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My mother, my link to a century

The late Alice Marquez-Lim Coseteng, was an educator, authority on art, culture and history, and ambassador to Mexico.

My mother, Alice Guanco Marquez Lim Coseteng, was a repository and authority on a family history that spanned over 100 years.

She chronicled her experiences, told stories about her circle of friends and family, regaled us with her deep knowledge of literature, anthropology, languages, history, travel and the arts.

Through her, I knew enough about her grandfather and his struggles and fortunes. I knew their friends, relatives and business associates. That was a prominent bunch of friends and family, many of whom I continue to be in touch with till today. They are never “distant relatives.” They are relatives I knew about through my mom and grandmother who told funny, interesting and colorful stories about them, all within my hearing distance practically since birth!

She also talked of her struggles during the war years, relationships with relatives, and later on, her career as a professor in UP, entrepreneur and founder of Diliman Preparatory School and her landscaping business, Excelsa Landscapes.

My mom was such a liberal thinker; she was not a helicopter mother, always hovering; she was a mother who let go of her kids. We were allowed to question, not told to conform to societal standards, daydream, explore and — right or not — make mistakes.

She was a mother for all seasons, and a linguist — I could never catch up on her reading materials, attain her academic achievements, or play better golf. Her taste in clothes was quite age- and occasion-appropriate, tastefully put together in her own distinctive way.

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My mom was a college professor at UP Diliman with an MA from Stanford University. When I would take a test and get a score of six out of 10, she never punished me for it. Her feeling was, “You failed the test, so you’ll have to look for the right answers.”

After the test papers were returned and the correct answers revealed, I would know exactly what those who got 10/10 knew — except, just a few days later. But she made me feel I knew more answers than that (except those questions were not asked on the test).

And I became confident enough over the years to kept asking questions and listening to explanations that led my interests to blossom — from cars, art, movies, languages, plants, sports, architecture, to science, fashion, furniture and writing.

I was never pressured to do well in school. I was made to feel that I should be able to learn from many experiences in life and school was only one of them. Of course, I’m sure she would have preferred that I got a degree. But I told her that while I was able to enter UP Diliman in 1970, and took only the subjects I liked, I would not have been able to get a degree, even had I wanted to.

So, when I felt I learned enough in the university, I decided that the rest of what I needed to know in life, I would learn outside. That was what my mom taught me: to fend for myself, to ask whenever I did not know something, to passionately argue when I knew I was right, to find out why and when I was wrong and to use it as a steppingstone to do what’s right.                My mom had quite a rich and substantial life — and between her books, her music, her greenery, her golf, her mahjong with friends and her school, she led such an enviable life.

In the final years of her life, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery, she was advised to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which she outright refused. She would not listen to any argument. I was stunned, of course, for we were told that chemotherapy and radiation were the ways to survival. But to her, there was alternative medicine that she associated with quality of life.

She would never have allowed herself to lose her hair or be weakened to deprive herself of golf and the company of her golfing friends. She went completely vegetarian which I followed to lend her support — and you know what, I felt so much better and lost weight. She stopped using harmful chemicals and metals, cooked food and ate them from glass vessels, discontinued the consumption of processed food and use of cosmetics among other things. She lived only for another five years after surgery but she continued to play golf two to three times a week, traveled the world with family and friends and eventually became ambassador of the Philippines to Mexico. Her fluency in Spanish came in handy when she had to translate Philippine laws into Spanish to be better understood and appreciated by the Mexican government and prospective investors.

At one point in the second year of her term, she was given only six weeks to live. She was flown to the US from Mexico and I flew to California to bring her home. All throughout her battle with cancer, I never heard her complain once. She must have at least been in pain as the breast cancer metastasized to her brain, liver and bones. I was horrified to see the X-rays looking like her insides were bullet-riddled and her liver looked like a huge cauliflower. She must’ve bravely kept it all to herself.

Her real suffering and pain came about only two weeks before she passed away at 70. Before that, it was up and down for a month. This was so different from other cancer cases I’d heard about. Maybe her body was fully prepared to battle cancer through turning vegetarian and taking alternative medicines.

Over the past 16 years without a mother to celebrate Mother’s Day with, I treasure everything I learned from her. I learned to be strong and determined in what I do; to be fair and honest and to fight for what is just and right, even if inconvenient or costly.

My mom taught me to be a granddaughter to my grandparents and a mother to my children, mistakes and all. I believe I am doing an excellent job alone. Single parenthood is not a joke. It’s not to be laughed at, whether at the level of neighborhood drunks, showbiz or in the highest corridors of power.

Raising two children at a time when times were tough made me tougher. My mother and grandmother, they each toughened me even more.

And when I entered politics, they the first my mother called for support. It was always, “Of course you’ll make it, you just have to work thrice harder!”

Her own art collection inspired me to collect art, and the first I could afford which was farthest from my imagination, kept me going through thick and thin.

There was always something of value, so when I needed it most, I was saved by my art. I also collected jewelry thinking that if I were to leave this world early, there would be enough to send my two young children to the best colleges and even start a business of their own. And when the time came and I needed money, there was always something to sell, which was why I bought jewelry in the first place.   

To this day I do not recall one incident where I actually witnessed my mom and father quarrel. I’m sure they did; I was just left out of it, and I thought it was wise and in the best of taste.

My mom was to me a great achiever with a lot of foresight. When my father was busy handling a business empire that eventually spun out into oblivion, the little schoolhouse my mother set up eventually grew to be the Diliman Preparatory School and Diliman College today.

Now, I hope to grow as an educator by looking for new schools to support and grow, with like-minded partners. I think my mom would like that.

Thank you, Mom, for being my mother.

 

 

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Email the author at nikkicoseteng2017@gmail.com or text her at +63997-433-7154.

 

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