In Memory of Mother

When I landed in Cagayan de Oro this late Thursday, the family and I were running over a day without sleep. It was possibly this that made me accept the request to write a eulogy for my late Lola (Filipino for 'grandmother'). Of all the cousins, I knew her the least, but I grew to learn she lived a busy life being an accomplished businesswoman, a shrewd politician, a fierce Mama Bear (well, that part wasn't news), and a tough act to follow.

The more I read this, the more I know it's a pale shade of the tribute that captures all her achievements and compassionate character in the vivacity that she deserves. I was humbled to be asked and grateful for the opportunity to learn more about her, our family history, and all the hilarious stories I was asked to omit as result!

In one stand-out moment for me in this past week, I was helping keep vigil during the wake by tinkering on the piano behind the pews. My uncle heard me, recognised the song I was struggling to remember and sat down to play it for me. That song was Memory of Mother, which I taught to my mother some years ago, who took it to the Philippines and shared with her brother - a former Director of Music and accompanying organist - who then taught it back to me during my Lola's wake.

My Lola's passing has been a funny series of the best things returning to us as a family: the stories, the wisdom, the music and the time together. It's the best any family could hope for from any passing.

In Memory of Lola

Paterna (Saliling) Bendijo Talingting was born on September 9 1926 in Marawi City to Cayetano Bendijo and Petra Saliling.

Cayetano was a Sergeant in the Philippine Scout Constabulary, and Petra was the daughter of Sultan sa Gaas in Ganassi, Lanao del Sur; a Muslim Maranao Sultan.

When Paterna was 15, her father was murdered by a bandit. The next year, at the outbreak of the second world war in 1942, Petra evacuated the family to Tanggub City. In the same year, her daughter, Paterna, met a young paramedic for the guerrilla movement affiliated with the Philippines armed forces: his name was Primo Talingting, and they were soon married.

Paterna demonstrated her willingness to sacrifice when she converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. She was instrumental in Primo's decision to join the ministry when he was faced with the option of law school or a theological scholarship. During their lives together, Paterna was fiercely loyal and protective of her husband, quick to quarrel with anyone who spoke against him.

Paterna had many gifts and developed them in support of Primo's ministry.

She was very enterprising, selling everything from tupperware to coffins, and providing regular housing to boarders to supplement the family income.  She was heavily involved in the life of the church as a lay preacher, she taught kindergarten and music, played the organ while organising her children into an impromptu choir, she also loaned her voice and guidance as President of both the Christian Women's Association and the Ministers' Wives Association.

Paterna was a strong practitioner of her Christian faith, instilling those values of love through caring and compassion,in her children. She was not afraid to share her love of God, and there was no compromise for her, unafraid to express her disappointment in people who claimed to be Christian, but acted and behaved without genuine selflessness.

She didn't spare her children either, waking them every morning at four a.m. for devotions through praise and verse (many still singing half-asleep). For all the sleepy eyes and nodding heads, her children have since told me they were grateful for this lesson in discipline that helped them pursue their ambitions.

Her nine children are all here to celebrate her life with us today.

She wanted the best for her children, and was passionate in her commitment to provide for their needs: she was very conscious of the right etiquette and attire for every event, and all ladies in her house were required to carry a handkerchief when leaving the house, saying: "a girl without a hanky is like a lady without a panty". A great cook, she often woke early to load her table or picnic baskets with home-cooked meals of meat, salad, cakes and pastries, whether you were hungry or not. She introduced her children to music and, for many, was their first piano teacher.

Her strong will endured in her last days in spite of her illness.

Our Lola and Mama passed peacefully this late Monday at 9:15am on October 28, surrounded by her family and reassured of their love. She joins her brothers and husband in God's embrace, but she will be remembered by those who knew and loved her for her commitment, integrity, and her fierce capacity to love.

Rest well, Lola Pat.