This was originally shared as a eulogy at my mom’s memorial on August 29, 2020. My immediate family — my dad, both of my brothers and their wives and children, as well as my own husband and kids — were in attendance, along with family and friends who joined us online.
My mother, Gloria Ayi Consolacion Cariaga, comes from a long lineage of strength, particularly the women in her family — her mother Loleng, sisters Norma and Ambet, and Honey (Auntie) Mai. Even as we continue to be heartbroken, I draw from that strength as I speak to you today.
When I think of my mom, it’s hard for me to think about her life in a linear way from beginning to end. I remember her more as a collection of enduring qualities — qualities that have spanned across her lifetime, qualities that she has instilled in her children and grandchildren, qualities that I especially witnessed in her last moments with us.
The first quality that comes to mind is always kindness. So many of you have shared memories of the care she extended to you as an auntie, ninang, co-worker, friend, sister, wife, mother, grandma. Her kindness was reflected in making sure you’ve eaten plenty of food and had plenty to bring home, or giving you sniff kisses that made you feel loved, or from bathing two generations of babies in the same bathroom sink with so much joy.
Safety was a big thing with my mom — she would freak out if the kids got close to the brick fireplace or if they were jumping on the bed. She would always tell me to text her when I got home. We would often laugh at her anxiousness or my brother Nathan would rough-house the kids even more to stress her out. As much as we made fun of her, we also appreciated how much we felt safe and at home with her.
Everything about my mom was comforting — her food, her touch, her voice, her home, the way she would always ask how other friends or family were doing. When I visited her in the hospital after she had gone through so many health complications and I desperately wanted to be there for her after being separated for months because of the pandemic, it was me who felt comforted by her voice and touch. Even when it became harder for her to speak and her energy waned, she still remembered my wedding anniversary and people’s birthdays, asked how other friends and family were doing, and wanted to make sure I got back home okay.
Throughout her life, my mom’s kindness overlapped with her meticulous attention to detail. I can’t tell you how many things we’ve uncovered at her house that document memories she’s collected, saved, organized, and archived — every recital and graduation program, handwritten notes, school essays and report cards, party favors from weddings and baby showers, childhood poems and drawings, everything you could imagine and wouldn’t imagine to save. This was my mom’s way of keeping her loved ones close.
Her kindness and organization also brought people together — she often organized vacation trips for us growing up, bringing family from Oceanside, San Diego, Montreal, Missouri, Maryland, and the Philippines. She never liked to be the center of attention, but she did enjoy the work behind the scenes to bring people together.
Her brilliant attention to detail also helped her at work as a Medical Technologist at Hawthorne Memorial Hospital and then as a Hematology Supervisor at Centinela Hospital. She created countless binders of protocols that I believe folks still use to this day. During the shelter in place, I wanted my daughter Laila to interview her grandma Ayi for a home school assignment. When Laila asked her about something she was proud of, my mom remembered a text that her co-worker Terie gave her that said, “You may not have realized this, but you taught me well over the years. I always think to myself, ‘What would Gloria do?’ when I need to do the right thing.” My mom was so happy to share that text with us.
Now, while my mom was incredibly kind to her co-workers and family, she would also fight you if you did her wrong. Like when a kid stole Nathan’s bike, she wasn’t afraid to let Ron loose to get it back. Or if you called her “manang” in a derogatory way in Hawai’i, she’d come for you. Or if you trespassed her property or bumped into her at the grocery store, she would definitely have words for you.
I’m proud to say that she fought for me too. Even though my dad was cool with having two sons and was afraid to bring a girl into this world, my mom made sure she got the daughter she wanted. And when my dad wanted me to stay here in Los Angeles for college, she was the one who insisted that it was okay for me to go up North for college. My life would be incredibly different — my educational trajectory, my community, my husband and kids — if it wasn’t for my strongest advocate, my mom.
That was the thing about my mom and dad. Their relationship was very much about building bridges across different beliefs, across cities, states, countries, and across generations. From the beginning, they were seemingly two different people — my mom a college graduate and kind of goody two shoes, and my dad, a brilliant high school dropout and someone who liked to get in trouble. But their love for each other has always been unconditional and persevering.
Speaking of things I keep finding at home, my mom kept all the letters my dad wrote her each day for a year while he was on his Air Force tour of Vietnam — kept in a drawer by her bedside. She has pictures of my dad tucked in every purse and wallet. He has all her little post-it reminders up in his office. He also kept each hospital sticker he got every time he visited my mom during her chemotherapy treatment. One of my favorite letters I’ve found from my dad to my mom was when she retired in 2013. It’s a perfect snapshot of the friendship, sweetness, and understanding that my mom and dad have built over 52 years of marriage.
That sweetness and joy would grow as my mom and dad became grandparents to eventually seven beautiful grandkids. I won’t say much here about my mom as a grandmother, because you will soon hear directly from them how loving she was. But what I will say is that having my mom here to help raise our kids has been one of the best gifts of our lives. Our kids would not be as happy and loving and we would not be the parents we are today, if it wasn’t for my mom — who modeled countless ways to nurture, comfort, soothe, nourish, and joyfully care for our babies.
The last quality I want to share today about my mom is her strength. It took incredible strength and faith for my mom to beat leukemia into remission in 2018. A lot has been said about my mom having a high tolerance for pain and seldom complaining about suffering — which was true. I think that spoke to her selflessness and desire to not burden others. And perhaps this was true because we live in a world where women often aren’t given space to voice their needs, nor their pain. But this time, her second fight with leukemia revealed another kind of strength. The kind of strength that knew how to fight, and was also brave enough to surrender. The kind of strength that was honest about fear, helplessness, and death; the kind of strength that allowed my mom to be vulnerable, courageous, and open enough to allow others to care for her and ask for faith to move through her.
And so without knowing it, we channeled all of my mom’s best qualities to take care of her in her last days. We prioritized safety as we figured out how to be with her and dad in the middle of a global pandemic. We fought and advocated for the best medical care. We made meticulous lists to stay organized as we quickly adapted to caring for her at home. We laid our hands gently on her chest, hands, and face, just like how she taught us to do for our own babies. We learned the complete satisfaction and tenderness of wholeheartedly pouring love into my mom, just as she had spent her entire life pouring love into us. As exhausted and uncertain as we were, my mom’s determination to go home and stay here as long as she needed to inspired us to become our bravest selves and an even stronger family unit.
Mom, I know you never asked for anything in return, but I hope that you were able to feel a measure of love paid back to you in your last days. Despite your suffering, I hope you could see how all your love not only helped us learn how to care for you, but has also provided a roadmap for us to continue caring for each other, especially for dad and our own children. We are never going to be the same without you, but I also know we’re going to be okay.
I will continue to be thankful each day for the gift that was and continues to be you, Mom. We will miss you and love you always. Thank you.