April 1 was my mother’s first day in the hospital. My mother could still talk and she could still move around but she kept feeling pain in her legs. She still had her dialysis, which was already part of her routine since she had her stroke. The doctors advised us that my mother’s legs needed to be amputated because they were starting to create pus that was going into her blood stream. She was then moved to the ICU because there were already complications in her body and she needed to be watched over very carefully. My family talked about the decision and we decided that both legs should be cut off. The doctors had to take away the source of the pus so that they could easily clean my mother’s blood by dialysis. But the doctors were having problems because they couldn’t do the operation as my mother was starting to weaken and they had to operate on her immediately. But before that, they needed bags of blood for the dialysis. We couldn’t get enough blood in the city so my sister Elaine, my brother Elmer, and his wife Cora had to travel all the way to Tagum City just to get blood.
When I saw my mother after the operation, I couldn’t help but cry because she had become noticeably smaller because of the amputation. We tried to lighten the mood around her, telling her that she could still have new legs. My mother just smiled. She wanted to see her legs but hospital procedure wouldn’t let her see them.
On the 8th of April, my mother had her last dialysis.
“Agay. Sakit man.” My mother was complaining.
“Ma, wala naman yan sakit.” I told her.
“Saba gani. Masakit lagi. Gusto ko gamot.” My mother said.
My brother Doi was there and decided to call a nurse. He had formulated a theory that my mother preferred to listen to the ones who were in uniform. My mother wasn’t feeling real pain but phantom pain. She thought her legs were still there.
“Sakit man Doc.” My mother said to the nurse without a hint of anger, a tone she didn’t use when she talked to us.
“Asa man ang sakit‘nay?” The nurse asked.
“Diri o. Gusto ko inom.” She wanted to drink medicine to take away the pain.
“Sige hatagan lang tika‘nay ha.”
She told us she was going to give her pain reliever but it was not as strong as the one that had already been given to her. They didn’t want to overdose her. The nurses were on watch with her constantly because her blood pressure was really low and they couldn’t get an easy pulse from her.
The next day my mother was not very responsive to us. We had to shake her a lot just to make her open her eyes. She would look at us for a while then go back to closing her eyes. Elna called from the States again and she was about to go home. She was hoping that my mother would wait for her but after talking to Elaine, who is also a nurse, she then told us that we should sign the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form. She didn’t want my mother to suffer anymore.
Elaine and I were the ones who watched over Mommy that night. We planned to sleep for a while so that we would have enough strength to watch over her.
“Ella, malapit na mamatay si Mommy. Baka ngayon, bukas, or sunod na bukas. Di na kasi siya naga-respond. Pansin mo na di ba kelangan pa natin siya i-shake para lang mag-open ang eyes niya tapos magbalik din close,” Elaine told me.
I just nodded my head.
“Mahirap ito sabihin kay Kuya at kay Doi ba. Sila man gud yung emotional.”
She was right; my brothers were the emotional ones. It was ironic because they were the men in the family and I thought they should be the strong ones. When we were about to sleep, the nurse knocked on our door and said that we were needed in the ICU.
“Mauna ka lang. Mag toothbrush muna ako.” I told my sister.
“Ay, hintayin lang kita. Sabay lang tayo.” Elaine answered.
My sister and I walked together towards the ICU. My mother was placed near a door that wasn’t being used anymore and it had a small glass window on it. When we passed by we took a peek and I saw the nurse pumping the airbag for my mother.
“Sabi ko na lagi ba. Ayaw ko magpasok.” I couldn’t make myself watch a parent dying again.
“Tara, okay lang yan.” Elaine calmly held my hand and we both walked into the room.
The resident doctor told us that my mother needed a respirator and that she couldn’t breathe on her own. My sister told me to look for a respirator in the different offices. This was around 4 in the morning. But the hospital being public, there were no respirators available at that time.
“Kuya, kailangan ko talaga ng respirator para sa nanay ko.” I told the man assigned in one of the offices.
“Ma’am, wala pa talaga available. Try mo dun sa kabila.”
