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Growing up a grandparents’ girl

By Maia Marquez Published Sep 10, 2021 5:00 am

They were world-class doctors: my lolo, a well-renowned cancer surgeon, and my lola, the only anesthesiologist who could complement him so perfectly to make an unstoppable tandem in the operating room. Needless to say, being part of the generations that came after them meant having very big shoes to fill.

Being the youngest (and, highly likely, the favorite) apo, I, together with my older brother, were the only two of their eight grandchildren that lived in Manila. It’s an understatement to say that they spoiled us.

As kids, we spent summers in the hospital, accompanying them as they did rounds. We wore our doctor’s gowns or scrubs, toy stethoscopes around our necks, and held clipboards in hand. Their friends, colleagues and protégés knew us. And as we grew older, each run-in with their doctor friends would always lead to: “Which one of these two is gonna become a doctor?”

My brother and I would look down and shake our heads. Science wasn’t our strongest suit.

While they never pressured us to follow in their footsteps, my grandmother’s passing six years ago made me worry how I could continue her legacy — and that of my grandfather’s, too, when the time came.

Her passing was my first experience with the death of someone very close to me. I don’t remember how I managed to cope, but what I’ll never forget is a text I got from a good friend that said: “Always remember that grandparents are with us. Always.”

That’s how I decided my lola — and eventually lolo — would live forever in me.Maybe their legacy that I followed need not be their medical careers, but their love and extraordinariness instead.

‘Love, Mommy Jo’

My lola used to always sign off texts with “Love.” While the messages varied, the image of her hunched over her old-style phone, forehead scrunched up, eyes squinted, and pointer finger patiently tapping at the alphanumeric keys as she typed her message out always remained the same.

My lola taught me that love never runs dry, so in everything I do, I must do it with love. After all, everything she said and did ended with ‘Love,’ didn’t it?

Memories of my lola revolved a lot around food, even though she never had the biggest appetite. When I was in kindergarten, she’d pick me up from school, take me to the mall for lunch at the food court — and if I behaved well, I’d even be allowed a carousel ride.

As I grew up and had longer hours in school, I’d come over for merienda instead. A chicken and spaghetti combo would almost always be waiting for me at their dining table. At family dinners, we’d always split a can of soda or an order of ice cream and she’d always give me the bigger half.

When I was late into grade school, she had a major stomach operation and needed hospital stays every other year or so after that. As her appetite became even smaller, she wasn’t really keen on eating for fun anymore. Yet, when I was in college and would end class early, I’d make the trip to her area for sashimi lunch — one of the only things she claimed she enjoyed eating at the time.

It was at a party we threw for my lolo that I saw how selfless she really was. After we had all gone home, my lola sent me a text that said: “Thank you for your help with the enjoyable party. Love.” As a joke, I texted back and asked if she’d eaten; to which she responded, “A little.” I realized she ate what she could — not because she wanted or needed to, but because she knew how happy it would make us if she did.

She was that kind of a person: the one who went out of her way for others, the one who’d put her loved ones’ happiness before her own, and who didn’t want to cause them worry. So much so that she didn’t want us to fuss over her last emergency trip to the hospital: the one that eventually took her life five months later.

At an interview for a college organization, I was asked what inspired me to apply. My answer, although something I didn’t prepare for, came easy: “My lola taught me that love never runs dry, so in everything I do, I must do it with love.” After all, everything she said and did ended with “Love,” didn’t it?

Extraordinary Daddy Tico

"No extraordinary measures” were my lolo’s instructions to his doctors when he got admitted to the hospital. If need be, he didn’t want extraordinary life-saving attempts, despite “extraordinary” being exactly what he was.

Growing up, I’ve always looked up to him. Even well into his 90s, he ran a hospital, made impossible surgeries possible, and outplayed golf mates 20 years his junior. But my stories of him were of everyday moments he managed to make special.

An extraordinary doctor and an even more extraordinary grandfather, he pushes me to do just as he did: To make the most out of what we’re dealt in life, and to live each ordinary day extraordinarily.

I was so used to seeing my lolo in the kitchen. He loved to cook for everyone, and loved it even more when they said he was the best cook they knew. He was very experimental and would always put a twist on anything he whipped up, whether it was adobo with green mangoes instead of vinegar, or even a linguine vongole he insisted went well with cream. He had a way of making things his own.

He’d always create the opportunity to put even my smallest achievements under the spotlight. Before I left for a study abroad program and even when I had gotten back, he would proudly introduce me as his granddaughter who studied in France, even though I was only gone for one semester.

Later on, his introduction of me turned to the one who “worked online,” his way of saying an e-commerce start-up. He probably didn’t understand what that meant, but the way he took pride in his apo made her feel she could do anything. He made a big deal even out of the mundane, and it made people feel special.

When he got admitted to the hospital in December 2019, they said he wouldn’t make it to Christmas. But he saw that as a challenge and gave us nine more months.

An extraordinary doctor and an even more extraordinary grandfather, he pushes me to do just as he did: to make the most out of what we’re dealt in life, and to live each ordinary day extraordinarily.

While I may not have followed their footsteps into medicine, I believe that the part of them that lives in me is far bigger. Being their granddaughter who lives out their legacy of love and extraordinariness is, and will always be, my greatest privilege.

Photo art by Cid Gonzales