When I was a teenager, my parents had to go to the United States and stay there for a few years. They had no choice. They simply had to do it. There was no one else available to take care of me and my two siblings, Squiddward and Nachie, but Bita.
And Oh. My. God. The things I put her through, it’s the stuff of family legend. In fact, because of all the hardships she had suffered because of me, I don’t think she will even have to go through Purgatory. She is going straight to heaven. She is exempted from Purgatory because of me.
What strikes me most about Bita is her generosity in everything. She was generous with her time, her words of wisdom, her teaching, her prayers. Even in her endearing little subtleties, she was also generous. Maybe no one else notices that but us. Maybe we notice that because we have all come from her. Who could ever forget the meaning of that phenomenal, unforgettable, powerful phrase, “May lapat?” ("There are cobwebs.")
She was also generous in her pantatachar, but it was always in good humor, and it was her own subtle way of teaching us what is proper and what is not.
For instance, she would say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Itong babaying ito, ang pagkatukaw baya burukaka na. Makakaagi na ang carabao. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” (“Oh dear Jesus, look at that woman, sitting there with her legs wide open, enough to let a carabao walk through!”)
Translation: Always sit with your knees together.
Another example: “Hilinga na baya iyan babaying iyan. Ang kiray puwede nang sukrayon.” (Look at that woman. Her eyebrows are fit to be groomed with a hairbrush.)
Translation: Always maintain your eyebrows, and be consistent with its proper density and arc.
And another example: “Habo ko na daw makasabay mag-cena si kunyan. Kawasa man kaya kun magsapa, nahihiling mo na an kakanon sa laog kan nguso. Ay, kaati!” (I no longer want to have supper with such-and-such, because when he eats, I can see the food that’s right inside his mouth. How disgusting!)
Translation: Chew your food with your mouth closed.
And yet another example: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, iyan babayi kun makangirit ning makusog, kulang na sanang entirong nguso magkabaraliktad." ("Oh, dear Jesus. That woman, when she laughs, it's enough to turn her entire mouth inside out.")
Translation: When you smile or laugh, always keep your gums out of sight.
That was Bita. Restrained, discreet, elegant, proper, and full of simple yet stylish generosity. In all of the aspects of her life, she has given more than she has received. She was generous even with her body, the very same body that lies here in the room with us now. That body has given birth to, raised, and has given us ten God-fearing, law-abiding, respectable, reasonable, and decent children, whom we, primas y primos, would eventually have the privilege of being our parents.
Bita has brought so many good things into our lives that I cannot even begin to name them now, tonight. But the most important thing she has taught us, I believe, aside from all those lessons, is the most subtle: the proper way to breathe.
She died because of complications that began with her difficulty in breathing. At that very moment, when we knew that her body, which was once healthy enough to carry and deliver ten children, was full of various tubes, incoming, outgoing, connected to very sophisticated machines that we never even knew existed, I’m sure we all hoped we could all breathe for her. But of course it simply is not possible. Only she could breathe for herself, which she did, she tried, and she prayed for. Until the very end, when God told her that she can rest.
Prior to her passing, we thought we could only breathe for ourselves. But after Bita has come and gone, this breathing has now gained more meaning. It’s no longer just a biological function that we instinctively and unthinkingly perform in order to survive.
Breathing, for us, has now become a channel for gratitude, remembrance, and love. With every breath we take in, we also take in a hundred years of wonderful family history, a history that deserves acceptance, understanding, and faith, because it is a history that made us. With every breath, we also acknowledge our ancestors, who breathed in their time, so we can in ours.
We may not always breathe the same air, but we always breathe the same sensibilities. We may not always love the same way, but we always love as best as we can. And Bita, true to her reticence and her subtle style, has taught us that that is the proper way to breathe.
These are the tenets of Bita’s breathing lessons: That we become grateful for every breath, that with each breath we take we should love more deeply, live more profoundly, give more generously, forgive more sincerely, treat family more lovingly, live life more faithfully.
And most importantly, we should all breathe for each other, breathe for the people we love, breathe for those who cannot, breathe for the future that we will face. Bita, we will continue to breathe for you. We shall expand the breathing you have given to us so it will encompass the generations to come. So let’s breathe in and breathe out. Bita, te amamos, te echamos de menos, pero nunca te olvidaremos. Usted está siempre con nosotros.
[Image Credit: Iggy Belleza-Gonzales]