When my grandfather passed away, I moved into his old room. It had the best sunlight in the house. “Very cheery,” my mom would say. After his wake, family friends visited our house to pray and show their condolences. Half serious and half playful, they asked me, “You’re going to sleep in your grandpa’s room? Aren’t you afraid?” I answered them politely, “No.”
I grew up in a multigenerational household. There was always extended family staying with us, whether it was for a few months or for a few years. My mom and dad came to the United States in 1973. In 1980, my grandparents (on my mom’s side) came to live with us. My lola (Filipino for grandma) passed away in 1989, about two years after I was born. I never got a chance to meet her, although my mom tells me stories all the time. I’ve come to believe I inherited her “spunk.”
While my grandparents (on my dad’s side) stayed with us for a few years, Lolo Tirso (“lolo” Filipino for grandpa) would take care of me and my brother for the remaining years of our childhood. At that time, my sister was already a teenager (teased hair and all), so she went along with her “independent” ways. My dad worked as a doctor, and my mom, a former nurse, would take care of us at home. After my lola died, she decided to take care of us full-time, a blessing/luxury I will never overlook.
Still, Lolo Tirso was our favorite babysitter. We both slept in his room as kids–first my brother, then when he got older, me instead. We had a toy box in the corner of his room next to his closet. It was filled with randomness that I still miss to this day: Matchbox cars, my Glow Worm, Barbies, loose crayon nubs, Dr. Seuss books. Whenever Lolo took care of us, he made dinner. It was always rice and one of the following: bacon, eggs, spam, with ramen soup on the side. If we were lucky, he’d cook a batch of french fries. “Better than McDonald!” he’d tell us. I tried hard to believe him. (Nothing could beat a Happy Meal.)
As I got older, so did Lolo. He still had muscles, but they were wrinkled and deflated. He went from using a fashionable looking wooden cane to a walker, and later on, a wheel chair. He was strong man. I could see him in our garden cutting wood with his old school saw (no power tools allowed). Our book shelves downstairs? He made them. He was a talented carpenter, among other things.
When I was 13, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Given his age at the time (90) the doctors decided not to go through with any extensive treatment. I was heart broken, we all were. Before he was diagnosed, my family and I saw my Lolo fight his age. “Abet! Allen!” literally every 15 minutes, just so he could see our faces. That playroom–filled with toys, blankets for fort-making, crayons and paper–became almost like a hospital room.
At night, Lolo would try to walk to his bathroom. Three in the morning before school, I hear a BOOM from upstairs. He couldn’t make it down the hallway anymore, not without our help. And so we took care of him, bringing meals, giving baths, making sure he knew he was still our Lolo no matter what. Even if he didn’t have the strength to carry us anymore, we would be more than happy to carry him.
When he died, I didn’t understand how I felt. My mom was frantic, and a few hours later, I’d walk into his hospice room with her crying, “Tay? Tay…” Filipino for dad. Of course I cried too. I broke down with my brother in the bathroom. Some people lose friends, siblings, children, or parents early on in life. I lost my grandfather.
I still sleep in my Lolo Tirso’s room with our beds positioned the same. My book shelf across from my bed, in the same spot where he kept his clothes and toiletries in his dresser. In the corner where my toy box was, I keep extra blankets and pillows. The only difference is my desk, which sits in front of our window where his navy blue recliner used to be.
His room is still the sunniest in the house, and although I have new furniture and paint on the walls, it’s still the same room. The sunlight hits where it used to 31 years ago when my grandparents moved in. The trees, though larger now, still cast shadows on our carpet floor. The street light still peaks through the curtains the same way it used to when I was four years old, playing in his room as he listened to me sing. Watching my eyes droop until I finally fell asleep. (R.I.P. Tirso Laborete, 1911-2001.)
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I’m not sure what suddenly inspired me to write this blog, but I am thankful. Like many of my second-generation Filipino American friends, I grew up with my grandparents living in the same house as me. My grandmother on my dad’s side, Lola Priming, is still alive and well in New Jersey. She lives with my cousins, who also grew up with both her and my grandfather, Lolo Doming, (R.I.P.). As I said, my Lola Euphemia (R.I.P.) passed away when I was only a baby, so unfortunately I never got a chance to know her.
In our culture, “Respect Your Elders” isn’t as much an adage as it is a way of life. Don’t get me wrong, I had major attitude spurts when I was younger, but it was still a value that was constantly engraved into my mind. I encourage everyone to share stories of their parents, grandparents, older aunts and uncles. I would love to hear the wisdom that they’ve passed along to you. Believe me, I could (we all could) use it.