Because of You: “Dahil Sayo”

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Each time I say goodbye to my mother after a cross country visit

I never know if I will see her again.

In her room, before I leave, we a share moment, just the two of us, singing the words of an old Filipino song,

Dahil Sayo”: Because of You

As she sings her head is slumped, her neck at an angle since her stroke two years ago.

Yet from beneath her mop of grey hair

she turns her eyes up to look at me.

She mouths the words to the song familiar in her fading memory, her voice a whisper.

Together we sing, as I try to recall the few Tagalog words I know:

“Because of you” Dahil Sayo

Sa buhay ko’y labis ang hirap at pasakit
My life has been full of hardship and suffering
Dahil sa iyo, nais kong mabuhay
Because of you, I want to live

Tanging ikaw sinta ang aking pag-asa
You alone, my love, are my hope

Ako’y lumigaya
I became happy

Ang lahat ng ito’y dahil sa iyo
All this is because of you.

 

You gaze up at me

The way you once gazed down at me when you held in your arms

I was so dependent on you for life, for love, for nourishment

Now the opposite is true

You depend on me for it all.

The burden breaks my heart.

 

I grasp her hand before I say goodbye.

You say, “Hello, Vina.”

“What’s my last name?” I ask her.

“Beautiful,” she says.

 

Only a mom sees me as I hope to be seen

Only a mom sees me like that, only a mom sees the past, all of me, as I was a child.

I hope each one of us knows this kind of love

Where all is seen from the heart

From the true beginnings

To who you really are.

There are mountains between us.

A valley of the shadow of death: Alzheimer’s.  But it does not separate the love she has for me, or mine for her.

 

I pray as a mom on this Mother’s Day, I see my children in the way she sees me:

 

Do I see you child

For who you really are

Past my expectations.

Past my measures of  your worth

Or mine as a parent.

 

Do I really see you child

Your heart, who you were made to be

Not who this world says you are

But who you truly are

A voice

A song

A star shining in the universe, holding out the word of life

A star that shines, a light to others.

 

Mom, that is who you have been to me.

Let me be that kind of mother to my children

one who lets go, who lets them be who they truly are.

Who they were created to be.

Let them be a voice, a song of all that is beautiful in this world.

Because of love.

Because of you.

 

 

to Lola, for Daniel, Andrew, Michael and Lauren.  Mahal Kita.

December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.

 

 

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On this day, 77 years ago, the day that would live infamy, bombs stormed over Pearl Harbor.

Several hours later, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

My Father was a Philippine Scout being trained under the command of the United States Army at Fort Stotsenberg the day that Japanese fighters appeared in the sky, firing over troops that had only few hours earlier received word about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“The bombing and raiding of Fort Stotsenburg and Clark Field within hours of the raid on Pearl Harbor went virtually unnoticed by the average person in the United States. The attack occured at little after noon, while all our planes—the bombers and P-40s—were lined up in a row on Clark Field.  Finally after what seemed like hours of bombing and strafing, everything became quiet, except for the cries and screams of the wounded lying intermingled with the dead all over the field.  The history books associate Pearl Harbor withe “the day of infamy,” but for those of us in the Philippines it was our day of infamy also.”              Lester I. Tenney, My Hitch in Hell, pg 21

I visited Pearl Harbor last month, gaining a greater appreciation why, growing up, my father would announce on this day, “Today is December 7. Pearl Harbor Day.”

Scratching the surface these past months of my father’s written records of the military service he never verbalized, I understand now why he was quiet.  Why he was silent. What visages must have remained in his dreams and memories that haunted him.

How much in meant, in December 1946, one year after World War II was over, that my father was granted citizenship to the United States of America for his service during the war and for surviving and escaping the brutalities of the Bataan Death March.

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It is because of his sacrifice that his name lives on, BERMUDEZ, here in the United States of America, even through three grandnephews who carry on his service today as officers in the United States Army and the United States Air Force.  To you, Julian Bermudez, Michael Ishida, and Chris Ishida, I commend you for carrying the service that my father began.  He would be so proud to see you commissioned as officers in the United States Armed Forces.

It is because of his sacrifice that our family and extended family live here today, educated in major universities, bearing the college degree that he never received but always dreamed of for ourselves and our children.

Yesterday his youngest grandson stood along the train tracks in College Station, Texas, to witness the train of the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, roll past, carrying his casket on its way to his final resting place at the George Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M.

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President Bush’s service as a naval pilot in the Pacific, and my father’s service as an artillery man on the front lines of Bataan made them both part of the Greatest generation.

Next week my father’s youngest grandson will graduate from Texas A&M University, awaiting admittance into medical school. 

After his graduation ceremony our family will pay tribute on the library grounds to the 41st President of the United States.

But my son’s graduation from college will be a tribute to the sacrifice and dreams of his grandfather.

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SGT Jesus C. Bermudez received the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor for his service during World War II on April 15, 2018

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Missing Autumn

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returned to the Northwest this season, observing fall for the first time in thirty years.

I watched the trees behind my cottage transform from greens to yellow to gold.

The morning sun hits the bank just so, highlighting shades of crimson and sienna and umber against the verdant backdrop along the ridge.

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I walk the beach where gold and yellow tumble with stones and sand.

