A letter to Candida on her first year in heaven

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
A letter to Candida on her first year in heaven
It would be a year on May 21 since my mother, Candida Tenorio, left. She was always a funny and grateful traveler that in one of her trips, she quipped, ‘Goodbye, Mami Island. I love you,’ at the end of her tour in Nami Island in January 2020. The heart never forgets.

Mang, in a blink, you’re turning one in heaven. Every 9 a.m. of every day since your passing on May 21 last year is filled with prayers because I want to accompany the exact time of your passing with pleas and petitions to God to love you dearly, tenderly. You deserve all the love from both man and the divine. Every day.

The passage of time is swift and arduous, packed with listlessness and meanderings of the heart. In the path of time are sequences of the lives of the ones you left behind. It started with a cycle of grief, uncontainable many times. Followed by episodes of momentary joy that eventually became fixed happiness because you would want us to experience the fullness of life even if we are scared and scarred. Then we are chained to the reality that no matter how unbidden our tears are, you would never come back. Memories — your memories of love and laughter and a life filled with dignity — help us solidify our stand.

Like how solid was Rod’s spirit last Monday when he placed your portrait in the altar because the first day of the nine-day novena that will lead to May 21, your first death anniversary, began. It was only last Monday that the bareness of the house stared at me. Your couch was not in the living room yet. No muebles inside the house. Rod and I, being the only dwellers, never had the strength to arrange the house back to what it was before your passing.

We practically put everything in the storeroom to give way to your wake — because ours is a modest house. And we have not visited the storage area since the time you passed. We never talked about why we have not put back the plants in the corner or the shelf in the living room or even rearranged your armada of dusters in your room. Not that we don’t have the energy. We don’t have the courage.

We will finally renovate our simple house after your babang-luksa on May 21. That was what you wanted before you became infirmed last year. We planned it well with you as the project leader and foreman of the renovation. But all took a stall when you died.

In your honor, the project will continue. Everything will be done according to your specification. The roof will be changed totally. If possible, two or three layers of hollow blocks will be added so the ceiling will be a bit high. The ceiling, too, will be changed; there are leaks already. I will work harder to find the budget for the doors, or to change the windows into sliding ones. We’ll get there.

If you were alive, I would surely see a marking in a non-descript corner where you would document the exact date of the renovation using a Pentel pen. The way you did when we had our first black and white TV, when Kuya Gaddie brought home a refrigerator from his Christmas party in a factory, when we first had our own gripo (faucet), when the banyo was constructed, when the windows of the house were first installed — all these are detailed somewhere in the house because your handwriting would be seen in a nook or a cranny with dates when those things and works were accomplished.

The other day, I went to your room in the middle of the night because I could not sleep. It was my third time to be there since your passing — it was a familiar small space that had become labyrinthine in my sight. I felt you there perhaps because your room was filled with memories of love that was warm and reassuring. I looked at the pile of your dusters and unfurled them one by one. The one in mature pink and blush I held against the light and remembered memories when you strutted in Shilin Night Market in Taipei in it. I saw your pink floral vestida and remembered the warmth of your hand when we walked hand in hand in a fruit farm outside Taiwan’s capital. I remember your glee, your happiness, your childlike joy, your gratitude on your first ever trip abroad to celebrate your birthday.

When I held in my arms your violet duster, I cried — because I remember your tears of joy when you thanked God for changing the course of your life while lighting a thick, red incense in a Buddhist temple near Taipei 101. “Jesus,” you said, “thank you.” “Nay, hindi si Jesus ‘yan. Ibang diyos ‘yan’, (Mother, that’s not Jesus. That’s a different god),” I said. “Yun na rin‘yon. Naiiba lang ang itsura, iyon pa rin ang Diyos (It’s the same. It looks different but it is the same God),” you countered. I did not argue with you. Pointless, useless to argue with you — because all you wanted that moment was to thank God.

You did the same when you were in a castle in Seoul. “Iisa lang ang Diyos kahit ano pang itawag mo sa Kanya (There is only one God however differently you call Him),” you told me while you strutted in a castle wearing an orange hanbok.

When I saw your colorful bubble jackets, I embraced them tightly, crying in my lonesomeness in your room, remembering how you loved wintertime and how you were smiling ear-to-ear as you played with snow in “Mami Island.”

“’Nay, Nami; hindi Mami. (Mother, it’s Nami; not Mami.)”

“Magkatunog. Pareho na rin ‘yon (They sound alike. So they are the same),” you said.

And when I saw six pairs of identical jogging pants tucked somewhere in your room, I grew more nostalgic. Those were supposed to be worn by you and your five sons to Tokyo and Osaka if the pandemic did not derail our travel plans in 2020. By the time traveling was allowed, you already had your angioplasty that required you to stay put. I’m sure in heaven, there are Sakura flowers. And you will bathe in a shower of petals in paradise.

Every day, there is a shower of yellow-orange flowers of narra in our front yard. We allow them to carpet our lawn. You would have delighted seeing them, the way these little flowers brought you happiness every sundown while you watched in awe every petal that pirouetted to the ground.

I imagined you today in our veranda, doing a solitary serenade as each narra flower fell to the garden. I heard the singsong melody of your voice as you sang your kundiman. And I would be there beside you, capturing every moment as I recorded you on my phone’s video.

My many videos of you — your songs, my many interviews with you about your life, about your late husband, about the pamanhikan and your wedding and how you borrowed a pair of wedding rings from Fr. Gaudetti during your wedding because my father could not afford one, about your dreams, about your dreams for your children — are my lullabies many times at night. Thank God, I recorded you in your most candid stance. I will one day transcribe all my interviews with you and turn them into a book.

The heart never forgets, Mang. Kiss Papang for me, for us. I will continue to make you proud.

I love you both. Happy first birthday in heaven, Mang. *

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