A few weeks ago, my dear Aunty Ellen passed away. She was seventy years young. I’ve heard second-hand accounts about her, most of them painting her in a good light. She grew up with my mum, as they were first cousins. As adults forging their careers, they became close. I’ve only met her once, when she was on a cruise in Sydney. I recall that she had a conspicuous voice. When she and mum were out, some passers-by would give her a second glance because this made her the eighth wonder of the world. She also had a sense of humour, saying that I looked like ‘Wilfredo’.
Aunty Ellen has two children: Ian and Aiza. They lived in London for a while, as her husband was based there. She told me that he studied in Oxford but the weather there was very dreary. We talked about the Lakers while they were the kings. By that time, they had already moved to the States. She also knew about ‘octo-mum.’ In later emails, she admitted that her husband’s autonomy won her over. Upon seeing Aiza’s photo, mum told us that she looked like Auntie Ellen when she was younger. When the latter advanced in years, she resembled her mother, the late Grandma Tonia.
Memories of Makati
Though she shares the name of Michelle Yeoh’s character, she is nothing like her namesake. She is funny, caring, and thoughtful. She treated mum like her sister, ever the gracious host. Mum would stay with them now and then. This was true regardless of auntie’s status: whether she was single, married, or when she had kids. She was also financially savvy, never relying on just her pay cheque. Had she depended on her salary alone, she could not afford her lifestyle. Regardless, she had good times with her workmates in Citibank Makati. The latter is the financial capital of the Philippines, with Ayala Avenue akin to Wall Street. Auntie’s workplace is the head office in the country. No expense was spared in its architecture.
The job culture over there was very different from that of Sydney. Saturdays would see officemates going out of town together and bonding. She would often invite my mum over to these excursions. They would sojourn to places like Tagaytay, Batangas and Laguna. Compared to here, the work culture was much more relaxed. Moreover, mum remarked that the offices in Makati were quite impressive. With their tall ceilings and grand designs, they were very different from what she’s seen since. Meanwhile, she had an open invitation for mum to stay with them. Auntie was only one of two women in their brood. The other (Sr. Mila) is a nun. My late aunty was smart and understated. She embodied the saying, ‘Simplicity is beauty’.
When my mum was in a tight spot, aunty Ellen went to the rescue. She was a difference-maker. Maybe she’s not Eleanor Roosevelt but she was street-smart. Eleanor Wish, from the Harry Bosch series, would be a close comparison. Both of them were strong, independent women who fought for their families. Aunty has come a long way: from the Philippines to London to the US. She’s lived extensively on three continents, traversing Old and New worlds. She has also remained modest in spite of her travels. She told us that she hired minorities to tend their garden. She encountered my dad on a few occasions, visiting the Philippines a handful of times. However, we observed that she has become westernised in her mindset. Meanwhile, she was very pleased when I contacted her a few years ago.
She died too soon. In recent years, she had been fighting a battle with her memory. Before her death, we were able to speak with her a few times. We’ll never forget these talks, all her goodness lives on. Her sudden death came as a shock to all of us. Even facing death, she remained an ideal conversationalist and a superb listener. At age seventy, she had so much more to give the world. Her demise marks a true loss – to her family and to the lives she touched.
People usually recall the good aspects of others. As I can attest, she was a classy soul. She conducted herself with grace in her language and her behaviour. Indeed, my mum regards her as the best cousin she’s ever had. Meanwhile, my late aunty singled out mum as her favourite cousin and she has dozens of them. Auntie’s passing proves that we have a limited time on earth. While we’re here, we should strive to do good so that others will remember us in a good light. This could be reconciled with the movie Monsters, Inc. Initially hell-bent on scaring children, Mike and Sulley learn that making kids laugh is more fulfilling.
Rest in peace, Auntie. We will miss you so much. You will be in our hearts forever….