Dreamer….one man’s legacy…one family’s purpose…

IMG_2860Today my father would have been 98 years old.

At his bedside in 1998, twenty years ago, he quietly revealed to my older sister his story of approaching the Golden Gate Bridge on the deck of a ship, she barely old enough to stand at his side as they passed under the monument that signified his entry into America.

“We will have a good life here,” he whispered into her ear.

He was a silent man, of very few words. We three sisters had never heard this story, his last spoken before his last breath 24 hours later in the US Army hospital where I was born.

His entry into the port of San Francisco was gained through his service as a Philippine Scout in World War II, and his survival after escaping from the Bataan Death March. After his escape, he journeyed 60 miles by foot, emaciated with malaria back to his home in the province. Slowly he recovered in a nipa hut, his home, until the liberation in 1945, when he jumped onto the US Army trucks rolling past on the road back to Manila to join the US forces and Mac Arthur in Leyte.

From America he would send stipends to his mother in the province. She proudly had a gate made to the entrance of her home that said, “Sgt. Jesus C. Bermudez, US Army.”

My father was the gatekeeper for others to come to this country, the one who would open the doors decades later as a sponsor for his brother and his family, my mother’s sisters and their families, to pursue the good life that my father dreamed of as he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge: A house. A car. An education.

Over years, decades of waiting for papers, affidavits, job opportunities, these dreams materialized not only for my father but for generations to follow.

Our children set foot on the the shores of our Philippine homeland, the land of my father, for the first time last Christmas. The children and grandchildren and nephews and nieces of my father, their Lolo (grandfather), gathered on the on the island of Boracay to serve on a medical and dental mission to the Ati people, an indigenous tribe in the Philippines.

These first and second generation Filipino Americans of my father are living the American dream he longed for: homes in Malibu, Newport Beach, Seattle, Orlando. Cars he dreamed of: Porsches, Ferraris, Mercedes Benz. Educations to be proud of: USC, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor, Ohio State. Careers to make him proud: doctors, dentists, accountants, software engineers, NFL producers.

On the dirt roads of my parents homeland, fifty of us—brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins, nephews, nieces — gathered under a makeshift shelter and thatched grass huts of a remote village to bring medical and dental care to a people who had been outcast and isolated for the darkness of their skin.



We called it the Kamay Project: Kamay means hand in Tagalog, the Filipino language. Our families were joining hands and resources to help the Ati people. We saw 230 patients that day, giving basic medical and dental care, distributing medicines we had collected, sharing bible stories and balloons with the children, and the biggest draw, playing basketball with the kids.


Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand to hand
Hands extending to extract a tooth, to take a blood pressure reading, to lift a child up on a shoulder, to pass a basketball up for a shot.
Hands extending over generations, language, economics.
Hands reaching out to give out reading glasses, medicines, toys, balloons.






The recipients were not the only ones receiving a gift.

The ones handing out received smiles and hugs
reciprocally greater in exchange.

Kamay is also the word that describes the Filipino tradition of eating by hand. Food is spread out on the table on banana leaves. The great granddaughter of my father’s mother, a rising Filipino chef just honored at the James Beard house in NYC, prepared a traditional meal of fresh dried fish, shrimp, pancit, and rice.


As our family worked together side by side, elbow to elbow to present the food, arranging it artfully atop banana leaves on rickety wooden tables, my cousin, one of the dentists, grabbed my hand. Earlier that day he had extracted and examined teeth for over one hundred patients.
He grinned at me from ear to ear, the way I first remember his smile when he was eight years old and just had arrived from the Philippines. He had the same bright, hopeful look in his eyes as the children gathering all around us. At their age, his mom and his three siblings lived with us for nine months preparing for a new life in America.


“You know we all would not be here it was not for your mom and dad,” he said, nodding towards the tables where our siblings, my cousins, our children, and spouses stood shoulder to shoulder side by side presenting the New Years Eve dinner for the villagers.



