Mariel’s Favorite Things

I’ll stick to the Top Twenty favorite things of Mariel. Sorry, can’t keep it to just 10. By the way, I’m doing this for the most part so that our Sam will someday remember what her mom was like– a superbly talented and loving person who could have been anything she wanted to be. But chose instead to devote her life to caring for our only daughter and me. She was a one-of- a- kind mother and wife. I really hope many more people could have known her.

Back to the list, I’m sure I’ll miss a couple, so friends please help me out. Add those you might recall. ( This one’s not in any particular order. I’m just putting them up as I get to remember them )

1. Anything in the color violet, lilac or purple– this applies to almost everything from clothes, bags, umbrellas, decor, eye makeup, electric fans and coffee mugs. A color fit for royalty, a color fit for my princess.

2. Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep- This one’s contributed by Sam. She had asked her mom to fill up her diary with her list of favorite things just last July. I often kidded Mariel that I myself kinda look like Brad. She cringed a lot. I saw however a lot of Meryl’s “sympathetic” eyes in her. Mariel was best described as one who’s very soft-hearted.

3. Leather Bags- She was famous for having impeccably matched bags with her attire. She asked me to get her some during trips abroad. Laptop bags, leisure bags, handbags, she’s got it all. I’d say she had enough to match Imelda’s collection. (Sorry Mariel just kidding)

4. Shoes of all shapes– Of course what good are nice bags without nice shoes. Mariel made frequent trips to CMG et al and always had an eye for coming sale events. She can write a book about this. I must admit she’s got taste and the best legs and feet in the world to boot. I swear.

5. Clothes, clothes, clothes- Clothes were her passion too. She was once considering to put up a boutique that catered to children’s clothes. She’s got talent and the knowledge for this. I know she would have done very well.

6. Spaghetti, T-bone steak, Nuts, Tibuk- tibok, Mango and Pomelo- Food glorious food. I must explain, tibuk- tibok is the kapampangan version of maja blanca, a pudding- like dessert made with carabao’s milk. And also spaghetti is best from Pancake House and T- bone at medium well. “Mangan naka”.

7. Floral- scented perfumes- The “flavor of the month” was Estee Lauder’s Pleasures Intense eau de parfum spray for women. It’s website described it as “seductive, extremely lush floral, with low notes of vanilla and maple”. Of course Mariel shared the love by getting me a matching Pleasures Intense for men. Lately however, I’ll find myself spraying a bit of her fave scent just to trigger memories. Oh Mommy, I miss you so.

8. Literature, Poetry- She liked Shakespearean sonnets, Jeffrey Archer despite his bad political choices and just about any printed matter. She taught Sam the value of reading books, and that’s why she does very well in school. Of course, this is also probably the reason why Mariel wrote well. Please check out “In Mariel’s Words” category in this blog for examples of this.

9.Text and Email jokes- She had a good sense of humor (not like me). She sent me txt jokes on my mobile phone and email jokes too. She sent one to me the day before we went to the hospital. It was about being married and stuff. That one stays in my Inbox forever.

10. Leg and Foot Massages- I gave her these as often as I can, to relax her or put her to sleep. I wish I had done more.

11. Home Decorating and Crafts- She was truly amazing at this work. I had mentioned before how well she had ran our household. She kept a spotlessly clean and beautiful home that is truly worthy of  a place in “Homes and Gardens”. She had a knack for eclectic matchings and was fearless with colors and prints. She also did a couple of papier tole art that will always be part of our bedroom.

12. Sinatra, Broadway, Classical music- Ol’ Blue eyes rules. Sinatra was always on heavy CD rotation. Mariel loved the romantic era. That’s why she applauded when Rod Stewart made the wise “move” and Buble etc. She also had complete Broadway original cast recordings of all the great ones. She had the biggest influence on Sam’s musical theater leanings and abilities.

13. Fresh Flowers- I could never devote enough space for her love of flowers. Stargazers, Tulips, Mums, Roses that made her day. Now I had set up a crusade to always honor her love for God’s beautiful creations.

14. Children and Cute babies- Mariel loved children and children loved her back. I was really amazed at how she was always the favorite of her little nieces and nephews. She connected with them in a genuine way and was often rewarded with sincere hugs and kisses.

15. Lifestyle Channel, Wolfgang Puck, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Project Runway- Mariel spent time relaxing keeping the cable on the Lifestyle Channel. After all beautiful things are her dedication. She may love a little bit of the “tsismis” in some of the reality shows too. Who doesn’t?

16. CSI- Crime Scene Investigation, the series was her absolute TV favorite. She even got the DVDs before they hit Metrowalk. Las Vegas was tops, then New York and Miami. She however could not stand usual trite remarks written for the lead actor in the LV episodes.

