Helpless in Hanoi

Just arrived last night again from Vietnam after a week-long trip to work on a launch project for an airline company there. This explains my apparent absence from the blog for sometime now. Life had simply caught up with me as I tried to keep busy on “making a living”. Yes it takes so much more effort to “make” it when the very person who inspired you and moved you to be the best you can be is no longer there. I have to remind myself often that I still have Sam to live for. But while I’d do anything for our daughter, there are just it seems some things that could never be the same. Like, enjoying watching flower vendors in Hanoi’s picturesque streets and alluring parks.

I missed Mariel as I went through some small curio shops and art galleries in Pho Hang Trong street. These were those little things we did together when we were out on trips of “exploration”. These are now the little things that I tried doing but find to be somewhat pointless and uninspiring. I made sure however I brought home her favorite “fridge magnets” to add to her collection on our trusty ref. If truth be told too, I had actually found them before to be quite unattractive. Of course today I can only look at them with fondness and longing. I may even have a clue to why Mariel had collected them. Maybe perhaps, so that someday I can look at them again and re-live our lovely memories. I now would like to use them to remind Sam what a truly wonderful person her mother was. And how I had counted myself to be so lucky to have at some time shared browsing through those little curio shops with the most BEAUTIFUL person in the world.

Mariel, I love you. And I still miss you so very, very much.

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What’s in a name?

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Wikipedia defines Mariel as “a municipality and city in the La Habana Province of Cuba. It is located approximately 40 kilometers (25 mi) west of the city of Havana. . It’s the Cuban port nearest to the United States. It is also where “in 1980, some 125,000 Cubans left Mariel and went to the United States in what is known as the Mariel boatlift, when while many reached the USA, several died traveling through the ocean.” Famed American actress Mariel Hemingway was also named after this town by her also famous dad.

To many, “Mariel” would be quite simply another form of the name Mary. Of Dutch origin, it was said to mean “the perfect one” (how very apt). I’m afraid I never got around to asking her mom why she chose this name for my wife. In fact, I also did not know her as Mariel when I first got to talk to her. I actually knew her as “omni” and then “Gina” much later. (Yes, they are all her ‘names” too but I guess you have to read further in the blog to learn how this came to be)

To some, especially her siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces she was “Mar”, short for Mariel. (I guess they wanted something more endearing.) I even remember her nephews usually going to Tita Mar when they had something they wanted to ask from their own parents but were hesitant or too afraid to tell. She was their bridge, their confidant, their angel. She was “Mar” too to her most favorite cousin Annie who had spent hours with her on the phone talking about anything and everything. Mariel was always there for those who just needed to talk or plainly wanted a shoulder to cry on.

In my case, “Mariel”, among other things, meant guide and teacher. For she had made me realize that God, loved ones and family must come before self. Looking back, I feel so ashamed at my thoughtlessness then. Mariel had shown me that unconditional love was indeed possible. Not just with words, because I’ve been witness to how she had literally given up buying “things” for herself (even as she loved shopping) and instead devoted her life to unceasingly looking after the needs of our daughter and me. She was always caring. She was forever selfless and unassuming.

Then “Mariel” was “best friend” too. For we had shared everything. The ups and downs of life and raising a family. She was my greatest cheerleader. She encouraged me to explore the most “hare- brained” schemes because she believed in me, even if I myself had doubts. She was my critic too, when she saw sometimes that I may be heading towards the edge of the cliff. She’d advice me to “cut your losses” when it was very clear that I had reached a cul-de-sac. And she was always right. She was my “foil”, my teammate, the Ginger to my Fred. She made me whole and complete, that’s why I miss her so much.

Of course, Mariel or “Mommy” (as she wanted me to call her when Sam was just a baby to help her learn the word) will ALWAYS mean my one true love. My kind- hearted wife and soul mate. For while she had come unexpectedly into my life and left as suddenly, she had changed it positively forever and gave me HER greatest gift– our daughter Samantha. She was all the best things that I can only aspire to be.

I love you Mariel. You are the name that forever will be etched in my heart. Till me meet again, good night my sweet princess.

Letter to Mariel, February 29, 2008

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Dear Mommy,

It’s been over five months now and I still miss you so badly. I promised myself not to keep count but what can I do, when I still think of you almost every minute of the day. You know I talk to you all the time and I’m very sorry to keep bothering you with my trivial issues. But I have had no one else since you left for God’s garden last September 20. And there’s so much more I wanted to say to you.