We hugged.
We cried.

Drops of rain pattered on the tin roof of the shelter. Wind blew water through glassless windows. A storm was brewing just off the island. But nothing would dampen that evening of smiles and laughter and feasting and dancing and music as generations and lifestyles and bloodlines merged, a night of celebration.

Today, we honor and celebrate you dad, for it was your hand that opened the gateway for us to give.

In six weeks you will receive your gift, the highest honor paid by this country you love:  the Congressional Gold Medal.

You and your comrades will receive a bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal recently awarded to Filipino and American soldiers of the Bataan Death March.  You will be recognized for your sacrifice for the atrocities you endured to defend this country and the American Flag.

The flag that was draped around your casket and handed to your widow during a 21 gun salute.

The flag that you cheered for with your cancer ridden lungs, shouting “USA! USA!” during your last Winter Olympics in 1998.  We watched them as a family from the shores of Hawaii, the closest we could get your homeland.  You were too weak to go to the Philippines one more time.



Decades later, we have returned.


IMG_7296 2



For more information on the Kamay Project, an ongoing outreach to the children and families of the Ati village in Boracay, Philippines, please go to kamayproject.org



A House, a Home…after devastation from a flood.


She wandered over to us from behind the chainlink fence, past the upturned lawn chairs, scattered gas cans and the chained pit bull. From her yard she watched us descend upon her neighbor’s home with a Uhaul truck, pulling out buckets of tools and equipment and large garbage bags, cleaning up debris in the yard and while the supervisor went inside to assess the damage there. It had been eight weeks since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. The rains and waters had receded but the people in this neighborhood did not know where to begin to get help. When our team from Samaritan’s Purse came into the neighborhood donning orange shirts and work gloves, curiosity spilled out into the littered streets, wondering who had come to help.

There had to be thirty of us on the grounds that morning. We had gathered from all corners of the country, two teams of men from Seattle and Michigan, a group of students from Pennsylvania, and me from Florida, that morning to receive instructions on the needs for that day. Previously we had pulled moldy drywall and insulation and rusted nails from homes in a flooded industrial area.

After receiving our safety reminders, our supervisor Steve reminded us, “We are here to meet the needs of the families we serve. If that includes sitting the driveway and talking to the homeowner while the rest of us work inside, then be ready to do that.”


We piled into our cars and mapped our way to destinations outside our comfortable borders, to this neighborhood where chain link fences separate houses one from another but did not separate the need after the storm.

The woman, disheveled hair, purple sweater, hand covering her darkened teeth (“I haven’t brushed my teeth yet this morning,” she confessed) walked up to me from behind the fence of the house next door to the one we were working on, asking, “Are all of you here to help? How can I get help? I’ve been waiting for help for a very long time for someone to help me.”


I waved for Steve to come over to talk her, and after a brief introduction, he followed her with clipboard in hand behind the chainlink fence into the dark cavern of her home.
After a few minutes he emerged. He motioned for me to come over to her, shaking his head. “There is a lot to do here. We have to get a permit first, but in the meantime lets begin by cleaning out her yard. Will you sit with her for a while?”


And as members of our team wandered over to rake her yard and pile up debris onto the curb, she sat next to me, eyes pleading for understanding as she began to unload the broken pieces of her own life.


Her story recounts those similar to many others. A woman, only a few years younger than I, trapped. The flood, the storm, only a metaphor for a life she experienced since childhood. Torrents of abuse, verbal and physical. Floods of pain, physical and emotional. And when she was drowning, gasping for air, the only thing rescue available was smoked or shot up.


Now, after the mud and dark waters had receded, she only wanted relief. Help. Assistance.


She wanted to be heard.

She wanted someone to listen.


And we sit on upturned boxes behind the chainlink fence
, shoulder to shoulder
, my arm around hers. 
I listen as her raspy voice spills out her pain.