17. Soft pillows and snuggling on cold December mornings- Look I love them too. But Mariel just loved being in bed with us on cold mornings talking of our dreams for Sam. I miss this a lot, she was my anchor and my compass. I still feel lost today.

18. Crash Bandicoot, Tetris and Super Mario- Even before I met her Mariel was already the Super Mario champion of Mandaluyong. When she was heavy with Sam, she spent hours on end mastering PlayStation’s Crash Bandicoot. Which she actually did. Mariel excelled in anything she puts her mind into.

19. Jewelry- Who would not want some diamonds. Unfortunately, I gave her teeny- weeny ones for our “wedding engagement”. Pearls too were her love. She wore them almost daily at work. She always told me that she was “collecting” these for Sam. She told me this two weeks before she passed away. Her most precious one however, was our simple gold wedding band which was never off her till the last. That says a lot to me.

20. 9- ball pool and Efren “Bata” Reyes- One would have never thought this. She never played the game but loved following Efren’s battles on ESPN. It again showed that side of her that loved to cheer for the underdog. She was always all heart.

( I will end tonight with Efren’s youtube clip of one of his “magical” pool shots that Mariel and I had watched so many times. I’m sure Mariel’s watching now. I love you Mommy, Good Night. )

“Life After Birth” by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Mariel’s passing had made me think more and more about life, and life-after- life. While I believe that Mariel is now in a really special place with the Lord, in moments of weakness, the fragile human part of me still craves for some certainty. Certainty that Mariel is now free from any more fear, any more pain ( as I’ll do anything to “protect” her). That she is finally getting her “reward”, for having given so much of herself to others, especially to me and our daughter, Sam. That one day I will see her again, to embrace and to hold, and share her love through eternity.

I came across this short video piece from Dr. Wayne Dyer which talks about “Life after Birth” or the triumph of spirit over life. I hope it speaks to you too like it did to me, that life-after-life indeed is just a transition to something so wonderful and great. And so beyond any kind of happiness we can ever possibly imagine because of our “limited” point of view.

Your Dreams Live On, Mommy

Mariel and Sam at John Hay

It’s that time of month again. I promised myself to try to not keep count. Someone told me somewhere that keeping score of the time Mariel’s been gone may actually keep her from being at peace. And God knows that I’d do anything to make sure that she’d always be kept safe and at peace. For she deserved the best, even when in life she did not get all of what she merited. Because I was a lazy, good-for-nothing slacker who never really comprehended what I had. I never came around to fulfilling many of Mariel’s dreams as I had always thought I had a lifetime to work on them. Our dreams. Not pie-in the-sky, pompous ones. Simple aspirations mainly for our daughter Samantha.

Mariel wanted some day to have her own small garden, tending to flowering plants. She loved working with them. She was happiest checking on tiny buds on their journey to bloom land. She wanted to get published too. She actually emailed the Palanca Foundation last May asking how she can join the literary competition. I cheered her on as I knew that she was a good writer. Even better, I knew she was a good writer with a good heart. Mariel also wanted to one day get a chance to see Europe. She dreamed of seeing alpine mountains, museums and castles.The stuff of legends fit for a princess. My princess.

Most of all however, Mariel wanted to see Sam develop into the fine lady she can be. But while she dreamed of Sam becoming a doctor some day, a pediatrician perhaps she once said. However, she would have approved anything Sam wanted to be, as long as it made Sam happy. Our daughter once told us that she wanted to be a theater director -slash- professor some day. Mariel had said yes, because she saw Sam had the gift for singing and acting well. Mariel’s eyes lit up with joy every time she saw Sam perform and get some recognition. Because Sam’s happiness and triumphs were her own. And that’s why Mariel looked forward to again seeing her perform as “Annie” in a school musical this coming December 15. By the way, I’ve already reserved her a seat. One with the best view. For Mariel always deserved the best.

Today, November 20, I promise Mommy to keep all your dreams alive. I promise that I will one day make them all come true. Because you deserve it, Mommy. Because you are our princess forever. We love you very much.

Useful Tips from Mariel

Mariel and BongThis post was originally called “Useful Tips from Mariel on what to do when your Life’s a Mess”. But my daughter Sam asked me to edit it as it was boringly long. Also she said it might be better to be “cryptic” as more people will be drawn to it out of curiousity. She’s 9 years old and I’m taking advice from her. Such is my life now.