Most of all, I never had a chance to say good-bye properly. They had to let me leave the ICU at 11pm the night before and all I can do was to give you those little kisses on your feet. I was very afraid to give you ‘germs’ for I know they were giving you those immunosuppresants. Plus, I thought you really needed some rest. That’s why I can’t understand why I suddenly woke up at around 3:30 am with the very high fever and that bad case of gout. And how can I ever forget Alma (my sister) getting that fateful call at 430 am from the doctors telling her that they were administering CPR on you already. I was in shock to put it mildly and I wanted to rush down to the ICU to be with you. But I can’t even stand up. I wanted to be brave and be with you like you always wanted, but I just couldn’t walk. Was it God’s way of saving me from seeing you in such a desperate state? Alma told me later that you decided to “go” only when she told you that she will take care of Sam. And she has really delivered on that promise to this day. She truly loves Sam like her own but I still weep knowing Sam can no longer have your embrace. (It hurts now so much just thinking about this, Mommy. Please help me finish this post, it’s too painful.) And yes, I remember how peaceful you were when I was finally able to go down to see you (and kissed you once more) that day.

Sam misses you too very much, Mommy. But she would not talk about it much. She takes after you. But I guess you already know that. By the way, do you want me to bring her to the salon for a haircut? We’ve had some “spirited discussions” about getting it some days ago. Although I can’t believe how much she is starting to look like you, specially with the longer hair. She is as beautiful as I’ve always remembered you. And she has your “flawless” skin too. Don’t worry though as she is fine and is generally starting to “recover” from that little dip with her grades. She’s still number one in her class (I know you’ll hate me for writing this), that’s because she really takes after her smart and beautiful mom.I also got your little message the other time. I know you’re really always there for me, especially when I get those usual “setbacks’ at work. I’m still not 100% but I do try my very best for you. I know you want me to succeed in life for our daughter Sam and I promise not to fail you. (Even if it’s the last thing I do before my own exit) I still can’t do much traveling these days, although I really think I need to do it so I wont miss any of those opportunities in Thailand and Vietnam. Mama promised meanwhile to look after Sam whenever I’m away. Besides, school’s out in a few weeks. Don’t worry Mommy, it will just be for a couple of days at a time. I vow to make you proud of me again.

It’s kinda late and I also know you want me to go to sleep now. I will write again soon but then I hear you in my head all the time, so you know where to reach me (hehehe). Also, please keep “reminding” me if I sometimes “go astray”. After all, you’re my Guardian Angel now. And I ‘m very happy because not very many people get to call their angels by their first name. I miss you Mommy. Please stay “close” to me always. I also really look forward to that time when I can be with you again, “to love and to hold” forever. I love you so very, very much.

Good night Mommy.

With all my love,

Bong

P.S. Here’s a song I thought you might enjoy listening to before you sleep, ‘love you.

We love you Mommy always!

“Love is repaid by love alone” — St. Therese of the Child Jesus

I was with my daughter, Sam last night helping her with her “schoolwork’ when I came across this passage from the life of St. Therese of Liseux . And I had to tell her how this is something she must remember if she truly loved her mom. But that’s getting ahead of the story. So let me first describe how I got here.

You see, I have been agonizing these past few days over Mariel’s fate. I felt so sorry for her and can’t help but have feelings of deep regret over her unexpected passing. She was after all the one who kept a healthier lifestyle. She was even the better person. I was the one in line to go, having racked up all the bad medical stats over the years. I was the one whose passing would have had minimal impact on our family life. I would have gladly traded places anytime. I felt so bad. But the one that really hurt the most was that I never really got to say good-bye to her like I would have wanted. Yes, we did talk for days on end during her illness and I was the only one she wanted beside her 24/7. I was at times so physically and emotionally drained. I must even admit I wanted to”escape” from hospital- duty on some days. But then, I never saw it coming. I never really considered that she may possibly lose the battle. Not even when I was told that we may have to transfer to the ICU after just a week from being “admitted”.

I was prepared to fight on and stay in the hospital for as long as it took. But never once did I consider that things may turn out the way it did. I may not even be too sure that Mariel did either. Although looking back, I sensed a certain amount of “resignation” from Mariel during those last days. In fact, she looked to me as very brave and very in-control, that’s why I was never really worried. I remember her putting back her own ventilator tube after it once got “detached’ . My response was to jump up and down like a scared chicken while calling on the nurse.

