Friday, November 28, 2008

In Dumaguete

My favorite workspace at the moment is a table in the coffee shop of a hotel just a couple of minutes walk from the Silliman high school. I can sit for hours, nursing a cup of brewed coffee, occasionally dipping into the fries that they serve with their hamburgers. The staff know me from when I used to check in here for the privacy and airconditioning, whenever I had a big project to finish. My husband and I stayed here for a couple of weeks when he came to visit my family last year.

There are paintings by local artists: intricate watercolors of marine life, and genre scenes in oil, which give the hotel an elegant touch you don’t usually find in the Philippines, where similarly-priced establishments display the sort of cheapo Manansala rip offs and diligently-photorealistic images of coconuts and santan that I equate with the Mabini area of Manila. I watch the foreigners, and try to identify the nationality of the Europeans by their speech. It seems to be favored by Europeans rather than East Asians, perhaps it is promoted more heavily in Germany and Scandinavia as the owner (or part-owner? Manager?) is said to be Swedish.

The best part is that my workspace is just a hundred meters from the house where I was born (not literally: I was born at the mission hospital, like countless other Silliman kids). But it was the house where I grew up, and the view from the hotel’s windows, of the acacia canopy and Silliman’s fading residences, is the same view I had as a little kid heading home in my red checked uniform skirt, in the footsteps of my older sister. The patch of cogon where Ace and Tisoy, the Montebon’s dog, followed each other round and round over a path their paws had trodden out – that’s been gone, ripped out, and where we had a stand of umbrella palms, there’s a bright green VW beetle. I don’t go down to the house, which looks dingy now and utterly devoid of magic. I prefer to keep my memories as they were.

I suppose this project I’ve been working on for some time, as well as the next one, have been complicated ways of dealing with my sister’s death. Of preserving her in some way, in a more dignified state, a state from decades ago when she would have been free to undo the choices that ultimately led to her destruction. I couldn’t save her. I couldn’t protect her from the harm that resided close, so close.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Words of remembrance by Lakambini A. Sitoy

Spoken at the memorial service for Leilani A. Sitoy Nodado, November 29, 2007 at Silliman Church, Dumaguete City, 3 pm

April 19, 1966 - November 18, 2007
Dead at 41 of breast cancer, diagnosed in September, 2004 at Stage IIIB

I never knew life without my sister.

She was a constant presence as I discovered the world, ventured out into the garden of the small university faculty house near what is now Coco Grande Hotel where we lived, made friends with the pet cat and forayed into the homes of our neighbors. She was the initiator and mischief maker, and I was the clown.

When we were about 4 and 7 we began to make up stories, extending the worlds of our books and the few movies we then had seen, until we were the owners and creators of a complex and secret realm that we nurtured from those years until we were about 15 and 18 when her focus shifted to activities in school and with her friends.

She shaped the person who I am right now. My perceptions and expectations of life were channeled through her perceptions and expectations. We were like two trees emerging from a single substrate, molded and shaped by each other’s growth, never alike but always understanding one another.

She was the foremost influence in my life as a teen-age apprentice writer. She was influenced by ideas of feminine beauty and behavior, and lent another angle to my view of men. I was the feminine but coolly critical sister; she was the wild but hopelessly romantic one, who longed for a tough, streetwise lover The song “Old and Wise,” by the Alan Parson Project, is a song she requested, at age 17, to be played at her funeral. It is addressed, I think, to each one of us who were her friends, but also to that special someone, that soulmate that every woman, I think, longs for and which she hoped it would be her fortune to meet some day.

But from early adolescence, she only longed for a peaceful, stable, conventional and happy family life – the loving husband, the beautiful kids, the nice suburbia house, and the dog.

One of the most striking traits of my sister was her capacity to keep each component of her life – each barkada, you might say – hermetically sealed from the others, so that those who made her acquaintance knew only a component of the greater picture. I’m sure there are many of us here who are pleasantly surprised by the diversity contained within her single life. I’m glad so many of those who knew her and loved her are gathered here – each contributing to our picture of her.

One thing is consistent in that picture though – she was a selfless giver, a sharer, and a sacrificer, never seeking the limelight, who thought of the comfort and enjoyment and feelings of others before her own.

In a manner so typical of Lani’s doing things, she made provisions for her family. Her investments with AXALife and her insurance with Sun Life, and her two Metrobank Kiddie Saver accounts were for her children. For her husband, she bought a motorcycle and a car which she had registered in his name. She planned activities, outings and vacations in resorts in Laguna and Bulacan for her family. The specific question she usually asked the children after each outing or activity was: “Are you happy?” Because to her, the most important thing is to make them happy.