What can I say that can take her pain away. 
What can I do after I sweep away the debris in her yard. 
I grasp the wrinkled hand that grips tightly onto mine.
 She tells me it is hard for her to talk, that is makes her anxious to talk to others.


Her home, her yard, her debris mask the security every woman desires:

A home. 
A place of safety.
 A place of refuge.
 A place to rebuild after devastation.


Her slumped shoulders touch mine, weary from carrying burdens every mother bears:

The burden of childbirth pain decades after they are born.
 The burden of traps in which her own children have been caught,
 similar to the ones that trapped her even as a young child.


Decades of pain and worry are etched into her forehead, deep behind the eyes that gaze into mine, pleading for relief.

I have none to give her.

Her home and many others had been sitting in standing water for days, and even once the waters receded, mold and dampness destroyed the walls, rendering the home unsafe.
Working as a team, strangers descended into these homes, tearing out the places mold and dampness had destroyed.


I stood in one corner with a broom in hand, sweeping out the darkest corners of a nearby home, reaching with gloved hand into the dankest darkest corner, and with a shudder, uncovered the filth, brought it out into the open, exposed, to dispose into a garbage bag.


I learned to use a nail puller that week. 
It took me a while, and a lot of wasted minutes, to learn to hold the nail puller just so. 
To grab the head of the nail and yank just at the right angle that which was buried so deeply into the wood.


The nails were discarded on the floor and swept up with the old drywall and grime before some one would come in and spray for mold. The home would be swept clean before the next crew came in to rebuild.


I rose up from our boxes behind the chain link fence.

I gathered nails from the debris. 
I gathered sticks from the yard.
 I fashioned a cross from the nails and sticks and put it into her hand.

I opened her palm and gently pressed one nail into it.
 I told her there was one who had nails placed into His hands. 
And carried the hardest parts of her life for her so she would not have to carry them alone.

That one is the baby Jesus that we celebrate during Christmas, the one who left the beauty of his Heavenly home to live among us. Who came into this upturned, devastated world flooded with grief and pain to walk alongside us. Who later would reach into the darkest corner of our lives, uncover and bear the burden of life’s pain on a cross.

He did not have a home.

He was placed in a dark, damp manger when He entered this world. But the moment He entered, He was surrounded by light, light that shattered the darkness.

She listened intently as if these words were spoken for the very first time. I wrote the words, “God is Love” with a sharpie in the palm of her hand.

Her previously furrowed eyebrows relaxed for just a moment. She turned her face up towards me, her eyes bright, her mouth in a wide smile.


Her smile haunts me now as I prepare my home for the holidays.


I think of her desires to create a safe place for her children and loved ones.

I remember how much it meant last Thanksgiving weekend to have my children home, nestled within these walls where they grew up.

Where boxes of clutter from their childhood still fill their closets.

Where year by year I say I will let go, but cannot.

I wonder if these walls were swept clean of clutter and debris, if their darkest corners were uncovered and exposed

Would I be able to hold on to the promise, “God is Love.”

Would it be enough?



For more information on how you can continue to help others devastated by the floods, please go https://www.samaritanspurse.org

Ina: Generations of Mothers

She raised a generation of daughters. And they in turn are raising another generation of daughters and sons.

The concentric circle extends even father outward, as she was the “Tita”, the aunt to an extended generation of daughters, her nieces, whom she raised as her own and even more significantly, brought them here to the United States. She continues to be the matriarch and mother figure for decades of lifetimes beyond their own, to their children’ children, even as she lies in her hospital bed, the place where her nieces and sister gather around her now. 

The strength of my mother’s love reaches past borders and generation, touching lives even as she lies still, her left side paralyzed, her heart still as full and loving now, smile filling her entire face.

During this gathering of my cousins and aunt we shared a weekend of tears, hugs, laughter, and our favorite Filipino food, Kare Kare (oxtail soup), my aunt’s specialty. When my mother was admitted to hospice several weeks ago I had asked them to come to see her. Her Alzheimers was taking its toll on her memory and she was losing weight rapidly.

