In between a sunrise and a sunset, a lot of things can happen in your life. You could get promoted, win the lottery, get pregnant, meet a friend or fall in love. With so many things happening within your day, you tend to breeze through it and get caught up with the present. You forget to stop and relieve the memories, but you have to. No, you need to. This is especially true for memories that while painful, have touched your life in more ways than you can imagine. Those memories that turned your life around but made you a better version of yourself.
I wrote this post August of 2014. It was a time in my life that I never wanted to happen. It was a situation that I never wanted to be in, a phase that I so dreaded to come. But it did and I couldn’t do anything. I lost one of the most important people in my life – my Ninang Belma.
She was a mother, a teacher, a wife and most of all, a warrior.
The pain of losing someone close to your heart is like no other. Sometimes you think you’re okay and that everything’s back to normal. Then a memory pops up in your head or a thing, a place or a person suddenly triggers the pain that you try to keep inside. Your loss becomes real again and it hurts right to your bones. No matter how strong you think you are, nothing will ever prepare you for this pain and you can only do so much to heal it. You can only cry your eyes out to alleviate it, to make it sting a little less. As John Green would put it, “that’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt.”
After almost five years of battling cancer, my Ninang breathed her last and were fetched by the angels in heaven on the night of August 23rd. To say that she fought hard would be an understatement. She gave every bit of fight she had in her and never showed any sign of retreat, not even until the very end. Her journey is inspiring, to say the least, and I believe that neither I nor any Nobel-prized writer will ever find the right words to capture the bravery of this woman, my hero and now, our angel in heaven. In the years that we spent together and especially during her fight against cancer, I have learned many things from my Ninang and I will forever be grateful. And since I promised to share her inspiration in the hopes that it would touch others’ lives like it did mine, here are three lessons I learned from her beautiful and well-lived life:
1. You can overcome anything if you put your mind to it.
Ninang received the news that she had cancer when she was at a really good place in her life and you know that hearing this news can really hit you hard in the gut. In fact, it can give you all kinds of negative thoughts and would even make you lose your will to live. But that’s not how she took it. She was probably sad and afraid but she didn’t let it show. She took this disease as a challenge, a battle that she had to prepare for. She did her research and gathered all the information to fight cancer head on. She put her mind on the forefront and set her emotions aside. She was that brave. Her Oncologist said that her survival was a rare case, especially considering the different type of malignancies that she experienced. But I knew that it wasn’t just because of all her treatments and medications – it was because of how she chose to deal with her disease. She battled cancer for almost five years and although many people say she lost, for us, she won.
2. You can be strong, if you only believe you can.
Fear is a basic human instinct. In fact, it’s one of those things that make us all real, it separates us from all the other things surrounding us. It makes us humans. The difference, however, is in how we deal with fear. We have two options, to fight or flight. Ninang chose to fight. She turned her fear into strength – she made it work for her, not against her. There were nights when I’d watch her sleep and I end up in tears not because of pity but because I felt so blessed to know a woman that strong. A lot of people think I am strong but compared to her, I am nothing. I have been coward in many situations, opting to play it safe rather than fight. Ninang’s strength never faltered. She fought until her last breath. She was weak physically, yes, but her spirit, it was always the strongest. In fact, in those days when we were at the hospital feeling tired and stressed out, we would look at her and we were instantly energised. In her weakest days, she was still our source of strength. She is truly amazing.
3. You can never underestimate the power of love.
If there was one thing that I was very blessed to witness throughout the years that Ninang battled cancer, it was her and Papa Leo’s love for each other. I’ve always looked up to them when I was growing up. In fact, they were my second parents. I grew up knowing that there was true love. I saw it in them. So, when I was asked to speak in Ninang’s funeral, I told everyone of how strong their love was for each other – that yes, true love does exist. To many, they were just an ordinary married couple. They had good jobs, had two amazing children and a beautiful home. But for me, they were the perfect example of true love. Not a lot of people know that Ninang, in the many years that they’ve been married, would always wait for Papa Leo to come home even if it’s late so they can eat dinner together. I remember her saying one time when she was asked why she would wake up early to cook breakfast when they had household help to do it. She answered, “I am a wife and it’s my duty to take care of my family.” She always took care of Papa Leo and the kids even when she was sick. They were the proof that you don’t need to be fancy and grand to prove your love. It all boils down to the little, every day things that matter most. They showed me that true love isn’t a one-day, one-month, one-year thing. It is consistent. Papa Leo loved Ninang just the same. I can’t remember a time when he left her side. He was there with her through it all. He never left her. I’m trying so hard to not tear up while I’m writing this but I’m just really overwhelmed with the love they have for each other. I am a hopeless romantic, yes, and it’s because I am a witness of true love.
Ninang, without a doubt, lived a complete life. It was evident with the many people who went to visit her at the hospital and in her wake. It was evident with all students who cried when they knew she was sick. It was evident with all the love that the family received as we were grieving. She changed so many people’s lives by being a great teacher. She touched many people’s hearts with her indomitable strength. Most of all, she changed my life by being the woman that she is. I would like to share a part of my eulogy:
” Thank you for being you, the smart, kind and loving woman who I have the privilege to call Ninang. Our memories will always be kept inside my heart and I will never get tired of telling people your inspiring story. You are my hero, the brave warrior who fought until the end, the very epitome of bravery that I wish I could become someday.
When i took my flight home after learning that you’re gone, you knew how confused and dazed my heart was. But as I saw the beautiful clouds on that Sunday morning, my heart felt peace because I knew you were right there in heaven with God, where no pain, discomfort and cancer can ever hurt your golden heart ever again. I love you Ninang.”