It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.—Ralph Waldo Emmerson
I lost two beloved friends these past two weeks, and I am still in a Twilight Zone of mourning and disbelief. Next week, we will dwell on Ethel Soliven Timbol, my dear friend and the longest-serving lifestyle editor of The Manila Bulletin. This week, let’s remember Lutgarda Zamora Lerma, or Ditas as we called her. She died in the early morning of Aug. 30 after a heroic struggle against pneumonia and other complications. She was my classmate at Maryknoll College for two years, the prettiest girl in our class, with a string of suitors from the boys’ school across the creek. She married the “crush ng bayan” Cuchi Lerma and they had four sons. I reunited with her some years later, when we both had our own families and circles of friends, on a pilgrimage to Naju, Korea with Fr. Jerry Orbos.
That unforgettable pilgrimage led to us forming the Mission Angels to help the SVD Filipino missionaries. She was the strict, very organized assistant treasurer to my husband Sonny and, when he died, she took over so efficiently.
Together with her best friend Maritess Lopez, she and I also helped the healing priest, Fr. Fernando Suarez, in his dream to put up healing centers. And then we became co-pilgrims every first Saturday to Lipa, Batangas in honor of Our Lady, Mediatrix of All Grace. Our last trip to Lipa was in March, before the lockdown. Francis, her eldest, always accompanied her.
Let me share here Ditas’s daughter-in-law Aileen Lerma’s eulogy as it touched me deeply. How many mothers-in-law are loved so deeply by a daughter-in-law? Aileen is the wife of Benjie, the youngest of Ditas and Cuchi Lerma’s four sons. Here is the eulogy she calls “Ditas’ Touch.”
Mom was a person who gave pure love. If Midas turned what he touched to gold, Mom’s touch turned everything to love, and that was the “Ditas Touch.”
In his book, The 5 Love Languages, The Secret to Love That Lasts, Gary Chapman explains that there are five ways that people speak and understand emotional love… words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
So what was Mom’s primary love language?
Was it physical touch? Except to her grandchildren, Mom was not big on hugging, kissing, holding hands… To quote Tita Maritess and Tita Lita—“pinaglihi sa bato si Ditas.”
In the 26 years that I have known Mom, only two instances of “hugging” have left their marks on me. The first was when Tito Monette, her youngest brother, passed away. As Tito Monette was wheeled out of his room at Makati Med, Mom turned to me and gave me a hug. Although it was only a split-second hug, I felt her raw pain and sense of loss.
The second was just this June after Mom fell in her bedroom, and she had to stay in bed. I brought her some of Mandy’s cookies. She was in pain and wanted to change position in bed. Together with Prasy (her cook) and Francis, we tried to lift her to a more comfortable position. In the process, I ended up hugging her and she also hugged me back.. So was physical touch Mom’s love language? Hmmm…Most likely not.
Were words of affirmation her primary love language? Did she shower those she loved with verbal compliments or words of appreciation?
The words “I love You” “I miss you” were always reserved for her seven grandchildren. I remember when Nate and Mandy would bring home medals or awards from school and from swim competitions, after she congratulated and praised them, she would turn to me and Benjie and say: “Baka naman pinipilt ninyo ang mga bata. Kawawa naman.” Obviously in Mom’s eyes, her grandchildren could do no wrong.
But during her last few weeks, Mom found the will to say “I love you” without cringing… In one of the Zoom masses, I remember her telling her friends, “O, marunong na akong mag ‘I love you.’”
So was Mom’s love language words of affirmation? Still not likely.
Was her primary love language quality time? For as long as I have known her, except for Sundays, Mom was always out spending time with friends, doing her charity works, attending masses, prayer meetings, and retreats.
I would like to think that Mom and I had our almost “daily” special “D&A”(a.k.a. Ditas & Aileen) time—and that would be on weekday mornings… when Mom would call me on my home landline. Our conversation starter was usually an utos but it would almost always lead to tsismis about the doñas/titas/lolas of Manila, and to what Mom was doing or where she was going for the day. So, was quality time Mom’s love language? Perhaps yes, but maybe not.
