As I try to wrap up work for the year, once again, I find myself unable to focus on anything. And it’s troublesome, as I still have a some more important meetings to attend to, twp of which are coming up in a few hours as I write this.
My Auntie Aida has just passed away, less than three months after his husband. Where Uncle Flor was considered the patriarch of the Librero Family, from my limited time with them, I always saw Auntie Aida as having no lesser of a status in the Recto Family, being the eldest among her family as well, for as far as I can remember.
I had just as much interaction with her as I did with my uncle. Or perhaps even a bit less. She was part of top level management at Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) under the Department of Science and Technology. I never really knew that part of her life. But what I do know is that until my dad became Chancellor of UPOU, whenever someone older saw my name, I was more often asked if I was related to either Florentino from UPLB or Aida from PCAARRD. And if it was my auntie, that question usually had an air of respect or even a little bit of intimidation about it.
I wish I did knew more about her professional life. I came in relatively late in the academe. Or more accurately, most of my elders were either already retired, or on their way, by the time I started in UPOU. It was only in recent years where I was having actual conversations with my auntie about research and conferences. She had a more practical perspective on the matters, which I think would have been useful. Unfortunately, it usually didn’t amount to much as I was working in a different field and she had already been out of the game for so long. Who knows what I would have learned if circumstances were a bit different.
However, what I am probably most thankful for is what she did for me, or rather me and Vanni. It wasn’t just about their farm as our venue. Being wed in at Panyesanan farm meant all the paper work had to be accomplished at Lipa City, Batangas — a far more tedious prospect than, say, right here in Los Baños, Laguna. My auntie was instrumental and speeding things up and finalizing everything. Vanni told me about my auntie accompanying Vanni to city hall and getting people there to move like a boss (I suppose that aside from being a Recto, being at management in a government institution helps a lot). That would have been an awesome, yet amusing sight for me to see.
My uncle’s decline in health was relatively quick and dramatic. Auntie Aida’s was far more deliberate and slower paced. I am actually amazed at how she has managed to endure a major debilitating illness started off by a mild stroke so many years ago. Perhaps it was the constant motion in their farm that kept her health up. But it was only a matter of time when that would no longer help.
Before I left my uncle’s funeral, I hugged Auntie Aida and kissed her cheek to say goodbye. She knew I was fresh off an overseas trip and haven’t really had any sleep yet. She thanked me for making the effort. Saying nothing about the pain of losing the biggest part of her life, this was an old woman who at the time was under hospital confinement, could no longer stand on her own two feet and cannot breathe properly without an oxygen mask. But she found the will to attend. And there she was — gracious about acknowledging MY effort.
I thought I was going to cry with her then and there. And after asking Aidan to wave bye bye one last time before driving off, I silently harbored an unshakable feeling that it was going to be the last time I would see her face and talk to her. It, unfortunately, turned out to be true.
As much as I refuse to remember my uncle as the weakened old man, I will not remember Auntie Aida as I saw her last. I will remember her as the short unassuming lady who seemed to have an almost permanent smile on her face, always the welcoming presence.
We have lost a matriarch. But perhaps we can find comfort from the belief that she is at peace, no longer in pain, and did not have to endure a long time before rejoining her husband, wherever they may be.