It’s been some days since my last blog. Partly because I lost my internet connection (which is obviously back now). Also, I guess the more “mundane” stuff of life have caught up with me too (read bills, bills and more bills). Mariel had always “protected” me from these as I’ve always thought bills were junk mail meant to be dispensed with. The fog of bereavement too has lifted as most people have stopped speaking to me in hushed tones or acting deferentially. As they like to say “Life must move on”. But moving on is easier said than done when you have to care for a nine- year old daughter and deal with your clients’ egos at work at the same time . Well I guess I may have to take some tips from Mariel because “that” is what she did everyday of our married life. So I tried my best to “predict” what Mariel would have done if she were in my shoes and life’s a mess, as it is now for me. Here goes:

1) Let Go, Let God

Mariel never failed to seek God’s guidance and protection above all. In our most desperate of moments, when she was already so gravely ill at the UST Hospital, she steadfastly kept faith and faced her sickness with both courage and grace. She never once wavered as she knew that the Lord always kept her best interest at heart.

In our years together, she also never failed to remind me to be thankful for whatever little blessings came our way, even if it meant literally dragging me to Church every Sunday. She went on novenas when Sam got sick. Never one to “broadcast” her piety, Mariel always kept her prayerful life away from public view. She is still my angel today keeping me on God’s path.

2) First Things First

Mariel always knew her priorities. She always decided to do the most critically important things first above the seemingly urgent. (Stephen Covey wrote about it, but Mariel really practiced it) She also was never swayed by the socially expedient over doing the right thing, most specially if it concerned our daughter Sam. I shall always try to be guided by her example and keep myself from being distracted by the “non-essentials”.

3) Know Thyself

Mariel often advised me to accept my limitations. She was my greatest cheerleader but she’d be first to tell me to “cut my losses” when prudence dictated it. She tried to keep me from squandering precious time on quixotic pursuits and made me confront squarely my “realities”. She did this unpleasant task though with such gentleness that I had never felt oppressed. She did it too because she loved me so much and did not want to see me “get hurt” in the end. And, of course, she was always right.

4) Just Do It, Period.

Mariel never hesitated to do anything important even if it meant some personal sacrifice or discomfort. She would often bring home some work from the office and soldiered on till about 3 in the morning simply because they needed to get done. She never complained, blamed anyone or whined. She just did what she believed was necessary. I wished I had her great sense of duty and utter lack of “theatrics”.

5) Get A Massage

While Mariel believed in getting things done, she was not above relaxing or getting a good leg and foot massage. She often wanted a few minutes of massage (courtesy of yours truly) before going to bed, “to rest and live to fight another day”. She knew the value of a well-deserved pause before going back to the trenches. Don’t worry Mariel, I will be back to giving you your well-earned massages when we next meet. I love you Mommy.

Don’t Keep the Good Things by Mariel Gina F. Bello

Mariel at Work

The following speech was delivered by Mariel before her Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas colleagues last Dec. 4, 2006 as part of their Monday Flag Ceremony. She was asked to talk on the topic- Don’t Keep the Good Things and also include a short eulogy for the former BSP Governor- Rafael Buenaventura who had died a few days before. Mariel was particularly proud of this address as she felt she was able to “connect” with her intended audience at that time. Mariel had the ability to “move” people with her words as she wrote “from her heart”, with true compassion and grace.

Don’t Keep the Good Things By: Mariel Gina F. Bello
Most of us are at one point or another guilty of this. How many plates have we bought that are stored because “sayang naman kung gagamitin baka mabasag.” Or how many toys have we bought for our kids which are kept in their original boxes and stored in the cabinet? Or how many mommies have cried out on seeing their kids secretly playing with these toys, “magaling, magaling, magaling- Miguelito, ibalik ang mga iyan sa kahon at baka masira!” Para bang “commercial”? Reminder lang po, ang laruan po ay para paglaruan hindi po para idisplay.

We do not only have the tendency to keep the good things, we also have the tendency to keep good people to ourselves. I am reminded of the story of my friend. He had a younger brother who was very handsome, very intelligent and very kind. One day this younger sibling asked their mom if he could enter the seminary as he wanted to be a priest. The mom’s reaction was one of shock and out of despair, she uttered these words, “Bakit yung pinakamatalino, pinakaguapo at pinakamabait ko pang anak ang gustong magpari? My friend’s heart broke when he heard this. It was not so much that his brother with whom he was very close to was going away to live in a seminary. It was the realization that his mom would have wished that it was he who wanted to be a priest and not the favorite son. My friend said to himself, “ok lang pala sa nanay ko kung ako na lang ang magpari, kung ako na lang ang mawawala, wag lang ang kapatid ko” “Para na rin niyang sinabi na bakit hindi na lang ikaw, bakit siya pa? His mother’s words drove a dagger to my friend’s heart. Imagine the hurt that these words gave to my friend but imagine the pain that our Lord must have felt when He heard this. If my friend’s heart was pierced with a dagger, our Lord’s heart must have been severed with a sword. Our Lord must have said, I do not deserve the best pala. He must have felt like a father who asked and was offered not the best but yung “tira-tira” lang.

