SAN PABLO, Calif. — I remember being really young, maybe four or five, and I couldn’t stand the sight of needles. But kids get shots and I was no exception. Every time, I knew they’d hurt. Every time, I’d cry. And every time, Mom held my hand, calmed me down, and reassured me that the sting would go away.
“Be brave, Marc,” Mom would say. “Just be brave.”
So, I was brave. I stopped crying at the sight of needles, and eventually, I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I think of this now that Mom is gone. In August, doctors diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer. In January, she chose to end treatment because it did little to help her condition. Soon after, she chose to enter home hospice.
At the beginning, she was scared. One night, I laid down next to her, took her hand, and told her that things were going to be fine. I reminded her of something she’d taught me a long time ago.
“Be brave, Mom,” I said. “Just be brave.”
So, she was brave. Amazingly brave. She spent the final weeks of her life slowed by her illness, but that didn’t stop her from fighting to make the most of every minute. Her sister flew in from halfway around the world, her children visited often. For the first time, she met her grandchildren, and experienced the joy that came with watching them play.
Her friends, a constant source of inspiration, visited in waves. They crowded around her and told old stories, brought her favorite foods, filled her in on the latest news. There was never a shortage of people willing to help Mom, and I suspect that’s because she herself spent a lifetime willing to help others.
You couldn’t go many places in town where Mom didn’t know at least one person by name. She was always this way. She had a gift for making people feel comfortable. Among her closest confidants, she reigned as the peacemaker, the one they leaned on to resolve conflicts. She laughed loud. She laughed often. It was easy to be her friend.
With us, she was strict, always the disciplinarian. She resolved to teach her children right from wrong, to embrace selflessness, to reject selfishness. She reinforced these principles with conviction. Sometimes, it wasn’t easy to be her child.
Nevertheless, we were all the better for it.
I was most proud of Mom near the end. She focused on the positives and dismissed the rest. She channeled all of her energy into her family and friends. She stood strong when she was weak. I’m convinced that her survival was a mere reflection of her bravery than anything else.
“I’m really impressed by you, Mom,” I told her one morning.
“I’m doing it for all of you,” she said.
One of the last times I saw her, I asked if she could teach me to make a few of the Filipino dishes she often prepared for us as children. By then, she couldn’t stand up for long periods of time. But she felt strong enough to sit nearby. From her chair, she quarterbacked the effort. In the kitchen, my brother and I functioned as her hands. I learned to cook pinakbet and sinigang that night — recipes I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to perfect. About 20 family members had come to see her. Together, we made enough to feed them all.
“I’m fighting for it,” she told me often in the waning days of her life. “I’m still fighting for it.”
Mom’s fight ended on Sunday night with my father at her side. Consuelo “Wilma” Carig — wife, mother, confidant — was 60.
I’m home now to say goodbye. The coming days will surely bring more sorrow. I know it’s going to hurt. I know I’m going to cry. But my phone has been buzzing with texts, emails and calls, overwhelming shows of support. Just know that you have given me the strength to honor Mom in the best way I know how.
Thank you for giving me the strength to be brave.
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