An Open Letter to Matthew

During our grieving days, I received an email from my very good friend from United Kingdom. It was just a regular email, telling me how life has been for him since he left the UK for Spain. The way he described his experience gave me a picture of living a very provincial life. It somehow relieved me of my sadness that time. Here's my reply:

Hi Kuya,

I appreciate the long mail you sent me more than 20 days ago. My apologies for this late reply as I am slowly getting back on track after a recent loss in the family. My grandmother who took care of me for more than 25 years passed away last September 17 at the age of 78.

She died in Cebu, in her hometown, a fisherman's town called Argao. This is the province where I consider home. This is where she grew up and where she learned all of our traditions in which she handed to me while I was growing up. The last time I saw her was in May of this year, days before my birthday. She has to leave Manila so she can be at peace on her last few years of her life. I never thought that it would be her final four months.

A day before she died, I was able to finish my most final exam in the culinary school, where among the 20 students who took the test, I was number 1. I got an instant apprenticeship offer from one of the judges, minutes after they announced our scores. I was so happy that day, I said to myself, finally I can graduate this December with flying colors, and finally visit my grandmother for Christmas. I promised her that I will be spending it with her in Cebu to celebrate my success.

Soon that afternoon, we received a call from Cebu, informing us that grandmother's health is fast deteriorating, and it appears that she is going to die anytime soon. I was able to speak to her that afternoon, I heard it clearly from her that she is having difficulty breathing and she feels hot and dizzy, all at the same time. I asked her to relax and just take a rest. The next morning when I woke up, I immediately called her to check how she is. The maid answered, she says she is no longer speaking, but responsive to sounds and opens her eyes from time to time. During that moment she was awake, so I asked the maid to put the speaker onto her ears so she can hear me. 

I asked her not to speak anymore, I told her my latest achievement, and that I will be graduating soon. I also told her to be strong and be calm, because we will still spend Christmas together this year. I told her that I will be naming few of my dishes under her name, and I will introduce her recipes to the world - I told her my regret, that I wasn't able to learn her Spanish meatloaf recipe.

My last words to her, I told her I love her, and that at this point in time, we are okay with each other.

The maid told me while I was talking to her, she was in tears. She responded well to my message. Two hours after that conversation, she passed away.

I flew to Cebu the next day. I believe that was the most interesting trips I made this year. I was always in tears throughout the trip - because I felt bad for I was not with her during her final days. When I arrived, I talked to her maid. We talked in the backyard, near my grandmother's death room, because I don't want my mom, my aunts, and all of my relatives to see me cry. I told her the exact same story about our last few conversations over the phone. The maid told me that grandmother told her she can no longer last until Christmas to see me, and that she is contented with the recent successes I made. She left me in the backyard crying, and minutes later, she returned with a small notebook, it was the notebook I gave her when I was in high school.

I opened the old notebook - and there inside are the recipes she used to cook when I was younger, including her Spanish meatloaf recipe, handwritten by my grandmother. Again, I burst into tears.

I stayed there for four days, and I am constantly staying beside her coffin. She was in peace, as if she is only sleeping in the coffin. For the four days of her wake, there were lots of prayers said by people I do not know at all - it turns out the people coming there for my lola's wake are all my second and third degree relatives. The experience during those four days was life changing. I began to love the  traditions my grandma gave me even more. I left for Manila on the fourth day of he wake, I intended not to attend the funeral, because I do not want to see her being placed on the grave. That way, she stays alive in my memory.

One of the things I also realized during this trip, was it is my grandmother who greatly influenced me in my craft. She is the greatest cook who lived, and she is also my mentor. When I was younger, she would let me stay in the kitchen to see her cook several dishes, she even brings me with her to the market to buy ingredients. I thank her for that.

Now, going back to your recent adventures in Spain. It took me a while to read this, because I am trying to picture the things you mentioned in this letter as you describe it. That place must be a very relaxing place to work with. I am to travel the world in the next few years, but first I have to get to work as I finish school. I have many offers now which is good, but I chose this place in an island in El Nido, Palawan. I am currently fixing my pre-employment for this new resort.

What is exciting about this resort is that it is an island accessible only though chartered plane, and the menu that we will be working on are based on what is available around the island and its surrounding waters. Everything will be strictly controlled to preserve the natural flora of the island. Come January next year, there will be numerous trips in different islands in Southern Philippines to work with the human resources and help them conduct interviews for applicants. It is a dual task for me, because I will be working in the kitchen and human resource management.

I intend to work locally for a year, and then I will work either in Australia or Canada.

I will keep you posted on my adventures - I miss you Kuya Ding. Take care always!

Carpe Diem!