If we can be this selfish to God, imagine how selfish we can be with our fellowmen. Let’s us not keep the good things, but let’s use them and share them.

Speaking of keeping good people to ourselves, we have recently lost another good person and this is our former governor, Governor Rafael Buenaventura. Most of us felt sad and said “sayang”, ang bait at ang galing pa naman nung tao. Again, we cannot let go of a good person, even to God; because we feel that he could do a lot more here. But then again, God would have said, I lent him to you for several years and he had done much good. Isn’t it about time he comes home to me and enjoy the fruits of his labor? Please let me enjoy the pleasure of his company, just as you have enjoyed his’.

I do not know the man personally. But I do know that he espoused policies that showed his concern for the underprivileged; an example of which is microfinance which he said was one of best the ways to break the cycle of poverty. The newspaper -The Philippine Daily Inquirer- had an article about him last Friday. There were two quotes which the Daily Inquirer attributed to him that struck me and these are : Gov. Buenaventura said, “I will not have my name on an instrument where only the rich will benefit and the poor will suffer. It’s strange that those who want high interest rates are those who have money.” Another quote is “ I want to be remembered not as someone who made a lot of money because these things pass, I want to be remembered as someone who made life better for others.”

He had a lot of degrees, both from here and abroad. He held various positions from prestigious banks from being President to CEO and ultimately to being Governor of “the bank” – the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. He earned a lot of accolades, a lot of local and international awards and citations. Sure, he will be remembered for all of these – but the most important thing is that he will be remembered for his concern for those who had less in life. In the end, we say “Gov., we know you’re with the Lord right now and you certainly got your wish, We remember you just as you want to be remembered: not as a banker, not as the “Man of the Year” and not even as our former governor but we remember you as a human being who did not keep the good things to himself but who fought battles especially for those who had less in life and certainly made life better for others.

Let us have a moment of silence and offer a prayer for our dear Gov. Buenaventura and for ourselves that we learn not to keep the good things but learn to share these things just as he did.

Thank you and a pleasant morning to you all.

Condolences to Rene Saguisag

I heard that former Senator Rene Saguisag lost his wife, Dulce, last night to another senseless vehicular accident. I offer my deepest sympathies and condolences.

Mariel and I used to see them a lot together some years back when we visited my mom’s place in Palanan, Makati City. They usually went to hear Mass in a small church nearby “holding hands”. Mariel used to also say that they indeed looked like a very loving couple,”almost like teen sweethearts”. I know too that Mrs. Saguisag was a cancer survivor, which all the more made what happened so ironic. But such is Life. Sometimes “no preparation, no good-byes, just the loudest silence you can imagine” and then followed by numbing days and nights. I dare not compare my own loss however with the good senator’s. For every loss is unique, every grief so personal. But even so, we all just try to discover some meaning or purpose with each one. Because we refuse to believe that our existence is a random throw of the dice.

I have just started on my own journey of discernment. I expect it to be a bumpy, painful ride. But I owe it to my beloved Mariel to try to know for myself the whys. I know that even then she will be with me. Because she’s now my Angel. Comforting me. Guiding me.

Mariel’s Precious Gift

We had a pleasant evening remembering Mariel on her birthday. I had read to her some messages of love and longing in a letter I specially wrote today. She was a person too “beautiful” to be easily forgotten. Fortunately, Mariel had found a way to “speak” to me too.

Earlier this day, I had chanced upon a small pile of letters and cards that she kept all these years hidden away in a small box. They were mostly short notes that accompanied her gifts to me on birthdays and special occasions such as Valentine’s, Father’s day etc. These were the ones I would usually rip out from neatly wrapped boxes to get to “my” presents on those dates. Mariel probably picked them up from where I had unceremoniously discarded them and saved them for tonight. I confess to being such a “dummy”. While I had mindlessly ignored those priceless little notes, Mariel ever- caring sent me one more precious gift from Heaven. She had still found a way to console me on this my darkest of nights. Because she had managed a way to tell me– “I always love you, far more than you know”. I really needed to hear those words tonight. And there was so much more she said which I guess can only treasure forever.