“Please come see my mother,” I asked them.

And they did. They travelled from the other coast to be here.  My mother’s only surviving sister of nine siblings, at 87, came to be at her side. My cousins, two the daughters of this sister, and one, the daughter of my mother’s younger beloved sister who passed away two Mother’s Day ago, with Alzheimer’s.

Together we leafed through old black and white photographs. Since they were raised in the Philippines and I was born here, my cousins knew so many details of the family’s life that I did not. Our bedside visit became a story telling session of our family’s past.

We pick up a photo of our grandmother. She is dressed in her best Filipino embroidered gown, a “terno”. Her waistlength grey hair is wrapped in her signature bun on top of her head. On the back of the photo in her very best writing, she writes this:

 Dear Bing and Jessie

 This picture was taken in inside the house with my appliances.

 Your loving mother,

 Filomena C. Bermudez

My cousin Carina explains to me that our grandmother was the queen of the province where she lived in the remote farmland of the Philippines. She was the only one with electricity, with appliances- an electric fan, a refrigerator, a radio, a television. Carina remembers the neighbors peeking into the window of the concrete block house, the biggest one on the street, to get a glimpse of the television working, a novelty back in the 1970’s.

My father would send his mother money to purchase these appliances from his meager salary as a food service worker at the Veteran’s Hospital. He was a veteran himself, 24 years in the US Army, a retired sergeant who had risked his life as Philippine Scout to escape from the Bataan Death March in World War II. My father, an enlisted man who fought on the front lines of the Korean War, would be so proud to know that Carinas’ sons now serve as officers in the US Army and Air Force, one as a major and one as a lieutenant as well as other cousin’s son, one who bears his name, Bermudez, a major in the Army.

These sons of Carina were taught by my mother how to read. They had just come to this country, and I remember my mother, a former third grade teacher, sitting on the couch reading our favorite children’s books, Where the Wild things Are and Curious George to these sons who are now officers serving our country.
Carina leans over the bed to my mother. She whispers, “Thank you, Tita Bing, thank you for teaching my sons to read. Thank you for all you have done for us to have a good life in this country.”

Carina’s sister, Marlene, turns to me. “I don’t like seeing your mom like this,” she cries. “She is the strong one, she is the one who did everything for us. She is the one who would make our favorite food and we would all eat at her house. Her house was the gathering place for us.”

Her mother sits quietly by mom’s beside.  There are no words between them, only a smile and grasping of hands

We pick up a photo of our mother’s mother. Veiled and stoic, hosting the same eyes and my mother, she is receiving an award from their priest at their parish.  I know this now because my cousin reads out loud the back of the photograph written in Tagalog in my grandmother’s handwriting.  At the end of the paragraph she signs in script, “Ina”.  

“What does that mean?” I ask Carina.


Yesterday, the day we celebrate mothers, the great granddaughter of these grandmothers who lived in provinces in a country  10,000 miles away hosted a Mother’s Day Filipino Brunch in honor of these mothers.  She prepared food native to our country in a city, Seattle, known for its foodies. Her heritage menu  was promoted in a local magazine as one of the Nine Best Mother’s Day 2017 Brunches in Seattle.

As the circle of mothers and daughters extend further out so does the gathering around the table, not only including family, extending to guests.  The tradition of welcoming and gathering with food and laughter ripples out  through the generations.

The center of this outward circle is not forgotten

My cousin Grace leans over to say good bye with tears and words of gratefulness for all my mother has done. 

“Thank you Tita, for bringing my family here, for taking care of us, for giving us the chance fo a new life here.  We love you Tita Bing.”

The cousins gather around her to sing a song, a Filipino love song that was the favorite of my mother and father.  Although the names of my cousins are barely recalled, the words of this beloved song are not forgotten.

“Dahil Sayo”.

