The long, slow fade to black.

Lola Puring died yesterday morning, around 6:30, after
complaining she found it hard to breathe. By the time Mom made it to Lola’s
house, the body was still very warm, but it was just a body. She called up my
sister to fill out the death

Lola was a midwife, with a
real college education; rare in her day, for women who didn’t come from rich
families. She was the kind of woman her generation would have called “spunky.” I
think I wrote about her before, in my old blog, because I’d taken home her
journal from her trip to Culion in the 40s to bring the non-leprous children
born in the colony back to Manila. I remember mom telling us not to make such a
big mess in Lola’s house, because whenever my sister and I were allowed to go up
to the second floor, we were always rummaging through the books and asking if we
could borrow this or that. A lot of her books came from the Clark air force base
library, with the front covers gone and replaced with cardboard.

In a way, I have her to thank for my
science-fiction habit. The first book I borrowed was the Playboy anthology of
science fiction short stories for 1969. That was followed by two Ray Bradbury
short story collections: Long After Midnight, and I Sing the Body Electric! and
Other Stories.

Lola was still quite the
gadabout until she broke first one hip, then the other, within the span of two
years. She had already struggled to get back on her feet after the first one,
and could move around with the aid of a walker, when the second accident

After that, she needed
constant care, which I’m sure pissed her off no end, as she was never the kind
of person to ask for help from anyone. For many years, she was a folded,
crinkled person, at times indistinguishable from the thin cotton blankets
covering the legs that had betrayed her. She was in pain, not always, but
mostly. In her last months her back had pressure sores, which my sister said
eventually became ulcerated, affecting her spine. She would scream curses at the
nurse during her baths, because of the pain. My sister prescribed antibiotics,
and painkillers, and Lola’s last days were more

Every Christmas, until we were
in our late 20s, Lola would press into our palms tiny white envelopes, with
aguinaldo inside, and on the outside, her handwriting: Merry Christmas, Leah.
Merry Christmas, Marili. Never mind that we had jobs and she lived on her
savings; she never forgot. I remember those envelopes, and her wrinkled sleeping
face, and as many, many others have done, and will do, tell myself, and others
who ask, it’s all right, she’s no longer in pain, she is happy.