Tomorrow is Independence Day. We will celebrate 125 years of Philippine Independence from 300 years of Spanish rule.
It was declared by President Emilio Aguinaldo to celebrate the victory of the Philippine Revolution. That was on June 12, 1898. But, maybe unbeknownst to us, representatives of Spain and the United States signed a peace treaty in Paris on Dec. 10, 1898, six months after June 12, 1898. The Treaty of Paris allowed the United States to buy the Philippine Islands from Spain for $20 million. Thus we became a colony of the United States until July 4, 1946, when the US formally gave us our independence.
I remember July 4, 1946, though I was not quite two years old. We lived on Roberts Street then, a block away from Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard). Mommy and her youngest sister, both of them gone now, gossiped happily about the people walking past, probably intending to go to the ceremonies. Many were smiling and laughing, no doubt enthused by the event.
Now, 77 years later, I sit and wonder—how "independent" are we really? I look up “independence” online, come across a voluminous explanation that I don’t feel like repeating here. But I found this sentence: “Causes for a country or province wishing to seek independence are many, but most can be summed up as a feeling of inequality compared to the dominant power.” Suddenly, it hits me. Isn’t that the way many of us have always felt?
Take us, senior citizens. For many years we were ignored until the Senior Citizens ID Card was invented. I got mine by surprise when I was 61 and went to the Social Security System (SSS) office to see if I could get my pension. Since then I have discovered that we can use our Senior Citizens ID as fare on the Hong Kong ferry. Certainly, I have been happy with the discounts, but there are many seniors who need more help and don’t know how to get it. For example, the mates of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. How do they handle their mates who have it? “When I married him, he was a very kind man,” one of my friends whose husband now has rather serious Alzheimer’s said. “Now he is so mean to me. He accuses me of trying to poison him. He spits out his food instead of swallowing it. He curses at me. I don’t know what to do anymore,” she says, as she wipes her tears away with her hands.
Maybe we don’t understand what exactly they are talking about but we are happy to see them talking and laughing with each other. They form a community of their own among people like them. They understand each other. They end up being happy in a senior home.
“I had to put my mother in a home,” I hesitantly tell her. “I am an only child but when my mother’s Alzheimer’s suddenly came, she hated me. Her face would freeze, turn cold like marble every time I kissed her cheek. She stopped being the affectionate mother I once knew.”
A few weeks ago when I visited two senior homes, I was moved by what one of the doctors told me. “Many Filipinos think it’s cruel to put their parents or mates who have Alzheimer’s or dementia in homes such as this one. We were brought up to believe we had to care for our seniors at home. But when they get dementia or Alzheimer’s, they change and are difficult to care for. Many of our residents—we don’t call them patients—make friends with each other and find happiness here. Maybe we don’t understand what exactly they are talking about but we are happy to see them talking and laughing with each other. They form a community of their own among people like them. They understand each other. They end up being happy in a senior home.”
This statement reminded me of my mother. I used to write a lot about her when she was in a home. Because of that, so many people to this day text or email me to inquire about Alzheimer’s and homes and I don’t know what to say to them. My mother passed away in 2009. That’s 14 years ago. It is my dream (or maybe my ambition) to be able to write about the senior homes that exist around us to let people whose mates or parents are sick with either Alzheimer’s or dementia know that there is help around, that the help is kind, that you can consider putting your loved one in and he or she will eventually find happiness there with others who are in more or less the same state as they are.
I think that’s worth a serious thought this Independence Day. You have to think of what independence means to you and to the person who is sick and doesn’t know what to do for himself. Do you take care of him or her and go crazy? Or do you look for a place where they can build a community with others like themselves? I think—f you can afford it—you should consider the latter.