Was receiving/giving gifts her primary love language? Mom was
showered with gifts by friends. There was always food from Tita Marilou, bags from Tita Anita, Japanese goodies from Tita Maritess, and pasalubong from her friends,
But giving gifts sparked more joy in Mom than receiving them. Whenever she went on trips—she always came back bearing gifts. Of course, her grandchildren got the most pasalubong while we, adults, got token gifts (not that we minded).
There was our monthly supply of pan de sal and kesong puti from Lipa on the first Saturday of every month. With the amount of pan de sal she brought from Lipa to distribute to family and friends, she looked like she was running a panaderia.
Mom never forgot to give us presents for our birthdays. About a week and a half before she was hospitalized, during one of my visits without Benjie and the kids, she told me to open her drawer and get the pearl and diamond set she wore in her 50th wedding celebration. As I showed her the necklace and the earrings, she told me that it took a long time to complete the necklace and earrings since Tita Rowena had to look for south sea pearls of the same quality and more or less the same size. She then looked at me and said: “O, sa iyo yan. Pero hindi pa ngayon.”
I think the love language of receiving/giving gifts was only second to Mom’s primary love language, which I think was acts of service. I believe that Mom’s countless acts of service were the hugs Mom gave to each of us. When I craved for bacalao or callos and she cooked them, that was a hug. (When I craved for Prasy’s lomi and dessert masterpiece, she brought them to Lipa for our breakfast and when I had surgery and in the hospital she would come to bring me these two favorites of mine.
When mom secretly treated me for hot oils, manicures, and pedicures at Beauty Power, those were hugs. When Mom said her trusted helper could come work for me, and that she would just find another one, another hug from Mom.
When Mom looked after me during my surgery in the US, that was a hug, lots of hugs. When Mom brought Nate and Mandy to their pediatrician armed with my long list of questions because I had back-to-back meetings at work, and Benjie was out of the country, another hug from Mom.
When Mom said yes to picking up Mandy and Nate from school despite her very busy lunch and afternoon schedules, that was another hug. When she looked after Nate and Mandy during my and Benjie’s annual office trips, which sometimes meant she had to cancel appointments or events with friends, or reschedule trips, that was a huge hug from Mom.
In the six weeks she was in the hospital, Mom taught me how to conquer fear. Mom always feared needles. She hated injections, and could not even go through an acupuncture session. But while in the hospital, she did not complain or resist her numerous blood tests, IV lines, 4 colonoscopies, and a surgery.
Mom showed me how to put complete faith and trust in God. I never heard her question why all these had to happen during Covid, why she got pneumonia, why her strength and health deteriorated at a rapid pace.
By her example, I saw how it is to be selfless in the midst of suffering. Mom desperately wished to go home not because she would suffer less at home, but because she wanted to fix her things and tell us how they would be distributed. When Mom heard Mandy’s sniffles while Mandy was telling her how she would miss her Wawa, we heard her tell her nurses: “Kawawa naman ang mga apo ko, iyak sila ng iyak.”
Mom proved to me that true, and eternal love exists… (#mayforever). In one of our hospital visits, Mom told me and Benjie that she saw all her dead relatives, her Mom, and her brothers. But the one who mattered the most (that was Dad of course) was still very far away. I would like to think that when the time came, Dad picked up Mom. When Nate was thanking Mom for all she had done for him, and saying his goodbyes, she told Nate: “Don’t worry Nate, I will be with Wowo soon.”
It may have taken Mom 80 years, but Mom showed us the importance of saying I love You. During her last few days, while gasping for air, Mom still managed to tell us “I Love You” and “Love You Too” during our calls. I will be forever grateful that Benjie, Nate, Mandy and I heard her final “Love You Too” the night before she slipped into her coma.
In the morning of Aug 29, Mom gave me, Benjie, Nate and Mandy her final and tightest hug when she allowed us to say our final goodbyes.
To the one who turned everything to LOVE—Mom, please help me turn the little stabs of grief I feel into butterflies of love in my heart. To Benjie, Francis, Owie and Corky, thank you for allowing me to love and be loved by Mom.”