a story that I myself learned about fairly recently showing how brave my mom was even as a young girl. During the Japanese Occupation one of her favorite male cousins was tasked to go outside of Laoag City to get some supplies. Even as her parents initially disapproved of it, she insisted on accompanying her cousin Cornelio. Unfortunately, on their way back to the city, they were not allowed to cross the border anymore. They had to live with a farmer’s family for two months. This was how she learned, first hand, how to live really simply. She ate the food that was available, slept on the floor and tilled the land like everyone else did. And she was only in her early teens.
- The boyish girl blossomed into a town queen crowned by the heartthrobs of Philippine cinema namely Rogelio de la Rosa and Leopoldo Salcedo.
- She was the only one among the seven children who didn’t go to Manila for college. Her siblings went to Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines, and University of Santo Tomas. She decided to stay home because she felt she still wanted to be with her parents during college. She graduated cum laude at the St. William’s College in Laoag City.
- She started late in her career but still managed to do a great catch up. She made sure she was able to nurse our youngest (who is 10 years and nine months younger than our oldest) before she started working to help augment family income. She moved up the ranks to become the Chief Examiner of the National Police Commission (Napolcom), then Assistant Commissioner of the Personnel Division. She became the first Regional Director of Napolcom NCR and later on The Regional Director of Region 3 until she retired in 1995. In between those years, she managed to obtain her Masters Degree from the National Defense College of the Philippines.
- She was an expert in crossword puzzle, crocheting and gardening. These were her favorite past times. She was a mean crossword puzzle solver as she always completed all the squares that came out in her daily newspapers. I don’t know about you but I’ve never completed any of those difficult ones she solved everyday. She always wanted her gifts to be personalized so her children and dear friends were recipients of her crocheted angels and doilies. She also had a green thumb and still managed to plant a few ones in our garden during her last stay with me in January.
- She said “I Do” to Rufino “Pinong” Fres more than five times! I think I take after her penchant of renewing her marriage vows for she said her sweet, “I do” on their dawn wedding on February 2, 1956, then again on their Silver, Ruby, Golden and Diamond anniversaries. And of course, in the more than 22,000 days together as married couple, they said “I love you” every single day. Up to Mamang’s very last breath, Papang was serenading her, “Ikaw lamang ang aking iibigin magpakailanman…” as they held each other’s hands tightly while we all cried watching them.
EIGHT MONEY LESSONS FROM MAMANG
I owe my being frugal to the example that my mom set for all of us. Here are some of my favorite FQ Lessons from the FQ Lola:
- Live within your means but enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just like a diet, you won’t be able to sustain it without cheat days.
- There is joy in giving. No matter how little you have, you can still give.
- Beware of “hulugans/gives.” Get a loan only for big ticket assets that appreciate in value like your home.
- Buying a house is a leap of faith and test of marriage. Don’t wait too long before building your own home waiting for the time you’re sure you have enough, for that time might never come, or will be too late that your kids have all grown up ready to leave home. Start small and simple then improve on it.
- Lend only the amount of money that you’re willing to “lose.” This way, when the loan turns sour, your relationship will not turn sour as well.
- Full disclosure about money in marriage. This way no party can accuse anyone of siphoning family money to undisclosed recipients.
- It’s good to celebrate family milestones. Even if she’s frugal she finds a way to hold a party to celebrate family milestones because celebrations are her expression of thanksgiving.
- Being rich or poor is primarily a mindset. She raised us to value ourselves regardless of our net asset value. Despite a simple life, she has always felt abundant.
TEN LIFE LESSONS FROM MAMANG
Aside from the money lessons, my whole being, how I conduct myself and treat others are greatly influenced by these lessons I learned from my mom.
- Speak your mind out, but do so in a respectful manner.
- It’s healthy for siblings to quarrel. She allowed us to express our feelings at home and reminded us that at the end of the day, we still loved each other. This was my constant reminder to myself when my sons were in that stage of quarrelling everyday.
- But marital arguments should be private. This gave us a stable home while growing up. Before I got married, she reminded me that marital conflicts are best settled between husband and wife. Involving outside parties should be a super last resort.
- Respect is the most important ingredient in a marriage. At first I argued that it was love, but as I matured into my own marriage and saw other marriages, Mamang was right again, for even if love is still there but when the respect is gone, a marriage won’t work anymore.
- No matter how tapang and strong willed a woman is, she should be sweet to her husband.
- Awayin mo na ako, huwag lang ang mother-in-law mo! Do not to put your husband in a tight spot of choosing between the two most important women in his life. Connected to this is her other counsel, “Even if your husband starts expressing disgust about his own siblings and parents, hold your tongue for it would still hurt him if he hears even the same words from another person, including you.”
- No need to “pay back” to parents, just pay it forward by raising your children well.
- Celebrate life. Have friends. Hang out! Even if she was frugal, she always celebrated milestone events and went out with her friends.
- Be fair. Give people what their due is. Do not fight a weaker opponent. No favoritism.
- Be prompt and punctual. Do not penalize the early birds in favor of the latecomers.
On top of the above lessons I learned from her that regardless of your situation, despite the presence of great challenges including cancer, happiness remains your personal choice. She continued to be thankful to God for her life, for her many blessings.
Up to the very end, she made sure that she was not going to be a burden to us. She provided liquidity and guidance until her last breath. For someone who had a poor sense of direction (something I also inherited from her), Mamang was our true north. Somehow, even as we are now all adults with our respective families, we feel lost for our compass is gone.
Our only consolation is this. As we went through this crisis of losing our mother over the last few years, and despite having five strong personalities with different opinions at times, we have become more united and somehow more expressive of our love for each other. During the last week leading to our mother’s last day on earth, all five siblings, together with our 88-year old father, spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren were crying one moment then laughing the next moment recalling childhood stories and bloopers happening at the ICU, church, etc. Mamang must be smiling down from heaven watching us.
To paraphrase my brother’s message during our celebration of Mamang’s life last Friday, “Hearing people share how Mamang positively affected their lives, how we, her children, are now living our lives and raising our own children because of how she raised us, how each one here was in one way or another affected by how she lived her life, I guess I can say that her life has somehow become ‘viral.’”
It was a profound realization for me that how we live our respective lives indeed has that “viral effect.” Let’s all ask ourselves, “Is my life creating a positive viral effect?”
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Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
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