If there is a moment that I wish I could relive and do something about it, I think it would be my ninth birthday.
I was in my third grade in elementary school. Young Monica was sleeping when my mom informed my sister and me that Grandpa is already gone. “Gone? What do you mean?” I remember asking, still groggy from sleep. My mom burst into tears. My sister followed. I did not.
After that news, I went back to sleep. I don’t know, perhaps the information wasn’t sinking in at the time. When I woke up, there were too many people in our house talking at the same time. I couldn’t find my father. Grandma was in shock. My sister was still crying while my baby brother was playing with his toy.
“What’s happening?” I asked loudly.
“Wala na si Tatay.” (Grandpa is already gone)
Like earlier, I didn’t feel anything. I wasn’t even sad. I just voiced out one concern:
“So I won’t go to school this morning? I have a declamation contest today!”
At that time, the only thing running in my mind was my teacher and coach getting angry because I couldn’t go to represent my school for a contest. As an honor student, I was afraid that she’ll get angry at me and mess with my grades. I wanted to finish elementary school as a valedictorian.
As I look back, I am grateful to remember that no one answered my callous question. I guess they didn’t mind.
My Grandpa died in his car. It was in the wee hours of the morning when someone noticed him inside his car “sleeping”.
During the wake and even in the funeral, not a single tear dropped from my eyes. I didn’t feel anything. Numb.
As his first grandchild, I enjoyed all the perks of being his favorite. I admit that he spoiled me. Whenever I wanted something and my parents disagreed, he will be there and stop my coming tantrum. He would usually give me a ride and together we’ll tour around the metro; sometimes even to neighboring provinces. I would go home with my favorite huge and pink cotton candy at hand and a smile plastered in my face.
In other times, when I wanted to have a new acquisition, we did something different. He taught me that if we want something, we must earn it. So if I want to have a new toy, or more often than not, a new board game or book, he will ask me to massage his back. As a child, of course I wasn’t that strong, but my Grandpa always praised me and declared that I am the youngest and best massage therapist in the world.
When he made visits to our house, he never failed to bring our favorites. I love fruits, and he always showered me with tons of sugar apples! During free time, he will gather my siblings and me for a “contest”. At the time, we were the only grandchildren he had so we were gifted to have his undivided attention. He would show us the prizes for the contest: bar of chocolate, ticket to an amusement park, new toy, loose coins, etc. And the game? Riddles! He would be like your ordinary game show master and with a booming voice, he would say the riddles and we would beat each other by thinking and shouting the answers first.
It was so much fun. I love my Grandpa so much. And I couldn’t believe my family when they said that he was no longer with us. I couldn’t accept it. T’was like they were telling me a lie, an awful lie!
When we went home after the funeral service, that was when it came crashing down on me. My grandfather was really gone. For good. He won’t be coming back. No more escapes from my parents. No more cotton candies, chocolates, and other sweets. No more healthy food forced for me to eat. No more swimming lessons. No more Grandpa.
He died on August 22, 1999 and was buried on the 29th. The next day was my birthday, August 30. It was the loneliest birthday “party” I ever had. We just stayed at home where Mom cooked food. There were lots of dishes that the guests and family could devour, along with my birthday cake, but I was far from celebrating.
My mom thought that it would help me to party for my birthday. I was still young and perhaps couldn’t handle my first experience of death in family. They all agreed that I was shocked with what happened and that diverting me would help. But they were wrong.
It was my ninth birthday and I supposed to be rejoicing for God’s gift of extending my years here in the living world. But how could I do just that? I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate another year of existence while my Grandpa finished his last.
So on that day, I wish I could relive and edit it. I wish my Grandpa was with us, carrying me in his back while all of them were singing “Happy Birthday”. I wish my Grandpa was one of those people praying with me as I blew my birthday candles.
I missed you, Grandpa.