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Nais kong mabuhay (I want to live)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Hanggan mamatay (for the rest of my life)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you) Ako’y lumigaya (I’ve become happy)

Ang lahat sa buhay ko’y (Everything in my life is)

Dahil sa’yo (Because of you)


A Bloom from dark places

We are in the midst of a drought here in Florida, all grass and flowers withering and crumbling here.
I see my friend’s peonies blooming in rich North Carolina soil, these blooms, full and beautiful, for a brief but lovely season.

And on this May Day, where we celebrate bloom

I celebrate this blossom, a dance choreographed by my daughter

Who during her young pre-teen and teen years observed the slow withering of life as her grandmother, my mother, lived with us and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

She named this piece “Help”.
Out of the years of watching her beloved grandmother decline, and our family’s growth in caring for her, and out of her co-choreographer’s mission trip to an orphanage in India this piece was born.

How lovely this bloom flowers from parched and dark places.
“Help”   Choreographers:  Lindsay Wickenhiser and Lauren Mogg, 

Baylor Dance Company 


God knows what is hiding in this world of little consequence 

Behind the tears, inside the lies

A thousand slowly dying sunsets

God knows what is hiding in those weak and drunken hearts 

I guess the loneliness came knocking

No one needs to be alone, oh save me

People help the people

and if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it

People help the people 

Nothing will drag you down

Oh and if I had a brain, Oh and if I had a brain

I’d be as cold as stone and rich as the fool

That turned, all those good hearts away


Songwriter: Simon Aldred

People Help the People Lyrics 

Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Flowers by Bev Walker,  A Loose Leaf Life 


She stood at the foot of the cross, a few steps back, this mother, Mary, watching, observing the pain her son endured, her heart breaking in agony as he carried the pain of sin’s curse that consumed her son’s body, until the final moment when He, and all humanity, were set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her Son was in the presence of His father in heaven, in glory.

She stood before her daughters casket, this mother, Martha, who had for the past few months observed the pain her daughter endured, her heart breaking in agony as she observed the pain of cancer’s curse, a glioblastoma, deteriorate and consume her daughter’s body, the body she had lovingly cared and tended to for months alongside her daughter’s husband, until the final moment when she was set free from death’s grip, her sorrow replaced by the joy of knowing her daughter Cathy was in the presence of her father in heaven, in glory.

And as the hundreds in the crowd that had gathered for her memorial sang this song, Martha lifted her hands in worship, to the One who gave her daughter life and took it back to Himself.

Take courage, my heart

Stay steadfast, my soul

He’s in the waiting, He’s in the waiting

Hold on to your hope

Let your triumph unfold

He’s never failing, He’s never failing

Eyes closed, this mother knew with all her broken heart, her Savior we remember on this Good Friday, was waiting for her daughter in heaven.

Eyes closed in worship, this mother gave her daughter to the Lord.

Eyes closed in worship, she knew her daughter’s triumph over death belonged to the Lord

Can we do that on this Good Friday, give back to Him the pain we endure these moments on earth?

Can we see the glory he is rendering beneath the heartache?

Can we believe the curse of pain and and the most heartbreaking sorrow is broken beneath the cross?

Can we lift our hands to him, a gesture of release, of letting go? In return, grace replaces sorrow, grace replaces grief, grace allows the most wretched pain to bring us even closer to Him….

Open hands, open heart

Broken and shattered

Refilled by joy

And the witness of His glory.
All because 

Of the power of the cross.

In memory of Cathryn Elizabeth Bryant, who went home to the Lord on April 5, 2017, and in honor of the generations of women who surround her, her mother, Martha, her daughters Kristen and Michelle, and her granddaughter-in -waiting, Aubrey.

Song Lyrics, “Take Courage” by Kristene DiMarco, Jeremy Riddle, Joel Taylor, CCLI#7074837

Message in the Sky

I rise above on metal wings.