“Galing na ako dun! Tapos dito ako ginapapunta!”
I went back to the ICU and saw my sister pumping the air bag for my mother. I could see that each pump filled my mother and she was inhaling and exhaling just like she was breathing on her own.
“Paano mo ginagawa yan?” I asked Elaine.
“Ginasabay ko lang sa paghinga ko.” She answered.
My sister kept doing this for four hours until the respirator arrived.
On the last day of my mother’s life, April 10th, my sister told us that it was time to tell Mommy what we wanted to tell her because maybe it was the last time that she could hear it. It is said that the last sense of a dying person is the sense of hearing. My sister made me feel my mother’s chest and compare it to the temperature of my mother’s arms. Her arms were cold but her chest was warm. Elaine said that every last energy in my mother’s body was going to her heart, the most important organ and the last organ to stop. I’ve always thought my mother was heartless, but there it was, keeping her alive.
When it was time for me to talk to her, I just placed my hand on her chest and stared at her. “Mommy kung nakinig ka sa amin di ito mangyari sa iyo.” I had to pause in every sentence because I couldn’t get it out of my mouth. Why was it that the only time she was going to listen to us is when she couldn’t answer anymore? I said everything that I wanted to tell her. My anger towards her because of what she did to Daddy and to our family. I had found out, the morning after my 23rd birthday, that my mother was the one who wanted to adopt me. I was supposed to be given to my father’s brother in Midsayap but after taking care of me for just one night, my mother fell in love with me and wanted to adopt me. After hearing this, I still didn’t know how to feel about her. I didn’t expect my mother to be the one who would ruin us, I thought it was the man who will ruin a family first. I still feel that if my mother could have just moved on from her ex-boyfriend and loved my father wholeheartedly, there could have been a happy ending to our family story. I would have never stayed with a man if I didn’t love him or if I knew I could never learn to love him. My mother should have done that rather than cause pain to my father and her children.
I was sorry because I didn’t give her a chance and I didn’t make myself listen and see what she was going through. I told her that I loved her; I always have and I always will. There was no satisfaction in me after talking to her because I wanted her to answer me, explain why things happened that way, and I wanted her to tell me that she loved me too. I wanted her to hug me and tell me that she forgave me and most of all, I wanted her to tell me that she wants to be forgiven.
My mother died on the morning of April 11, 2011. None of us was there. My mother always said that she didn’t want us to see her suffer and she didn’t want to suffer. She didn’t get her second wish, which was not to suffer, but she got her first. Until her last breath, she had her way.
The plan for my mother’s cremation was done the same day. We didn’t tell her relatives because we didn’t want them to be there. In the first place they weren’t helpful to us when we needed them. We wanted to have our mother to ourselves. They were bothering us with calls and text messages but we didn’t answer them. The cremation was done on April 12 at Davao Memorial Cemetery. The only people who were there were I, Elaine, Elmer, Doi, my boyfriend Iggy, Elmer’s wife Cora, my twin nieces, and Doi’s daughter Ice. The maids were also there. The ceremony was simple and we said a little prayer for Mommy. When she was brought inside the huge oven, all of us started crying. One of my nieces that time saw me and because I was carrying her, she told me, “Don’t cry Tita, I’m here.”
We didn’t have a wake before we cremated Mommy’s body because it was her wish. She didn’t want people to see her dead. She didn’t want people to say things about her when they look at her dead body. We followed her wish even though some of her friends thought it was not a good idea. But we didn’t care because we were just following what our mother told us.
In writing this essay, I was hoping to assess my mother’s actions and try to understand her. But I realized that in the end, I should have opened my mind and heart to her and not closed it entirely because of what she had done to our family. I should not have kept the hurt now that my mother is dead. A family was ruined. But it had been ruined long before I could help it. I should have seen that. This is my phantom pain.
Ella Jade Ismael graduated this year from the BA English-Creative Writing program of the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She has been a fellow to the Davao Writers Workshop. Upon Ella’s request, we are not publishing this essay in full because of some private details.