Death is the presence of an absence, my Philosophy teacher once said. But what happens when someone passes on but an absence isn’t felt?
At 5am today, my aunt told me through a text message that my maternal grandmother had passed on. “Big Mama,” was what we called her.
(Interesting side story: me and my cousins on my mom’s side called our grandparents “Big Mama” and “Big Papa” because we had our own Mamas and Papas—adding the word big made so much sense then, I guess.)
She was the last of my grandparents. My dad’s father, Papa Judge (named so because he was a court judge—creative, yes) died before I was born. My mom’s father, “Big Papa,” passed away when I was a grade school student. My paternal grandmother, “Mama Sing,” passed away last year.
I feel terrible.
I feel terrible not only because she’s gone, but mostly because I don’t feel as sad as most people would expect me to feel.
See, I didn’t grow up with “Big Mama.” Our interactions were few and far apart—when we’d visit Tacloban City during the summer months, or when she and Big Papa would come over for a quick visit to Butuan.
Those visits came to a stop in 2002 when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Chemotherapy was hard enough to handle without the grueling 9- to 10-hour trip to Tacloban from Butuan.
The last time we visited Tacloban was when Big Papa died in 2003. I haven’t seen my birth town since.
My memories of Big Mama consist of me struggling to understand what ever she was saying in perfectly fluent Waray. Suffice to say, we decided to call it quits and stick to English or broken Waraya (Waray and Bisaya) instead.
I have albums full of pictures of me and my maternal grandparents as a baby. But photos taken in 1991 and 1992 (before I even turned a year old) barely count as memories.
I remember her as a voracious reader. She’s go through the books we had in our living room (vintage hardbound books—books that were bought for their aesthetic, not their literary, value).
In retrospect, maybe I have her to thank for my childhood (and adolescent, and adulthood) addiction to reading.
I’m a not a big believer in prayer. Or in the Catholic God that my relatives are feverishly devout to.
But I do believe in Guardian Angels (please ignore my very illogical logic here). And I’m glad I have at least five watching over me right now.