Last August 5, while in a conference in Taipei, I received sad news from my relatives in the Philippines.
“Wala na si Lola Tunang.” (Lola Tunang has passed away.)
I was grief-stricken. My 98-year-old great grandmother Potenciana Tunang Pimentel, who had been our family’s pillar of strength and faith, had passed away. Alone in my hotel room, I said a silent prayer and reflected on her life.
I ended my prayer with a smile. Hers was a life well-lived. It should not be mourned but celebrated. This is my way of immortalizing her story.
A life of responsibility
Lola Tunang had to struggle through life. Her husband, a cabesa de barangay (village chief) in Pangasinan, was killed by the HUKBALAHAP (anti-Japanese army) on suspicion that he was supporting the Japanese. She was left to raise 5 children on her own.
She was 36 then and her youngest child was only 10 months old. She knew that her life would be difficult. But she was willing to take the sacrifice so that her children can live better lives.
She spent the next 3 decades of her life facing the harsh realities of poverty and inequality. She took almost every kind of job just to be able to send her children to school.
She became a house helper, street vendor, laundry lady, cook and farmer among other jobs. But she did not lose hope. She did it for her children. Her goals in life were clear and strong
Strength amidst hardships
She was never ashamed of the jobs she had. She was making money in an honest way, and that kept her dignified. Though she had a difficult time making ends meet, she tried her best to keep her family united.
But more difficult times came and she had to send some of her children to her relatives so they could continue schooling. Her family had to separate. Although this broke her heart, she knew it was for the best.
She continued supporting her children until all 5 of them finished high school and landed better jobs.
My grandparents said Lola Tunang’s faith kept them going. She never forgot to ask strength from God. She taught them the value of prayer and the power of faith.
Most people who reach their 60s and 70s stop working and start living the rest of their lives like they were on vacation. This was not the case for Lola Tunang. For her, retirement was never an option.
At 70 years old, she was still taking care of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. She did not want to leave the care of the ones she loved in the hands of other people.
She was a woman of discipline. My mom, uncles and aunts always recalled how Lola Tunang would give them the stick to make them behave better. I think she was successful in doing so since all of her grandchildren are now living honest and happy lives.
A quiet woman, she didn’t say many lessons or parables. She showed it through her actions and her hard work. She rarely said she loved us but all of her children and grandchildren felt how much she did.
A role model
Lola Tunang did not finish school. She left us, her family, with no material wealth. But she left something greater and more lasting – her legacy – a life of meaning, responsibility and giving.
She was a giver. More than life, she gave her family an example to follow. Through her, my family learned the value of perseverance, hard work, determination and most of all, faith.
She was a classic example of an ordinary person who lived a heroic life. She was victorious in all the challenges that life gave her. She stood strong after every storm of life.
In her last days, I know that she was happy and fulfilled. She saw all her children and grandchildren attain the better lives she dreamt for them. She lived to see 3 generations of her family – a feat that most people only hope to achieve.
I only shed tears of joy and gratitude for the generous life that she lived. It was a blessing to have been part of her family and to have learned her story.
After 98 years of hard work, she now, at last, can rest in the presence of her Creator. But perhaps, she still won’t stop working. Knowing how she loved us, I know she’ll guide us through everything we will face.
Thank you, Lola Tunang! – Rappler.com
Aside from being a journalist for Rappler, David Lozada is a Philippine focal point of the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Network, the official platform of the Committee on ASEAN Youth Cooperation. He is also a part time lecturer of the Ateneo de Manila University.