Mariel was tough and from my perspective, she was the one even taking care of me.There was this time when I had asked her if she felt all right (stupid me) with all her tubes and needles at the ICU. And she had motioned to me to get a “whiteboard”. ( By now, she was already “intubated”, hooked to a respirator and thus cannot speak. So I had improvised this board and got her to scribble notes and instructions to me) At this point, she had chosen to write instead, “please pay the car insurance, its due tomorrow”. And God, I even found out later that she had been paying our household and utility bills through phone banking from her hospital bed. She was dutiful as she was loving. And she knew she had to take care of her “big baby”.

I was “happy” though to have told her the following as a last message through our whiteboard. I had found this one later on the hospital floor after it was “all over”. I will now keep it “preserved” for as long as I live. As there is nothing else in this world that I would have wanted her to know more than this one.

We love you Mommy always– Daddy and Sam

But as tears flowed again last night while doing Sam’s homework and having chanced upon these words from St. Therese, I had to remind myself and Sam that the only way for us to truly show our love to ‘Mommy” was to learn to now love back. As only love can repay the love we had received.To love and honor her memory. To love all the beautiful lessons she had shared with us. To love all the people and things she had cared for in life. To love and celebrate everything she stood for– love of family and friends, dutiful love… unconditional love.

We love you Mommy, now and forever.

Phuket Revisited

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Today being January 8, I thought that I might share some photos from our lovely Phuket, Thailand wedding some ten years ago. On this day we were married in a memorable Catholic ceremony midst the pristinely beautiful Promthep Cape near Nai Harn Beach. We had our civil wedding vows in the Philippines a few days back, then flew to Thailand for this one. It was something that was surely made in Heaven. Mariel and I had our whole life ahead of us… and had many, many dreams.

And I now promise to Mariel that I will try till my own last breath, to fulfill most of them for her and Samantha. I hope I can make her proud on that day that we again meet. When once more I can have her “to love and to cherish”… forever. I love you Mommy.

Happy New Year from Mariel and Us

Bong, Mariel and Sam in Baguio 2006

We would not like the year end to pass without saying special thanks from our heart’s heart to everyone who had shared with us this our most difficult journey. Your visiting Mariel’s Garden has given us the strength to carry on living, even as its most precious part has now gone ahead of us to a much better place. To a place of beauty, peace and love which she had so very, very much deserved. We know Mariel is smiling from heaven and that she is thoroughly grateful for all your comfort and kindness.

Our everlasting thanks to our loving relatives and friends who have participated in the blog by sending comments or stories, our Mama Conchita, Alma and Baguie, Toots and Reuel, Mariel Bello (our niece in LA ), Annie Vicente, Ate Gertie and Margie, Joy and Charles Davy, Albert and Susie Borrero, Bob and Monet Santos, Doris Fernando- McLaren, Vincent Dy Buncio, Edsel and Sara Tolentino. Joy Lorico, Grace Villanueva, Hedy Taas, Claire Espina, Wally and Charito Buhay, Felix Santos, Monser, Mana, Malyn, Agie, Jex N., Sue Trout, Annalyn Minerva, Sansan Salud, Michelle Hay and Dr. Sally Headding.

Of course, our deep gratitude to our new blogger friends who have helped us understand the true meaning of unconditional love– Linda of Mysteryoriley, Robert of Price of Love, Writinggb of Writing Grandma’s Book and Fighting Windmills. We wish them all the happiness and peace and hope they continue their good and important work.

A Happy New Year to everyone. With all our love — from Mariel. Bong and Sam.

For Mariel- Sam plays “Annie”

December 15, 2007 was the red-letter day for Mariel. She had looked forward to seeing Sam perform as Annie in her school community theater (Assumption METTA). Sam was playing “Annie” in Annie the Musical. Unfortunately as most of you already know Mariel had to leave us to join our Lord Jesus in heaven last Sept. 20, 2007.

Sam’s performance last night, more than anything was a tribute to her mommy’s love. For Mariel had brought up Sam to work on her gifts and to share them with others, just as she did. Mariel was a giving person and last night was Sam’s turn to give a little back to her beloved Mommy. I know Mariel would have been very proud and happy to see Sam’s rendition of Annie at Assumption. I know she was with us. I had reserved a seat beside me for her at the theater. As usual, it’s one with the best view. For the best mom in the whole wide world.

We miss you so much Mommy and we love you forever. — Daddy and Sam