Health And Family

A mother's pain

- Alice H. Reyes -

MANILA, Philippines - Time, they say, heals all wounds. That may well be, but not for a wound caused by the death of one’s child, which lies dormant in a mother’s heart until awakened by a birthday, an anniversary or a holiday.

Today, as the world prepares for Christmas, the void left in my heart by the loss of my oldest child, Angela Haya Reyes Iglesia, brings unbidden tears to my eyes. Once more, the question I have been trying to suppress, crops up: “Why my Gigi? Why not her mother? Why God?”

It’s been five years since that bleakest day of my life: on the 30th day of October, 2005, when Angela, whom friends and family fondly called Gigi, breathed her last.

I see her in my mind’s eye, so vibrant, so caring, so determined to give her two daughters, Jelly and Lexie, then only seven and six, the best of everything. Her greatest wish: to see them grow into young ladies.

Gigi was the cutest child imaginable. With curly hair, bedimpled cheeks, and bright eyes, she learned to read and write early. She breezed through her grade and high school studies at Victoria School Foundation which her grandfather Dr. Jose Ma. Hernandez, educator, poet, and author, had founded.

And then, she entered the University of the Philippines where she took up Industrial Engineering. It was there that she met her college sweetheart whom she left after graduation to seek her fortune abroad. I suspect that she never really forgot him, even after he married someone else and even when she married Bob Iglesia.

In college, she was a corps sponsor, an above average volleyball player, and a choir member. In the US East Coast, where she found a job, she learned to play golf and was quite good at it. Before her death, she was vice president of Deutsch Bank in New York City, which had offices in the building across the ill-fated World Trade Center.

Gigi discovered she had breast cancer a year after she fled her office on that fateful September 11, 2001. She never told me what stage her cancer was in, but gamely strove to find a cure for it, agreeing to be a guinea pig for clinical tests, poring over books, going to the Internet, and undergoing chemotherapy.

I remember accompanying her to the clinic for chemotherapy sessions. She would talk about what Christmas gifts to buy her siblings, about her daughters and their school work and activities, but never about the pain she must have been feeling.

A year before she died, she flew to the West Coast with her family to visit her siblings. She wore a blond wig and laughed and sang with them, but already her stomach was bloated.

When I went to New Jersey in December, 2004, I failed to notice the change in her. Perhaps she was in remission at the time. In a letter from her in April 2005, she seemed upbeat, telling me her doctor would even allow her to go back to work.

Five months later, I received a call from her, asking me when I would be in New Jersey. Stupid me, I didn’t realize it was a call for help. Unfeeling me, I didn’t rearrange my schedule to be with her as soon as I could. Ever considerate of others, she did not ask me to visit her earlier than scheduled, which was for the Christmas holiday.

On her birthday, October 27, 2005, her sisters and her dad phoned me and I got to talk to her, little realizing how close death was. She couldn’t answer and I told her not to waste her energy doing so.

“I will be there soon,” I promised, having scheduled my flight for October 30. I would not reach her alive.

Her sister told me later that when they were begging her to wait for me, she said, “Don’t let me wait for Mom if you love me. I want to go home.”

Truly, as Fr. James Reuter, SJ, said at the Mass he offered on the 40th day after her death, my Gigi is at home with the Father in heaven. Yet despite that knowledge whenever I pause from my work and before I go to sleep at night, her memory haunts me still and the ache in my heart is sharper than ever.

I remember Gigi, today and every day of my life with excruciating pain, which only another mother, who has lost the fruit of her womb, can know.

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