To make appropriate plans for her family, Lani did several specific things for them, as follows:

First, early in her service with her former place of work, the Solidbank Corporation, and this even before she had children, even before she got married, Lani took advantage of a Solidbank program to provide housing for its employees. Lani bought from the bank a house and lot at the bank’s housing project in Santa Rosa, Laguna.

Second, many years later, in fact, during this present year when it became clear that the family would not be staying in Santa Rosa, Lani decided to sell the house and lot, half of which she deposited with AXALife for a time deposit for Bea and Fia’s future schooling, the other half being spent for a car which will facilitate her going on a wheelchair first to work and then to the hospital, and for her immediate medications. Lani also started two other deposits to be “held in trust” for Bea and Fia, also for future needs. (NB: This money was subsequently claimed by her husband some weeks after the funeral.)

Third, in the last days of her illness, Lani specifically entrusted to her father and mother Bea and Fia, with a specific request that they live in the Sitoy family home in Banilad, and that they study in Dumaguete, so that they could experience the very same experiences of growing up and schooling, and acquire the same life-giving values, as she and her sister Bing had had. “Mama,” said Lani, “please take care of Bea and Fia.” Specifically, she wanted her children to study and grow up in Silliman University.

Fourth, to insure that Bea and Fia would know of this her decision, Lani asked that Bing video tape her declaration of this request, so that Bea and Fia, and all others, may be able to hear from her own lips and see her as she did it – this wish for her dearest children.

Lani has gone on, back to our Creator, but her legacy will live in our memories and in our hearts.

NB: "Old and Wise" by The Alan Parsons Project was played as per Lani's request to me way back in 198 -- "play it at my funeral." Our cousin She-She Sitoy provided vocals. Elmer Caguindangan on the Hammond organ.

Words from our father T. Valentino Sitoy Jr.'s eulogy:

Years ago, Lani had occasion to express her views of loving and caring when she said: “If you love someone honestly, truly, and sincerely, and your love is not reciprocated in return, it is not you the true lover who loses, but the one who will never know how it is to be loved honestly, truly, and sincerely by you.”

All her life, Lani loved honestly, truly and sincerely.

E-mailed Tributes to Lani 1966-2007

She is a very sweet lady. Always smiling. I asked her why she didn’t attend (our thanksgiving party for Pink Kitchen). She told me she was in a wheelchair and didn’t want to bother anyone. She told me she was always reading our e-mail exchanges but has not been updating us on the e-group coz she does not want to depress all of us with her condition. We will all miss her. - Leilani Eusebio (ICanServe), Nov. 18

We lost a breast sister (kasuso) yesterday. Lani was courage personified. I honor her memory, which continues to nurture me and sustain me in this struggle of hope against despair. God Bless her. - Carla Sison (ICanServe), Nov. 19

This is a sad day for me, for all of us…but then, I know now her pains are gone, no more tears, and she’s happily reunited with our Creator. - Jean in Saudi Arabia (ICanServe), Nov. 18

To us her sisters in ICanServe, she will always have a place in our hearts and will always be remembered. Lani is a tough lady and surely, her kids too will grow up to be like her and with her love in their hearts. - Mariefe Pojas (ICanServe), Nov. 19

When I joined ICanServe…Lani was one of the first sisters I felt very comfortable with. She was so pleasant always. I saw her at Pink Kitchen in a wheelchair. I was seated beside Bangge in our soda booth and jointly our hearts sank at seeing her as such…yet she waved cheerfully at me while she was also trying to help the other sisters in the ICanServe booth. Like all of you, I will mss Lani. - Pamsy Tioseco (ICanServe), Nov. 19

(Sharing Lani’s picture) is a great way to remember her vibrant life. - Ruella Esmele (classmate), Nov. 21

Lani is indeed a great loss, yet her demonstration of strength, her cheerful outlook, her “coolness”, will always be remembered. - Lincoln Tagle (Classmate), Nov. 18

Lani was indeed a very strong person…She had so much to live for as she fought the Big C. tooth and nail…Her husband, her daughters, her parents, her sister Bing were the reasons she had the will to live, which added years to her life. - Emy Miraflor (Classmate), Nov. 19