Mariel, I also truly love you far more than you can know. And I will just have to live the rest of my life showing you how. Happy Birthday, Mommy.
( She loved this song and it was permanently on her playlist. I wish I can sing it as well. She knows I really mean every word in it and will always remember her as the beautiful person she was, till we can meet again )

My Life As A Rural Bank Examiner by Mariel Gina F. Bello

MommyI remembered that Mariel wrote a nice piece about her experiences as a young Bank Examiner for their office newsletter- The Central Banker. I finally found it after some “research” and I wanted to share this one with you today. It’s the original “unabridged” version as the final one was truncated for lack of space. In this article, you’d see how Mariel truly wore her heart on her sleeve and found something interesting in the most “ordinary” of situations.

She was also the one that really wrote well in our family. Not known to many too, she was also the “funnier” one. She used to tell me that I had bad timing delivering jokes (true, true, true). She used to forward me text and email jokes almost daily that made my hectic work life a little more bearable. Read on and enjoy…

My Life As A Rural Bank Examiner by Mariel Gina F. Bello

“It was twenty-two years ago when I first joined BSP. I was a twenty-two year old, fresh-faced, eager beaver with fresher ideas in her mind. Being young, I thought I could take on anything – until that fateful first assignment.

My first assignment was to examine a rural bank in Cebu. I was very excited because I had been to Cebu City before for a brief sight-seeing tour and I liked the place. But my excitement slowly waned as the day passed. We went straight to the bus station from the airport. After waiting for two hours for the bus to leave, I inquired why the bus was not moving yet. They told me they were waiting for the bus to be filled and I said that all seats were taken. They looked at me with bewilderment, wondering why I didn’t know that filled means that people will have to fill up the makeshift seats on top of the roof. I was seated near an old woman who had a few chickens with her. The chickens were staring at me belligerently and I stared back at them. I was getting irked with all the clucking noises but was thankful enough that at least I wasn’t seated near the goat that was with the other passengers on the roof.

After 4 hours of back-breaking bus trip over potholes and unfinished roads, we finally reached the place. It was a remote town north of Cebu where the only means of transport was the bus I rode in. It comes in the afternoon and leaves the following morning and that was it. People walked to where they wanted to go because there were no tricycles, no jeeps and certainly no cars. I was covered with dust and was desperately in need of a bath. Obviously, there were no hotels in the place so we asked around if anybody would want to take us in as boarders. One resident took us in and I immediately asked where the bathroom was. I was led outside the house and right in the middle of some coconut trees was the “bathroom”. My heart sank when I saw a structure with four walls made of nipa. It sank even further when I noticed that there was no roof. Since I really wanted to have a bath, I psyched myself into thinking “kaya mo yan”. As I was about to take my clothes off, I noticed a man gathering tuba on top of a coconut tree. I asked myself on how I could take a bath with him up there having a full view of me. I waited for him to come down and I could have won a gold medal for having the fastest bath ever (of course with my undergarments on). This was no ordinary bath, mind you. Since there was no running water, the residents had to gather rain water and store this in a drum inside the bathroom. The water was clean and I had proof – the mosquitoes decided to lay their eggs in it (didn’t the DOH tell us that mosquitoes lay their eggs in clean water only?). I had to sift through and throw the topmost part of the water to get rid of the larvae.

The dinner that night was another experience. I wasn’t able to eat much because the food tasted of smoke since they used wood and charcoal for cooking.

That night, as I lay down a bed which has seen better days, I cried my heart out because I was felt so sorry for myself. I wasn’t asking for a 5-star accommodation – I just wanted the “basic necessities” and food that didn’t taste like smoke. I wanted to pack my bags and go home. I vowed that as soon as I reach the office after this assignment, I will hand in my resignation. But of course I didn’t. An incident the following day made me decide to stay on and do my job as a rural bank examiner.

The morning after, I was in the bank early and had a chat with the employees. I found out that this was the only bank in town and that their clients were mostly farmers who, previous to the establishment of this rural bank, got their financing from a person offering what is commonly known as “5-6”. It was a vicious cycle; the farmers will borrow money for the planting season and will have to repay the amount after harvest time. More often than not, there will be little money left since the interests levied on the loan are excessively high. So the poor farmer has to borrow again to pay for his family’s keep. It gets worse when typhoons or calamities come because the farmer will have no recourse but to borrow again for replanting. He now is saddled with three or more debts thus making him and his family even poorer. Later during the day, I saw for myself these farmers. Most of them leave their muddied slippers outside the door before entering the bank. Their sun-burned and deeply lined faces mirror the hardships they endure. I felt a twinge of guilt from what I have heard and seen. It was then I knew what role this bank plays in this community but more importantly, it was at this point that I realized how important my role is in seeing to it that this bank continues to exist to serve these farmers. It is only this bank which can provide these farmers with the much needed financing at a more reasonable and more “humane” rate. I felt a little ashamed of myself for wallowing in self-pity for the little inconveniences I had to endure as compared with the hardships that these farmers go through in their lives.