Rise above this broken earth
Fractured and shattered. 
The craft moves upward

Away from anger, pain and protest 

Grief, and forgetting, my mother’s disease.
Pulled into the greys of heaven

clouds and mist and vapor.
Behind it trails the dawn

The beginning of a new day

The gradual warming of earth’s tent

From greys to pinks to orange.
We soar along horizon’s line

Away from dawn, westward

from here the daunting now appears 

Insignificant, small.


Land recedes, gives way to gulf waters

The blue of waters reflect the blue of skies above

A layer of mist hovering between 
Above the blue

As if a heavenly artist took one stroke

One brush of his hand 

A message

half a heart

In vapor, in white on a blue canvas sea.

What message does this half a heart bear?



Or is the remnant of a broken heart? Half empty from grief and pain and sorrow?
The half heart remains floating above the gulf waters.  A message in the sky.

The remaining journey attempts to answer that question.

Half hearted?

Or broken hearted?

He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God.  Issac Newton

On this journey across the country I see the remnants, the attempts for us to be like God, constructing our own universe, power, the windmills the towns laid out in perfect grids, the farmland, from the sky, perfect circles. The network of connection of roads and highways sometimes singular across a vast nothing, sometimes a puzzle of roadways. All connectors. All looking for connection. The towers reaching to the sky to send signals. The skyscrapers stair stepping upward.  

Beyond the cities and towns, a single peak, snow capped, tapping heaven, then sloping down into a valley that breaks out into a river, then a canyon, then a desert. This vastness that is this land. The land our forefathers traversed at first by foot or horseback centuries ago. The land our forefathers traversed in search of a new life and new horizon. This country of promise.

My father came to this country, decades ago, standing on the deck of a freighter. He earned his entrance into America fighting on foreign soil, a soldier in the Philippine Scouts during WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March. He survived the Korean War.
As he approached the port of entry spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge, he spoke to his young daughter, my sister, of the promise of this land, of the promise of America. “We will have a good life here in America,” he said to her as they crossed underneath the great orange arches.
My plane lands a few hours south of where my father first entered this country, Monterey Bay, where a Filipino taxi driver takes me to my hotel. He is from the same area in the Philippines as my father. He speaks his language. He has been in this country 17 years. He speaks proudly of his daughter, who is going to college. He has my father’s dream, that his children get a degree. He has my father’s name. Jessie.
I see my father’s face in the ones of those who work here at the hotel. My father, who was a laborer after his 24 years of service as a sergeant in the US Army. My father who could could only dream of staying at a seaside resort. My father who labored so his children could dream.
Over the waters the next morning, perhaps one hundred miles south of the port my father first entered this country over sixty years ago a rainbow reaches from end to end. Not just one, but two. A double rainbow over the grey blue pacific waters.

Promise. The rainbow.
These days it can mean so many things

But originally the bow

Was set in the clouds as a promise

That God would never flood the earth again

Despite our turning away.

“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come.  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Genesis 9:13 

A sign of promise.
A sign of hope.

My father crossed the sea to enter this land just miles from the span of this rainbow.  He came here to hope.  He came here to fulfill promise.
My promise now to him is to care for his widow

The woman he brought here years ago torn from her homeland and mother and family

To start a new life in the land of promise.

I will care for her

And the memories she can no longer recall

Of a life, a home, a car, a family started here in this country.
I will care for my father’s grandchildren
The ones who now live the life he only dreamed of

Who carry degrees from universities and live in cities and towers from coast to coast.

Who  pursue education and the hope of helping others in a world that greatly needs help.

And as my mother fades she too will join him.

And they will live in the legacy of their children and grandchildren

Who live out the promise they began 

Perhaps broken

But not half hearted.


Measured by the moon.

The moon hangs like an orb, suspended in the sky. Weightless. Floating. Full.

As if it does not carry the weight of measuring time and days as it brightens the dark sky on its descent into a new day.

This day it drops into is my birthday. Another measure of time, in years. A span of 365 risings and falling of the moon, marking 56 times today.

