Midlife did not start on a good note for me. For our birthdays (my 40th and my husband’s 50th), we had planned a big trip to Europe, spending time in Barcelona and Istanbul. A few days before we were due to leave, I got the call that I’d been dreading for years. My mother had refused to seek treatment for a lump in her breast for some time, and now her health had suddenly deteriorated. Finally agreeing to see a doctor, the diagnosis was late stage breast cancer, and they’d started an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. Upon hearing the news, we cancelled our travel plans and within hours I was on a flight to Manila.

I spent my birthday at my mother’s bedside. She was asleep most of the time, because of the powerful medication. The silence was profound, and as the day slowly turned to night, I found myself reliving a lot of memories that had long been forgotten.  During my childhood and adolescence, our relationship was often challenging. My mother could be stubborn and headstrong, and those were characteristics that she’d passed on to me. She’d have her tantrums, and I’d have mine. Eventually, and only after I’d left the Philippines, we both calmed down and grew to respect and love each other, but it was a long time in coming.

My mother was not a warm and fuzzy person. She wasn’t one for public displays of affection (or private ones for that matter). I remember being so jealous of my friends, for  their mothers that showered them with love and affection. In her youth, my mother’s fierceness had frightened people, and looking back from an adult’s perspective, I can see that throughout her life, she’d always been the lioness, protecting her cubs from any danger. Now, as her life lay in the balance, I saw her frail and helpless, and that was something I’d never seen before.

All day long, I waited for her to wake up. When she did, it was getting dark and she had forgotten what day it was. I didn’t really mind, as it was far from being a happy birthday for me.