I had a different perspective from then on and I took in stride whatever inconvenience I had to suffer in doing my work. As to my problem regarding the bathroom, I learned that the wearing of a sarong while having a bath certainly does the trick. As to the food, it’s an acquired taste really and after a while I got used to it and I didn’t mind the taste so much. Now, if I can only deal with those pesky mosquitoes…”

Sam News # 4

Sam as Halloween DevilTrick or Treat? Those who read my previous post Sam News # 3 will remember that this year, Sam’s costume of choice is… the Devil Witch. The Halloween committee at Lexington Garden Village have decided that costumes must conform with a strictly mandated “horror theme”. So, we therefore chose to comply. Sam would have however wanted to come out as Gabriella from High School Musical 2, but.., Which makes me wonder why we all have allowed Halloween to be turned into some kind of competitive sport. Call me, a grumpy, andropausal, middle-age spoilsport but can we please go back to a time when Halloween meant painting an old T-shirt with skull & bones and making do with ketchup as fake blood. Besides, only Toy Kingdom benefits from this Hallo-hype. Nevertheless, Sam enjoyed herself today and was even a finalist in the costume parade. Well, I better start preparing for next year’s event. How about… “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Am I showing my age? Can you help me out “Mommy”?

May I add too, that I had to fight more lumps in my throat again as I was holding Sam’s hand for the parade. Mariel’s enormous shadow looms large in occasions such as this. For she was the soul of our family. And now that’s she’s gone, I feel like a grumpy, andropausal, middle-age guy trying to write a blog about Halloween to keep himself from missing her. I really miss you so much, Mariel. I love you.

You are so beautiful, Mariel

When I first met Mariel, we would sometimes talk endlessly on the phone. Now I can share a dark, little secret, I used to sing her a cappella the beloved Joe Cocker song- “You Are So Beautiful”, over the phone. Do I hear yikes? ( I had this one sung to her at her wake by my good friend and artiste Binky Lampano and I will have that one posted as soon as I find time to edit, it’s as honest and magnificent as Joe’s.)

Mariel used to gush over my ugly, untrained voice and found it beautiful. I know she’s not tone deaf because she coaches my talented daughter Sam at singing. Somehow selective perception has kicked in then and she saw something she liked. That’s why I love her so, she has taken me with all my imperfections and made lemonade instead.

Mariel “you are everything I hoped for, you’re everything I need, you are so beautiful to me”. I know you are now in God’s bosom. One day we will meet again and I will sing your song to you.

You’ve Got Mail! (The Prequel)

MBA Graduation at PICCMariel’s and my love story started even before the now famous Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie came to the screen. And for the record, this is how it all begun.

It was 12 midnight and I was at our Makati office pounding away on the internet when I got a “page” ( pre-yahoo messenger, this meant an instant message sent by one user to another within the same ISP- Internet Service Provider). And all it said was “Hi Mon, how are you?”. I was surprised since I never liked the idea of paging and did not even know user- “omni”. It turned out that omni or Mariel was actually paging my good friend Mon Ser who at one time used my internet account to page some users on the net probably expecting to lure young, nubile women ( just kidding, Mon). It turned out too that Mariel had just received her computer from repairs that day and was thus offline for quite sometime. She had merely wanted to test the machine. What happened next was probably cooked up in heaven, because we ( Mariel and me) both will not be able to explain to this day why it just happened.

I said to her that “this is not Mon and I am Bong and Mon is away on a business trip to Jakarta. She said why on Earth was I at the office working at past 12 midnight. Well I said I was actually in the office licking my wounds because of a love relationship gone bad that day. Mariel being probably maternal as she can be started to console me. I instantly poured my heart out to a complete stranger and told all. (My daughter Sam will probably shriek in horror and say “eeew” at this confessional but this was the way it really happened). Mariel even then, did not try to preach, she just listened to my heartaches and rants with the patience of Mother Teresa. So that pages or online chats turned into emails that turned into long phone calls. A few months hence, on a lark I took a chance and sent her this email: ” you were once a bleep on the screen, now you’re a bleep in my heart”. I guess that sealed it because after a few more dogged attempts, Mariel agreed to meet me for the very first time.

Mariel of course being aware of internet fiends in the lurk, was also very cautious. At this point, while she had indeed shared with me her interests, hobbies, dreams and other life concepts, she had left out giving me any personal data such as, her last name, address, mobile number etc. And she thought it best for us to meet in full public view at 3 ‘o clock in the afternoon at Gourmet’s Cafe at SM Megamall. But… not until she finishes with her MBA final exams. (You know the recurring theme with Mariel is that she will start on something new only after making sure to complete any pending task. As such, she has learned to stick to important priorities at the expense of hedonistic pursuits. Of course, you can look at the opposite end of that spectrum and find old bohemian me).