But the one who gave birth to me that day 56 years ago does not remember.

For her time is still, only measured in present. No before or after moments. Only now.

At times it is a gift, this only present moments. There is no sorrow about the past. No worries about the future. Alzheimer’s has taken away time consciousness. Perhaps it is not thievery. Perhaps it is freedom.

Time is suspended as I sit beside her bedside now, stroking the soft, thin folds of her hand in mine. I move for her this hand and arm, the one she cannot move, rendered still from a stroke months ago. She moves the other gracefully to the beat of an old Filipino song, O Ilaw:

Oh light, in the dark night

You’re like a star in the sky

Oh light in the quiet night 

Your picture, dear, makes one hurt. 

O Ilaw, sa gabing madilim

Wag is mo’y bitiun sa langit.

O, tanglaw, sa gabing tahimik

Larawan mo, Neneng,  nagbigay pasakit.
I read the translation to this song we have listened repeatedly over the past months.  Today it strikes me how true these words are.  How is hurts to see her bedridden, to see her bones so frail, her arm still, her head and neck so weak.  But her smile and the light behind her pale eyes still shine so brightly, the way they always have.

Those eyes close now, yet her hand continues to move to the beat of the music

Her voice is barely a whisper as her mouth forms the words.

Only months ago we would sing this together aloud as I took her for a walk outside, to take her out to feel the sun on her skin and see the flowers she loves bloom.  Those days now are few as her lack of mobility makes it difficult to put her in the wheelchair.

She no longer marks the days. Yesterday I told her, “Tomorrow is my birthday.”
She raised  her eyebrows with a familiar smile.
“Oh it is? I did not remember,” she says. “What month is it?”
“January,” I tell her.
“January,” she repeats.

“Do you know the day?” I ask.
She shakes her head no
“My birthday is January 13,” I tell her.
“Oh,” she mouths quietly, then whispers, “What do you want for your birthday?”
“A new dress,” I tell her.
She smiles. “Ok.You get one.”
“Ok, I do you want to go shopping with me?” We used to spend hours shopping together.
She shakes her head no.
She whispers again, “What do you want?”
I think of the time we spent only months ago, when I could push her outside and we could sing her favorite song together,

I tell her, “I want you to sing, sing really loud mommy, so I can hear you.”

Together we sing in Tagalog words that have become familiar these past months, translated:

Awake and arise from slumber, from your sleep so deep. Open your window and look out to me, so that you may understand my true lament

I read the translation to this song, this day before my birthday. This day I have scheduled hospice to come to do an evaluation of mom’s condition. Her strength has declined markedly since her stroke last August. My lament over her condition has rendered me sleepless and worried.

This day before I start a new year, I need to know. I need someone to help me measure the amount of my mom’s decline, need to know where she was at in her stages of Alzheimer’s. And the hospice coordinator comes to the door shortly after we finish our song.

“Hello,” she greets my mother, “How are you. Who are you? Can you tell me your name?”

“Bing,” she answers with a smile.

“I want to know if she has a awareness of who she is,” the coordinator had told me earlier in a brief interview.
“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Does she have a sense of who she is,” she answered. “Can she answer the question, ‘Who are you?'”
On this  birthday of mine I ask myself, Do I have a sense of who I am? Can I answer this question: “Who are you?”

In the past years it has been entangled between caregiver and mother.And lately I have fallen exhausted into both. But that is not the woman my mother raised me to be.

She would want me to answer that question, as she still can: “Who are you”

Me separate from my mother, from my children

Me the one who is shaped by caring for others but not defined by it

Me, searching for to be fully the one I was created to be

The day my mother brought me into this world 56 years ago
If the measure of our days here on earth is to have a sense of self, let me be the one my mother led by example for me to be.

Loving others, caring for their needs, listening, laughing alongside.

As she has for years

And has she does now

In each moment

Suspended still in the air

Like the moon, full.