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Cecilia B. Mañosa shares the bitter with the sweet in her inspiring book

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 17, 2022 5:00 am

“There is much more to this life than these sad and difficult episodes,” says Cecilia B. Mañosa, as she channeled her life’s blows and lows into something inspiring, something positive that could help others.

Bitter with the Sweet: Savouring a Zest for Life is her book that shares her insights and provides ways to embrace life as it is—the good and the bad. Widowed 11 years ago, her husband, Manolet Gaston Mañosa, sadly passed away from a massive cardiac arrest. Manolet was the only son of Manuel, of the three Mañosa architect brothers. His mom was famous ballerina Inday Gaston Mañosa. More importantly to Cecilia, he was a husband and father.

The daughter of Cesar A. Buenaventura, the first Filipino president of Pilipinas Shell and founder of the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Cecilia also lost her mother, Nanette del Prado Buenaventura, to ovarian cancer in 1990.

Author Cecilia Mañosa with father Cesar Buenaventura, taken in Balmoral, New South Wales, a week after her open brain surgery in November 2018.

At 57 years old, Cecilia was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have open brain surgery.

Life can't always be happy, but regardless of what is thrown our way, it can still be worth it.

"I never thought I could be a writer" is the first line in this first book by the first-time author. The compilation of reflections and recommendations to savor our life journey is her “legacy project” for her two daughters, namely Erica, 30, who works for an NGO and owns a makeup artistry business; and Luisa, 25, currently studying Musical Theater in the U.S. But it goes beyond that now, as she shares with a bigger audience her heartening thoughts and advice.

Author Cecilia B. Mañosa taken on her 60th birthday in Watson’s Bay Australia, March 2021

“The best way to describe my book is a way of sharing the gifts and lessons life has given me—both the good and not so good,” Cecilia says. “Life can't always be happy, but regardless of what is thrown our way, it can still be worth it. Everyone has their share of challenges, pain, and loss—that's just the way life is. But along with that are all the glorious, joyful, exhilarating moments to enjoy and treasure. You won't know one without the other, and sometimes having to swallow a bitter pill is what makes up part of being able to experience the sweetness of life.

I have learned that loss is an inescapable part of life and even if time helps you to move forward somehow, the feeling of loss remains and you just learn to live with it. It is part of who I am.”

Cecilia in the last photo taken with husband Manolet on her 50th birthday in Sydney, March 2011

However, what comes with the bitter is the sweet, as Cecilia recounts her personal highs and memorable moments. “I would say there have been highs at different stages of my life. For example, as a child, living in England and traveling with family. While growing up—basketball summers, making lifelong friends, especially during college days. Work-wise, these were my first job in San Francisco after grad school in Boston, and being executive coordinator for an international publishing group. During adulthood, it was being married, having a family, and raising kids.

“To be more specific, many highs have been the one-off moments and memorable adventures with Manolet and my two girls, such as having long golf dates and exploring Australia together. With Erica, it was driving across Spain, which included an unplanned running-of-the-bulls caper; and watching Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer at the Australian Open. With Luisa, it was exploring distinctive Sydney coastal walks during lockdown; bingeing on Broadway and West End musicals; and more recently watching Harry Styles in concert, twice! In addition, owning my first dog Rufus, at age 52, which led to having three more.

Beaches in Australia are among author Cecilia’s favorite places: It’s in one of these beaches in the Central Coast where she originally conceived the idea of compiling messages for her daughters.

“Among all, the biggest highlights of my life are that of being a mother (and everything that comes with it) and moving to Australia. And now, I would probably add becoming a published author at 61.”

Though this is her first experience as an author, Cecilia’s educational background is in communications, and after completing a master’s degree in the US, she even taught communications management at Ateneo de Manila University. “I can say I've always enjoyed putting thoughts down on paper, but mostly in a personal way, which I think comes out in my writing style and approach. I have never taken creative writing classes, so publishing a book was not something I thought I would ever do. I have always had an inclination to observe and reflect on things and people around me, whether it be everyday encounters, things I watch or listen to, or profound, life-changing experiences. I've seen these as having a role throughout my journey of self-awareness and personal growth, and as they found a way into my thoughts they became themes for the book,” she says. 

Luisa and Erica Mañosa in Newport Beach, NSW, on New Year’s Day 2019, two months after their mother’s brain surgery

“The origin of it came from a desire to leave messages for my two daughters. I lost my mom early, and as a single parent, I would think about what they would miss out on should anything happen to me. For years I had been collecting notes, quotes, thoughts and written observations to compile for them, but what pushed it along was when I had to undergo brain surgery to remove a large tumor a few years ago. As I recovered, I saw it as a loud wakeup call that it was time to get serious about this pending, personal passion project.”

Although originally intended to be a collection of messages to be printed only for her children, family, and some close friends, a friend, and producer of a morning talk show in Australia encouraged her to speak with a publisher. This is how the book came to be.

The enlightening and moving book by Cecilia B. Mañosa with cover art by best friend Malu del Rosario

Bitter with the Sweet is an enlightening read, especially for those overcoming the difficult situations that life throws at you. “The major challenges in my life (thus far) mostly had to do with either loss, dealing with health issues or major accidents—which are all matters that are beyond our control. Just like anyone else in those situations, the initial reaction to these things is one of being frozen, numb, and shell-shocked. And though I have lost several members of my family as well as close friends, I can say it's not one of those things that gets easier each time it happens.” 

I asked her how she “found her way” out of painful situations in her life. “Everyone goes through hurtful events in their lives and the experience is different for each person. As I mention in the book (in the chapter Loss and Life), much like love, grief has no rules. It is messy and there's no easy way to do it. Each person grieves differently. All I know is there is no way out of it except to go through it. Sometimes we just have to ride it out and at times we have to claw our way out of it. But time does have a way of helping us find our way through somehow.

“Even if we are often told that ‘everything happens for a reason,’ this is something that is hard to realize while we are going through a difficult life challenge. Of course, prayers will always help, though adjusting one's mindset and having a positive attitude are ways to move through the muddle, as well as keeping in mind that tough times won't last forever.” 

Cecilia shares ways on how to appreciate life more despite the ups and downs (check out the chapter on The Sounds of Music), though she says, “I would not really call it a guidebook and I would not consider myself an authority to provide tips on overcoming life challenges, although I recently completed a course on working with people with mental health issues. I am not a licensed psychologist or therapist and do not claim to be.”

It can’t be repeated enough that life is a gift and meant to be savored. Bitter with the Sweet is a reminder of this. Cecilia hopes that her readers will pause occasionally from all the routine and busyness and notice the messages that life brings, to take a breath, appreciate, and hold on to what is good, to rethink one’s direction and purpose, and to make the most of opportunities and not live a life of regret.

As she says, “Life isn't just what happens to you, it's also what you make of it. We've all heard about the lemons and the lemonade. It's up to you to make yours sweet.”

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Bitter with the Sweet: Savouring a Zest for Life is currently available for order. In the Philippines, call 0917-5304067. For those in the US, order online at http://www.amazon.com and http://www.barnesandnoble.com. In Australia, go to www.balboapress.com