On that day in May, having prepped her by asking her to watch out for a Keannu Reeves lookalike (it’s about the hair thing in “Matrix” the movie), I was able to get her to give me her cellphone number just in case I got lost. Fiendishly, I had planned to dial her mobile number from afar, look first and check if I liked what I saw, and make a great escape if I did not. Necessarily, I executed my plan with the precision of Seal Team Six.

I programmed the cellphone number for speed dial, I looked casually at the menu from outside “Gourmet’s Cafe” and secretly dialed the number. From the corner of my eye I saw someone waving at me. I looked and there was my Mariel. She asked if I was Bong. And as I approached sheepishly, she told me that she knew that I was the one calling and that was why, she wasn’t answering. I was floored, surprised, frozen in shame. For I was caught. Mariel was indeed more than a match for me. I had once thought that I was the best at the game. And there was this one person who conquered me “in style”.

And someone with a high sense of style, was also what best described Mariel. Aside from always being impeccably dressed and groomed, Mariel showed class inside and out. For she never once talked to me again about any of any of my online revelations during our married life. Never once did she use any of what I had told her before. Even at the height of our little arguments. She had real style. She was a decent person. But most of all, she had truly loved me very much. She took me warts and all for the frog that I was and turned me into her “prince”.

Mariel, my princess, I miss you now and love you so much. One day we will meet again and will never be apart forever.

Why Mariel loved flowers and why we love Mariel

Mariel with flowers in MalaysiaMariel loved flowers. She would try to have fresh blooms at our home whenever possible. She also loved to work with orchids at her mini pocket garden. Vandas, dendrobium, cymbidium and other exotic names gave her some bliss. For she had a way with plants and greenery. It was her caring and gentle nature that showed when she patiently arranges every twist and turn of some wayward stems. She would even just breath new life into a bunch that looked sad and somewhat dejected.

Of course, she cared for me and her daughter Sam very much more. Her caring and gentle nature came to surface as usual as she made us feel alright when we’re sometimes down. She however rarely called attention to herself. I was so clueless that she was starting to suffer from that strange “connective tissue” illness that took her from us. In the midst of this, she even arranged a short vacation to Singapore for the three of us and made us happier than ever.

I also later found out that she had orange “salsa” roses placed on her office desk almost everyday. Like her, orange roses represent energy and enthusiasm. Now I make sure to have these kind whenever I visit her resting place at Heritage Park. Flowers they say are a symbol of “welcoming”. They also perk you up and positively change your mood every time. I guess that also best describes my Mariel. She will cheer you up when you most needed it. That’s why we miss her so much. So we look to the flowers and remember that Mariel was the very best part of our lives.

(By the way, if you wanted to know, I only remember giving her some tulips once in our years together. She of course never complained, she was too busy taking care of me.)

One balmy January day in Phuket

 

Our Phuket Wedding

The first seeds of Mariel’s Garden were planted at Promthep Cape in Phuket, Thailand. On a hilltop facing the sunset and the clear blue Andaman Sea, Mariel and I got married some 10 years ago. It was in a garden too beneath a tree on a balmy January afternoon, that we said our vows to a small party of six people, and a thousand blooming flowers on the hill. Mariel looked radiant, as usual, in a purple ( her fave color) Thai princess gown, while I wore a gray suit and a white tie. We had a relaxed but very memorable Roman Catholic wedding ceremony. We heard Holy Mass at a nearby church, then exchanged vows witnessed by my buddies, Kiko as the best man and Albert, as designated driver and photographer. Both Kiko and Albert also were the wedding’s logistic planners. We rode in a teeny- weeny Caribian and Mariel never once commented about the inconvenience nor my “frugality” with the arrangements as we were stacked four- wide.

That’s how much Mariel loved me. She took me for what I was and made me a better person without ever nagging me about it. She leads in the best way possible, by example. After the wedding and raiding the hawker’s stalls in Bangkok, we went home and invited our family and close friends to a reception at Sukhothai Restaurant in Manila, where we showed our wedding home video midst giggles and tears of joy. We had the time of our lives, light and carefree as rainy showers on a December morning. It was almost as memorable as the first time we met at Gourmet’s Cafe, but I will reserve that for another time.

Mariel was the most “prim and proper” person you will ever meet but she took chances on new things. She would just dive into new hobbies like crochet, flower arrangement, paper tole and excel at it. She had the knack for learning something new, then quickly becoming an “expert” in a heartbeat. She was so thorough, very intelligent and did not mind putting in long hours on things she loved or found important.

