Mother Tributes: Thanks for the Memories, Mom!

Paz Sycip Yuchengco  (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

Paz Sycip Yuchengco (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

Ever since my mother died in November of 2004, I have been wracked with guilt. I remember the times she asked me, actually pleaded, to visit her in Manila or take a trip with her, and I turned her down. I gave reasons, excuses actually, why I couldn’t do it—work, family, etc., so she came to San Francisco instead to visit me. And yet, even when she was here, I got distracted with other things, instead of enjoying her stay with me. I thought that there would always be time later on to make it up to her. I was wrong.

A year after she died, I sold Filipinas Magazine and now had more time to travel to Manila, but she was no longer there. I remember one trip I made right after she died; I slept at her condo, in her bed, hoping that she would show herself to me so I could tell her how sorry I was and feel her hugs once more. No, she did not appear.

When I returned to San Francisco and I was cleaning my drawers, I found a wooden Hallmark plaque she gave me many years ago that read: A DAUGHTER is a gift of joy, a maker of favorite memories, a source of much happiness and pride…A DAUGHTER IS LOVE. She signed it with, “My dearest Lisa, thank you for all your love. Mommy. 11/11/88.” I sobbed uncontrollably. She had sent me a sign that all was forgiven. How unconditional a mother’s love is!

I thought about paying tribute to Mom through her songs.

Fast forward to 2012, eight years after Mom died. I am still intent on making amends to her. Very few people knew she was a composer. Even among us children, it was only I who was musically inclined. I sat in on some of her piano sessions and danced in her concert. So I thought about paying tribute to Mom through her songs. I contacted Ryan Cayabyab, the renowned composer, arranger and singer, and asked him if he could help me stage a mini-concert of my mom’s music. We faced many hurdles; recordings were too old, notes and lyrics were hard to make out, music sheets were missing, and the musicians who helped my mother had already passed on too. Ryan and I chose six songs she composed and he re-arranged these to give them a more contemporary sound.

In the meantime, I was trying to write the script for the program, and unbeknownst to me, my sister, Yvonne, had kept two of my mother’s diaries. One diary contained notes on the time, date and circumstances each song was written and the people who helped Mom. Another diary held her musings and reflections. Both diaries were certainly not complete but gave me material to start on. Yvonne had also kept the folders with the newspaper clippings that gave me an insight on how Mom dodged tradition and society at the time to become her own woman.

Manila Chronicle's Virginia Benitez Licuanan called Paz  Sycip Yuchengco "the talent discovery of the year" in 1963.  (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

Manila Chronicle's Virginia Benitez Licuanan called Paz  Sycip Yuchengco "the talent discovery of the year" in 1963. (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

Singer Pilita Corrales (left) and composer Mike Velarde (pianist) rehearse at Paz Sycip Yuchengco's music room.  (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

Singer Pilita Corrales (left) and composer Mike Velarde (pianist) rehearse at Paz Sycip Yuchengco's music room. (Photo courtesy of the Yuchengco family)

To help in financing the concert I approached my siblings, and they all chipped in. We invited our family members, Mom’s close friends and some of our own friends who knew her.

It took Ryan and me ten months to prepare this mini-concert, with him in Manila and me in San Francisco. We had decided that The Ryan Cayabyab Singers would perform the songs and be accompanied by Ryan on the piano. The day before the actual show, I passed by the studio to hear for the first time the group’s rendition of Mom’s songs. As they sang the first bars in harmony, tears streamed down my cheeks, and I felt Mom beside me. I couldn’t stop crying because I wished she were around to take the big bow and applause she deserves. I am so proud of her.

We had about 100 people show up for the concert and most of them, including some of my siblings, nieces and nephews, were hearing Mom’s songs for the first time. In between the songs, I narrated Mom’s story. Everyone loved the idea and asked when the next concert was going to be. You see, according to Mom’s diary, she composed 67 songs and we only performed six of them!

I finally feel I have made it up to her.

Video: Ryan Cayabyab's rendition of Paz Sycip Yuchengco's composition "I Dare Not Look Into Your Eyes"

How to memorialize loved ones

  • Collect photos, videos, CDs, letters, diaries, etc. and convert these into more modern formats, e.g., beta to DVD, CDs, etc.

  • Create an outline of what you want to do - theme, script and materials you will need.

  • Get other family members involved so they can bring their share of the memories to the table and help in creating the remembrance.

  • Depending on your budget, ask professionals to help you if you’re aiming for top quality (cameramen, writers, etc.).

  • Choose the right format, keeping in mind the person you are memorializing (profession, personality, particular hobbies, etc.). In Mom’s case, it was a concert because she composed music. One memorial service I attended, of an architect, exhibited photos and cardboard replicas of the buildings he made all over the world. The family had turned the service into an exhibition gallery.

  • You don’t have to wait for your loved one to die either. My sister, Bella, gifted me with a scrapbook for my 60th birthday, containing greetings, photos, cards and stickers of so many of my friends in Manila and San Francisco. It was a tremendous task that she kept secret from me, but I loved it so much I commissioned her to do another scrapbook to include other friends in San Francisco that she missed. I instructed her to bury these scrapbooks with me when I die. Remember, Tuesdays with Morrie? Yes, you can even be present to hear what others intend to say at your funeral!

  • It is always good to start early (even before your loved ones die). It is now common to show videos at the wake or funerals, and you will want to present the best of your dearly departed.

  • It is also good to plan ahead. My friend’s husband who died from cancer in his early forties, pre-recorded messages to his son who was only ten years old when he died, so that the son would be able to watch his video greetings every birthday and Christmas until he turned 18.

  • Setting up a charitable fund in their names is also a good idea so their legacies live on. Make sure you do research on the organization, on the most pressing needs (in line with the person’s interests), and try to take an active role to ensure the proper allocation of funds.