I remember Lani as a very consistent scholar, topping our academic requirements without sacrificing her social life. She was always sent to co-curricular and extra curricular competitions, bringing home pride and honor to our school. She was a prolific writer too…She was also an officer of our CAT unit (Company Commander, Bravo Company). She was firm but very fair in dealing with us. She was very fun to be with…One always gets surprised to hear Leilani talk the talk and walk the walk with our street-smart batch mates. - Leilani Abejuela Sitoy-Nodado was a symbol of human courage – an outstanding person who passed away when only too young.. who had been a testimony of a life that was truly inspiring – with her painstaking efforts as a mother who was a good provider, while silently touching friends with her loyalty and varied potentials that always worked toward definite success, yet still maintaining a deep sense of humility.
Sidney Lee (Classmate), Nov. 21

(In conversation with Lani’s parents). Lani is the only lady in a wheelchair I know who comes into the hall smiling and waving to us, and shaming us for the self-pity which we sometimes feel for ourselves. - Bibeth Orteyza (ICanServe), Nov. 20

Lani was very articulate, efficient and thorough. Her analysis and reports at the HR made our legal work easy for us. –Legal Officer (PSBank), November 21

Leilani A. Sitoy Nodado, in memoriam

April 19, 1966 – November 18, 2007

Leilani, whose specially chosen name means ”heavenly garland” in Polynesian, was born in Dumaguete City on April 19, 1966. As a toddler, she was called Len-len, while the name she chose for herself was Lani. Later she was affectionately known to her friends by other names, but her father and mother have a special name only for her, which is “Langgà,” from “Palanggà” (or “dearly loved one”).

A child with a happy and sunny disposition, the house constantly rang with her pattering feet and laughter. Her first intelligible utterance, at eleven months, was not one word but a complete sentence: “Ants in the ‘mok’ (milk) bottle.” Curious by nature and constantly seeking to know, she marveled at the natural things around her and asked such intriguing questions as, “Why was I born? Where did I live before?” When her younger sister Bing came, three-year-old Lani’s spontaneous response was to be most protective, most caring, and most loving. The ideas and principles that shaped her life were those that she learned from her father and mother, from the family’s purposefully simple Christian lifestyle, and from family conversations especially during meal time, in reaction to affairs of daily life -- regarding what is loving and caring, what is right and what is wrong, what is duty and responsibility, what is freedom and tolerance, or what matters most in this world. Given freedom to grow, Lani early ventured into all sorts of activities to develop her talents – story-writing, singing, swimming, dancing, drawing, painting, piano- and organ- playing, dramatics and play production, creative handiwork, etc., which would serve her well in school and in her professional career. By the time she was in high school, Lani had become an accomplished pianist, her favorite pieces being Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Christian Sinding’s Rustles of Spring.

Lani, with younger sister Bing constantly tagging along, was a typical Silliman “campus kid”. She studied at the SU Church Nursery School, the SU Kindergarten, the SU Elementary School, the SU High School, the SU College of Arts and Sciences, and the SU Graduate School. In 1978-79 when her family was in the U.S.A. in connection with her father’s sabbatical leave, Lani studied at the Ventnor Middle School in Ventnor, New Jersey. In 1986-92, Lani studied for an M.A. in Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University, interspersing this with graduate studies in clinical psychology at the College of William and Mary, the “school of early U.S. Presidents,” in Williamsburg, Virginia, U.S.A. in 1987.

Lani was a consistent honor scholar from elementary school to college, receiving Class Honors in 1983, College Honors in 1984 and 1985, and finally University Honors (with scholarship key!) in 1986. A born leader and enabler, she happily entered into a myriad of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, receiving the Sophomore Student of the Year Award in 1984, the Talent Award in 1985, and finally the Most Outstand-ing Silliman Student of the Year Award in 1986. But the thing she loved to do most, whether in high school, college, or professional life, was being the brains, the planner, the organizer, and the director of events and activities, while quietly staying in the background and letting others take center stage.

Lani was also a happy, friendly, and gregarious coed who, as one friend aptly put it, could “also walk the walk and talk the talk.” During her junior and senior years in college, she was Governor of the College of Arts and Sciences and producer and director of the 1985 Miss Silliman Pageant. Along with her University Honors and Most Outstanding Student of the Year awards, she graduated in March 1986 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree, magna cum laude.

In November 1986 she left for Manila to study for an M.A. in Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University, and worked as a psychometrician at the Central Guidance Bureau at the same university. In 1993 she transferred to Solidbank Corporation, particularly at their Human Resources Development division at their head offices in Makati City. After Solidbank was bought by Metrobank, Inc., Lani was employed in the corresponding division in the Makati head office of Philippine Savings (PS) Bank, subsidiary of Metrobank, Inc. The last rank in PS Bank she held was Senior Assistant Manager, her position being Department Head, Career Management Department, Human Resources Group.