Of course, she took her biggest chance on me. ( My friends ribbed me then that she should be given a helmet lest she knocks her head and wakes up ) For Mariel gave everything of herself to me and our daughter Sam. She would make daily trips to the mall to buy Sam another dress or book, and for me my beloved DVDs. She seldom bought things for herself anymore since we got married. She constantly looked after us as she found her happiness in making us both happy. Mariel did this in subtle ways. Assuredly but gentle as always. In fact, I never appreciated how much she had taken care of us, till now that she’s gone. She was the best thing that had ever happenned to me and I miss her so badly.

I can only promise her though that I will always take care of Sam and her “garden”. Mariel’s Garden grows here and in heaven. And I can’t wait to be with her, when she gathers some fresh blooms for our new “home” over there. I love you “Mommy”.

Another dog day at the mall

I went to the mall today. It was tough just getting from the entrance to the exit. Of all times, they decided it was a good day to play “Silent Night”. Books on grieving tell you to expect the unexpected. But nothing prepares you for when the feelings hit you. Yes I’ve lost my Mariel less than a month ago, and if you care to know it feels like having a 30-pound iron ball trying to escape through your chest cavity every time.

I dread the coming holidays. Not to mention Mariel’s birthday which is coming in some two weeks. The experts again advise you to plan in detail how you want to spend those days. To avoid having to deal with the stray memories. I don’t know about you but the only reason I live now is because of those memories. I will go through those days, cherish the memories and there really are tons of them. As weekends were spent mainly cuddling each other, with our daughter Sam. I will also probably cry a lot. Crying is good. Crying heals, albeit so slowly. Crying keeps you less numb, at least for some minutes. Crying keeps you from dying. I can’t tell how long I have to deal with more dog days.

By the way “dog days” are technically the hottest days in the year, when everything seems to stand still. Right now, I feel like I’m strolling underwater, just trying to make it to the exit. By the way, I forgot to mention that its October 19, it’s just past lunch and I’m at the Glorietta mall and a bomb just went off. You can follow the rest on TV. I’ll be sitting it out some more. The “mortars” exploding in my chest are more fearsome to me.

On Mothers

“Lola Mommy” Aurora at our wedding reception

Mariel loved to write. She once told me that she really wanted to be a journalist, but her dad had prevailed upon her to take up Accountancy at the University of Santo Tomas instead. Don’t get me wrong, Mariel was a darn good CPA, but she really wrote very well, as someone said with such “gentleness”. For truly Mariel was a gentle person in every way. And this came out naturally through her writings.

She wrote the following short piece for their office newsletter for Mother’s Day last May 2007. It was about Mariel’s own mother- Aurora, but it never got published as it arrived a bit late for press time. Well, Mommy (as I lovingly call Mariel), it’s about time for the whole world to know what a great writer you were. And more importantly, what a good (and gentle) heart you’ve always had.

MOTHER By: Mariel Gina F. Bello

“Why do most people think that mothers live forever? Maybe because a mother seems to have super powers so it just follows that she must be immortal as well. Or maybe because we tend to think that since she has always been around it must follow that she WILL always be around.

I had been one of these types of people. I had always seen my mother the way I saw her since I was a child. I saw her as the strong woman who was able to raise nine children, send them to school and marry them off to raise families of their own. I saw her as a rock steadfast and hard in the face of adversities and as an anchor who kept me grounded and safe when I was feeling lost. I saw her as a teacher who painstakingly taught each of her nine kids to write their names and do their homework. I saw her as the kind neighbor who took two orphan girls under her care till their relatives were finally able to take care of them. I saw her as the epitome of what a proper lady should be – one who would never raise her voice or hand in anger. I saw her as a saint who’d go to her daily masses and communion; who’d say the rosary not once but several times a day; who’d have calluses on her knees from kneeling and who’d have several novenas and prayer books by her side so she could pray in her idle time.

Just as I saw my mother in various ways, there are as much things that I failed or refused to see. I refused to see the silver hair, the slower gait, the minor aches and pains normally associated with the elderly. I refused to see these things because being elderly bode of staring one’s mortality in the face. In my mind, my mother cannot and will not leave us – her children.

I failed to see the loneliness in her eyes whenever I had or found time to visit her. I failed to hear the yearning and longing in her voice when I had to hung up the phone after a short talk with her. I failed to see these things because I was too wrapped up in my own concerns. I have lost track of how many of her phone calls I did not return. My husband Bong used to ask me to call her up but I always tell him that I’ll do it later, when I’m not so busy anymore.

Now I’m not so busy anymore, but she’s no longer there to take my call.

Mariel is truly the “World’s Greatest Mother” in my book and in Sam’s. We love you Mommy.