On August 2, the day before Tita Lola’s birthday, I was talking to my closest friend, a mother of a six-year-old girl and a six-month-old baby boy. Such adorable bundles of joy!
She was airing her sentiments about how children easily imitate what they see — from the people they interact with, children and adults alike, and from what they see and hear on TV. Children take after the people around them.
I don’t think there’s anyone who’ll disagree. And it’s interesting that such a conversation took place as I was reflecting on Tita Lola and my relationship with her. Quite synchronistic no doubt.
That conversation triggered my own sentiments. Some of my deeply buried unresolved emotions.
Tita Lola’s uniqueness
Her heart was located on the right side of her body; whatever is normally positioned on the right side was on her left. And vice versa.
That was one thing different and so unique about Tita Lola.
Did the reversed location of her bodily organs have anything to do with her delayed mental development? I don’t know. I also don’t know the exact medical terminology for her condition.
But whatever it was, sadly, Mom felt so ashamed of her older sister’s condition. Burdened.
All I know is I grew up considering Tita Lola “not normal.” It’s how we were raised. The programming that we received. My siblings and I picked up the covert message that Tita Lola’s delayed mental functioning, her “abnormality,” was something to be ashamed of.
For this reason, I hardly talked about Tita Lola or her condition with any of my friends and classmates. It was like a family secret. Something best kept hidden and unspoken of.
To make matters worse, in spite of her condition, I didn’t treat her well. Ridiculed her. Disrespected her.
I didn’t extend compassion or support. I abused her kindness and generosity. Ignored her patience and understanding. Disregarded her sweetness and innocence. Her unconditional love and genuine care were left unappreciated and unreciprocated for the most part.
And why was such a behavior allowed to perpetuate? Why was I, and my siblings, not called on our behavior? Why were we not reprimanded, especially by our mother?
Because, and quite sadly, Mom behaved in exactly the same way.
In fact, when my siblings and I got older, and the time came when we realized how horribly we had been treating Tita Lola, we were even the ones who’d scold Mom and call on her behavior — that the way she was treating Tita Lola, was outright wrong and totally unacceptable!
I don’t mean to pass the blame entirely on my mother, or paint a really despicable picture of her. Nor am I taking away any responsibility or accountability for my own ill actions.
But the fact is, Mom didn’t set a very good example. And we, being children, only took after her, the grown-up. After all, she is our mother. She is the adult.
So, as I was thinking about Tita Lola on the days leading to her birthday, that conversation with my friend about children taking after adults, triggered my feelings of resentment towards Mom. For not having been a good example. For not having shown us how to extend compassion to individuals, like my aunt, who have such health conditions and challenges, mental illnesses or issues.
And Mom herself may have her own reasons or limitations, explanations or justifications for the way she treated Tita Lola. Whatever they may be, only Mom truly knows.
Silence in exchange for the abuse
Yet the abusive and disrespectful treatment that Tita Lola received from us was met with nothing but silence. She kept her feelings to herself and suffered in her solitude. Something Tita Lola was so wont to do — to not complain, to accept and tolerate everything and anything hurled her way.
I feel so ashamed and so guilty, thinking about it now — how I found her condition to be so shameful. For having disrespected her in spite of it. For not having appreciated her, her love, and her caring gestures. And for not having apologized appropriately, especially even after I had already realized my wrongdoing towards her!
After Tita Lola passed on in 1999, each year, when August 3 comes, I’d think about her. Fondly, and regretfully.
And this year, for the first time, after 14 years, I wrote her a letter where I poured my long-held thoughts and feelings, asking and praying for my healing, for the long-standing pain.
For the deep sorrow. Much regret. Terrible guilt. Relentless shame.
To be relieved of all these and all the heaviness in my heart.
To be released of the bondage of my guilt. Of the unnecessary ties that bind.
To be forgiven.
And to forgive.
To be continued
- Childish and childlike was my aunt – In memory of Tita Lola, Part 1
- Getting her dolled up – In memory of Tita Lola, Part 2
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