January 01, 2013

An anxious aunt's tale

GOOD-BYES are the most difficult moments in any person’s life. 

It wrenches the heart, makes you weep in grief, even if the one leaving is moving on to a better life.

Perhaps we cry, not because we fear we won’t see the departing person again, but because we grieve for our own selves, of not being able to stand the onset of loneliness. 

It is a sadness that also comes with the realization that other people, especially if they are family, are carving their own alternative futures—and these may not necessarily include us. 

My niece M. left for the UAE on Monday. She is going there to work for a five-star hotel, after tucking in four years of experience working for an international hotel brand here, then managing branches of a popular local food chain. 

She didn’t graduate from a leading hotel and restaurant school, which may have put her at a disadvantage in her chosen field, but perhaps unlike her more privileged peers, she isn’t afraid of a little elbow grease to show her grit and determination to be successful at all costs. 

Unfortunately, for most hotels here, it takes decades before someone like M. gets the recognition she deserves, and the accompanying financial rewards. How ironic, considering that the country is supposed to be experiencing a glorious tourism boom. And yet quite a number of those toiling in the local industry choose to go abroad instead, not necessarily because they will get a higher pay, but for that singular chance that they will move up in their chosen career path much quicker. 

To tell you the truth, M. and I had not been close. As a child, she was difficult to rear—choosy with the food that she ate, disinclined to take afternoon naps, the type who would whine if she didn’t get what she wanted. 

Being the aunt who had to deal with her misbehavior at home while her parents were out working, M. and I really never bonded then. I would leave her sniveling at the dining table until she finished her lunch or dinner. It sounds cruel, I know, but that was how we were all raised in our family. Food was something that we had to be thankful for considering the many underprivileged children who had nothing to eat. So M. too had to suffer the “indignity” of finishing up the remaining morsels on her plate, the way our generation did. (In my case, finishing my food was never a problem even as a child.) 

When M. got pregnant at 18, I couldn’t do anything except shed tears for the childhood she had so quickly lost, and the grueling future she had to face. I had enjoyed my adolescent years, despite the confusion and awkwardness of the period, especially in relating with other people as well as the opposite sex. But it was an exciting, enthralling life filled with parties, games, extracurricular activities and general mayhem ‘til the wee hours of the morning. 

At that same age, M. had to quit school for a period of time while she nursed her baby, woke up at the oddest of hours to suckle the infant, and missed her prom and the fevered swirl of social gatherings that her friends had attended, as well as the shopping for the pretty dresses and the killer heels so she could play cute with the boys her age. 

It’s a good thing she persevered. The “unfortunate” experience may have finally given her the maturity beyond her years, which was also most urgently needed especially when her father, my eldest brother, passed away. She eventually married the father of her child, B., finished her college degree, and assumed the role of working mother. 

(And B., the sweet child, is now a grown-up little lady, exhibiting a strange wisdom far greater than her 10-year-old self. Being a Piscean probably has blessed her with that mature outlook on life. For instance, she was cool with her mother working abroad, and promptly told the latter that she wanted to study in London, or live in Japan. Good grief!) 

As circumstances forced M. to mature, we started relating more to each other, and I regarded her as the adult that she had finally become. We talked more about each other’s lives, and despite the many disagreements we’ve had over the years, I knew she was shaping up to be a headstrong young woman who wanted to be successful in her chosen field, as well as an accomplished mother and wife. For sure, she experienced some degree of difficulty balancing all three, but she somehow managed to make it all look easy. 

M. eventually became someone I had come to depend on, especially with regard to the numerous domestic issues the family had to deal with recently. 

M. became our family’s de facto executive assistant, nurse, caregiver and assistant manager, all rolled into one tiny package. And this she did without complaint, despite her daughter B’s pleas for more attention. I would kid her that it was rigorous training for her job abroad. 

When we finally received the news that she had been hired and would have to leave soon, I was overjoyed for her. I have always felt that traveling to foreign places enriches one’s understanding of other peoples and cultures. And for someone like her who’s never traveled outside the Philippines, this was an opportunity to further expand her outlook and understanding of how the world outside works.

Yet as M. bid me good-bye on Sunday, we hugged tightly and I didn’t want to let her go. Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was pleading with her to finish her food on the dining table, or making her sleep after school? I was too choked up to say anything except to whisper, “Be good.” M.’s eyes welled up in tears as well as she told me to make peace with certain people, especially with Christmas coming around (long story!). In this case, she had now become the adult and I, the child being told to behave. How quickly the tables have turned. And I marveled at the smart woman she had now become. 

Please pray for my niece, dear readers, and for the many Filipinos who have to leave family and friends behind to create a better future for themselves and their parents, or spouses and children. May they always be protected from the temptations that often afflict their lot—causing divisions with their families—and be kept safe out of harm’s way. And may their families here be patient, understanding, and always supportive of their endeavors. 

(M’s last Facebook status and tweet indicated she had already arrived at her destination—thank You, Lord. Unfortunately, no Globe roaming there...pity.) 

While our good-bye was distressing, I now eagerly look forward to M.’s stories about her new life in the Middle East, and her exciting adventures at work. 

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday, in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was published on Nov. 30, 2012. Image from Kinetic Motion.)

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