I climb the hill lined with limbs still holding on to gilded gifts.

One releases, and flutters side to side, descending lightly to the ground to rest.

 

It is right I am here this autumn,

this season of transforming, maturing

grasping, holding on to gifts–

my children, all grown, branching into careers, marriages.

the youngest two in college, one soon to graduate.

my mother, just out of hospice, quieter now

still sees me, translucent, and smiles.

We spend time browsing through sheaves of photographs

Some in her season, her prime.

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I see myself reflected in her smile

those years when she was young

surrounded by friends

and family

when she was a young mother

holding on to us

then letting go

her season follows traveling with Dad

places they dreamed of Rome, Israel,

now alone, in her autumn.

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autumn

uphill journey rises

crests at forest’s peak, descends 

as crimson leaves fall

 

autumn: n.

a time of full maturity, especially the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

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In this autumn 

I will watch leaves drift unto the path

gathering with others that have done the same.

I will hold in wonder their change

the beauty of ripening, then release.

I will stand still 

to catch my breath, not listening to former urges

to press forward.

 

Instead I will gather leaves

that descend upon my way

Press them into my book

to remember.

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A tribute to my father……

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I am grateful to share my father’s and my family’s story as a guest blogger on granndparentslink.com

I am even more grateful for the legacy my parents have left to our family and our children.

Please join the link https://www.grandparentslink.com/experts-corner/a-fathers-day-tribute/

Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

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Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

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(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Anthem….…..a tribute to our Filipino fathers who received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor

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My father survived the World War II Battaan Death March in the Philippines.

He never spoke of it while he was alive.  I suppose there were no words.

In the community where I grew up in the 1970’s there were other men like him. Filipino soldiers now US citizens living in a neighborhood a stone’s throw from the Army base from where they retired, working as veterans in the community, living their version of the American dream: build a house, build a family, drive an American made car.

Most of them are gone now, but their families continue on, and yesterday our fathers were honored at the Filipino World War II Veterans Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony, Region 8, in Renton, Washington.

I knew this was the highest honor a civilian could receive. I knew that it was 75 years too late. I knew that many had been fighting for years for our fathers’ recognition for the sacrifice they endured during that pivotal time in history.

What I didn’t expect is to see the faces of my father’s compatriots in this gathering of their sons and daughters.

Cabellon. Crisostimo. Culanag. Felizardo. Irigon. Mocorro. Pancho. Sibonga. Solidarios.

Bermudez. My father’s name emblazoned on the Army jacket his first grandson proudly wears today.

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In this company a rekindling of Pinoy heritage and pride resurfaces, recalling what It meant to grow up in a community born of fathers who had sacrificed their lives to have a better life in America, holding more tightly the truth that our lives and the lives of our children are born out of the suffering and atrocities they endured.

One by one these names are called out and a family member steps forward to receive the medal from US Army Brigadier General Oscar Hillman, a medal that would have been presented years ago had President Truman not rescinded the benefits that should have been awarded to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As POW’s captured by the Japanese, these men were forced to march 100 miles from Bataan to Manila. Seventy six years after those tragic steps taken on Philippine soil, then a US colony, they were finally acknowledged for their pivotal role in preventing the further expansion of Japanese forces deeper into the Pacific by Congress and President Barack Obama in 2016.

Only one contemporary from my father’s group remains to receive the honor for his brother.

Felix Pancho, in a turtleneck and sport jacket and a movie star smile, is just as I remember him during our Filipino gatherings growing up.

His stride still strong and confident he receives the medal in his brother’s name. He turns around with a smile, waving. I greet him afterwards. He shows me his brother’s photographs from 1950 with his former troop in Manila and his proud stance in the US in 1960 in front of his prized car, a Falcon.  My father has a similar photo in front of his 1958 Buick Special.

My father’s widow is pushed forward in her wheelchair by my sister. She has no recollection of what is happening, but senses this is something solemn. When she asked all the way to the event, where are we going? where are we going? I told her, we are going to a ceremony to honor Daddy.  Her mind grasped the thought. Daddy? She asked. Yes Daddy. She processes the thought for a moment, then acknowledges with a nod.

They announce his name, Jesus Bermudez. She smiles as she receives the bronze copy of the Congressional Gold Medal into her hands by the general. 

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She is resplendent in red, one of the colors of the Philippine flag, the flag that was honored during the color guard ceremony, when the Philippine National anthem was sung out proudly by a Filipino soldier dressed as Philippine Scout. My mother, silent the entire morning, mouths the Tagalog words as he sang.

Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;

Aming ligaya na pag may mangaap

Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyi

Beautiful land of love

O land of Light

In thine embrace tis rapture to lie

But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged

For us thy sons, to suffer and die

The faces of these sons who suffered years ago, now gone, are mapped in the faces of my compadres, my living brothers gathered around me, whose smile and gesture they bear.

We gather now for a photo, those who are left holding the medals our fathers would have proudly borne, those who are left: sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters.

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Widows.

My father’s widow sees another widow left behind, her best friend she has not seen for 10 years. She does not recall her name.  But she recalls her. Their tearful exchange reveals this truth. They reunite silently, exchanging embraces, tears, and smiles. They hold hands quietly. For many years they held each other’s pain. Now they hold each other in silence.  For there are no words.

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