- Posted September 7, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Nancy's Family Album
Remembering Ate Bem
(‘Ate’(AHteh) is a Filipino term of affectionate respect for an older sister or for a woman to whom you relate as to an older sister.)
In her illness, I saw strength: a paradox I witnessed in the life of my eldest sister, Ate Bem.
At age six, Ate Bem was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease. Since then, the hospital had been her second home, yet it never took the smile off her face.
Ate Bem was very determined to live a normal life. Even with her absences from school, she always managed to be an honor student. She never made her illness an excuse to escape from her responsibilities as the big sister to her five siblings.
Her teenage years were not good to her. This was when her illness got in the way of her fight for normalcy. Her doctors told her she only had a couple of years left. She had to stop schooling and had to take about a dozen tablets a day. I even saw her pound her medicines just so she could swallow them.
Yet, in her weakness, I saw tremendous strength. Ate Bem was even more determined to fight for her share of normalcy. Her sickness made her closer to God.
On weekdays, she reads books and corresponded with many friends and institutions. On weekends, she would gather the kids in our neighborhood, tell them Bible stories and teach them catechism. She was living her life to the full.
Ate Bem had lots of suitors too. At the start, my parents kind of discouraged her from getting into such relationships because she might not be able to handle the emotional pressure and breakups, but she was quite stubborn and had her shares of ‘sweet nothings’ and brokenness.
Ate was born smart. Even if she only had two months of high school, it did not stop her from pursuing her dreams. She took a placement test from the Department of Education, which accelerated her directly to college. She was even quietly ambitious to take a BS in accountancy at Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro.
She got in, of course, and even managed to be on the dean's list with little effort. But this time, her health could not catch up with her spirit.
In the middle of the second semester of her sophomore year she was hospitalized. She had to stop her studies for good.
When a door closes, a bigger window opens. Ate Bem met her true love, Alvin Cabaong, a very humble businessman. In spite of her health condition, Alvin was still so willing to marry her. At the start, she was hesitant, knowing what was at stake, but with much persuasion from him, she finally gave herself the chance to love and be loved in marriage.
Our family witnessed the unconditional love Alvin gave to our Ate Bem. During her bad days, Alvin would drop everything in a heartbeat just to be at her side. On her better days, Alvin had to work double or triple his usual effort knowing her bad days would come anytime and the prices of her medicines were always going up. Alvin was the best thing that happened to her.
In August 2006, I was asked to come home to Cagayan de Oro for an emergency. From the port, my brother brought me straight to the Provincial Hospital. Our family hadn’t had the slightest clue that Ate was a couple of months pregnant.
That night, Ate Bem and her baby boy did not make it. I would like to believe that that was her last fight for normalcy.
Ate Bem's life was a life of courage and love. Her illness made our family stronger and more loving. In her weakness, we saw strength. She is dearly missed.