My Yaya and Me: A Compassion Story

I can say that I belong to the generation of children of career-driven parents. Do not get me wrong—I am not resentful that they chose to do work outside the home. Their dedication to their craft, which they also bring at home, is my inspiration to pursue my career while raising a family. With working parents, we are lucky to be left at home with Tita Odette, our childhood nanny.

At this point in time, my husband and I have exhausted all economical and ethical means to look for a caregiver for our children. Stories on terrible nannies involving theft and abuse, circulating on social media, have not helped in our ongoing thoughts of still considering a nanny. My mother often tells me that we were lucky to have had Tita because otherwise, it would have been difficult for her to work full-time.

My Yaya and Me: A Compassion Story |
Tita, with the author, months-old

Tita started taking care of me when I was a few days old. She took care of my siblings and me during her prime, spending ten years of her life with us. I would always remember my hair done in a different style each day I went to school. My penchant for do-it-yourself bangs came from her; she always cut them above my eyebrows. One of my earliest memories of household chores came from her allowing me to wash my handkerchief using a ruler as my improvised palu-palo. Whenever I told her about classmates who threatened me in school, she would turn feisty. always had a countdown to the holidays because our birthdays precede Christmas. And whenever she would go on vacation, I always looked forward to her coming back, probably with a pack of chocolates she bought with her own bonus. I have never thought of her as a second mom, but our bond was so special that I kept it close to my heart.

I remember that on days my mom and I had disagreements, she would be the first one I would think to seek advice or comfort from. I think my mom have felt jealous of her at some point. Even after she left our home due to health reasons, I remember keeping her landline number and receiving a few calls from her. In college, I lost her phone number, but had enough information to search her on Facebook. Luckily, I found her again. Just like the old days, she again fixed my hair – this time, for my graduation day. I could not have thought of any other person to have done it.

After college graduation, we would often meet in Baclaran Church, her source of strength. We would have lunch around the area, talk about my love life, and dream of where we might be in the next few years. One day, I looked at her eyes and remembered her story about them being blue – a manifestation of scars from measles in her childhood. Those were the eyes that saw to it our school uniforms were pristine white, with no unsewn skirt hems whenever we went to school.

I felt the need to return the favor for her giving of herself beyond the call of duty. As a gift, I helped her get a charity-facilitated operation through Bedette Villanueva, a fellow schoolmate. Unfortunately, Tita told me she was disqualified. As she was walking the halls of UP-PGH, she saw another charity outreach operated by Buddhist monks. She was blessed to be operated on and was under the care of Dr. Iguban from UP-PGH. I never met Tita’s doctor, so if she is reading this, thank you so much for taking care of Tita, the feisty, small-framed old lady.

My Yaya and Me: A Compassion Story |
The author and Tita, after processing papers at UP-PGH

Tita and I still met after her successful operation. I invited her to my first major performance at the International Bamboo Organ Festival. We had wine and cocktails after the gala performance. I introduced her to my mentors and colleagues. My heart was swelling with pride not just because of the music we created that night, but also because Tita got to see me on perform, just like in my childhood days.

It took a very long time before we saw each other again. She told me she had been taking care of her nephews, niece, and grandnieces. I did not want to take away time from her family. But as she was the only person my husband and I had in mind, I asked her if she could take care of my children. After all, Tita had met our children a few times already and I believed that they would love her as well.

Finally, when she got word from her sister that she is free to do whatever she wants, we set to arrange for her to have a medical clearance first to see if she is fit to take care of the children. Unfortunately, she was sick that we sent her home and asked her to get well first, not just because of the children, but because we cared about her. Little did we know that trip to the hospital would be her next to her last. The following day, I was set to send her a message to remind her of her medicines, but I read a different message: she has gone to see the light. I cried and thanked the Lord for her life of sacrifice.

I went to her wake with my parents, my husband, and our children. My mother told me she heard people whisper as we entered the alley: “Yan ba si Tricia?” Tita always told me her neighbors always knew updates about me. She was always proud of me. Feelings of guilt and resentment filled my heart, but upon seeing her in the casket, I remembered a conversation we often had. I told her sister we talked about fixing her social security pension, as well as having her other eye operated because apparently, only one eye had been operated on. “Nak, yang SSS ko, pang-burial ko na lang yan.” I told her sister how she would never show weakness and would still joke even in pain. With all the stories said at the wake, I came to accept that she just came over to see me and my family to say her last goodbye.

“Nak, wag mong ipo-post yang picture ko sa Facebook ah.” These were some of the last words she told me when we met for the last time. We had a photo that day and I promised not to post it.

I wrote this tribute to her for two reasons: to share her life to others and to help me deal with my grief. Tita and I looked forward to the day she can be a grandaunt to my kids, but perhaps the Lord had other plans. Her life of sacrifice transcended her duty to care for us. Her works of kindness and love is one of my guiding stars. Her genuine care for me and my siblings, down to my husband and our children, has been one of compassion. Tita Odette will always be remembered.

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