January 5, 2022•472 words
I have made sure to attend my Lola's birthday for the past three years: Her 88th in Pansol, Laguna, her 89th in Novaliches, Quezon City, and her 90th in Alfonso, Cavite.
On her 88th birthday, the venue was close to the strike of factory workers of a famous brand of soap and detergent. I had just covered the first day of the strike as part of Mayday. In the car ride, I shared about this experience, hearing workers' grievances about the wounds in their hands from making soap in a factory. Was a little proud that it resonated with my Tito and Tita, but not so much with my cousins sitting at the back with their girlfriends.
For that birthday, we had t-shirts printed with my grandmother's face and name drawn on the front.
On her 89th birthday, it was three months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was my first time to be out of our neighborhood. Since the commute was not an option, I booked a Grab ride that cost about P500 just for the way there. I firmly declined sharing a ride with my relatives out of a complicated fear of being asymptomatic, then being in an enclosed space with senior citizens who are more vulnerable to COVID. (On the way home, I was more at ease to share a ride with my cousin and his girlfriend.)
For that birthday, I showed up with a gift - I think for the first time. I try to tell her to promise me she will keep the gift and wear the dress, not give it away.
On her 90th birthday, it was the day of my 2nd dose vaccination, and my Lola had her 2nd dose just a few days prior. Knowing this, my parents didn't invite me to the gathering but I insisted on coming. We arranged to borrow Brian's family's car so we could drive there ourselves.
She was feeling weak since her own vaccination. I gave her another dress but that night, she ended up using it as a shawl to keep from the cold.
There was no more 91st birthday. My grandmother died in September, four months after her last birthday, due to complications with her breathing and eating. Before her death, her illness was managed in the hospital for a while, but having refused any intrusive surgery, my mom and her siblings brought her home. I was the only one among my siblings able to visit during her last days. I have pictures from that time but they are a little too painful to share. So instead, here is a photo from a stronger time, when she was eating buchi made by a neighbor and reading paperwork with a magnifying glass.