I did not read the text from my sister Rosemarie Millush until later that Saturday morning. It was on Feb. 20 at 5:58 AM that my world stopped. Sadness came like a thud in the gut. I realized that I would never be able to speak or see my mother ever again.
Three words describe my mom — caring, determined, and independent.
She was one of the most caring individuals I’ve known. She showed her care by giving constant advice to her loved ones. With all of Mom’s earnest, loving intentions, her advice and ways were often entertaining and practical.
“When you go to the bathroom and a stranger grabs you, scream!”
She never fails to say this every time her grandchildren are out in public.
“Do not trust tall, dark, handsome guys. Actually, just don’t trust any boy.”
Thanks to Grandma, my two teenage girls still don’t have boyfriends.
“Whenever you make a decision, think twice, three, four or five times!”
That’s why on my recent performance appraisal at work; I was told that I was too slow to decide.
“Eat a lot, so that you’d grow tall, Jimmy.”
For the record, I am the tallest in our family at close to 6 ft.
“Always treat people the way you want to be treated.”
The Golden Rule became one of my personal core values in life.
When I was in 2nd grade, I would get so excited when my mom bought me numerous sets of uniform. But I noticed that they were two to three sizes larger. So in 2nd grade, I looked like I was wearing a skirt. As a 5th grader, I had the tightest shorts on campus.
Despite being abandoned by her father and growing up alone with her mother, my mom, Lourdes Tecson, was determined to achieve her dreams. Tenacity and determination flowed in her blood. Her grandfather, Pablo Ocampo Tecson, was a Magdalo officer in the Revolutionary Army under Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. Their Katipunan unit was responsible for the eventual surrender of the Spanish forces. Pablo Tecson also served as the Governor-General of Bulacan and a representative to the Malolos Congress where he cast the deciding vote which established the provision of the separation of church and state.
My parents were able to buy a nice house in Pasig all because of my mom’s persistence. My dad, Jesse Canizares Lim, did not quite agree to own a house. He was content with how things were. Eventually, with hard work and determination, Mom had her way. Ten years later, she decided to follow my older brother, Robert, and my older sister who migrated to the States with her husband, George Millush. Mom knew that life would be better for me in the States. My dad didn’t agree, and decided to stay in Pasig, thinking that we will be back after a few months.
In 1984, when Mom and I moved to San Francisco, the money we had was barely enough for us to survive for a year. During that first year, we lived with relatives here and there as we waited for my sister’s petition for Mom’s permanent residency. It wasn’t easy. Then one day, we heard my aunt’s husband say out loud, “Guests in our home are like fish. They start smelling bad after three days.”
That pushed Mom to move out and find a job. Again, it wasn’t easy. Without papers, Mom worked as a live-in nanny, with me in tow. It was the worst time for me. As an 18-year old, I wanted to go back to the Philippines, be in the comfort of my own home with my dad, where I can continue my studies at the University of Santo Tomas. But Mom was unperturbed. She convinced me to stay and apply for an international student visa. A few months later, she found a good job with the City of San Francisco, a career that she kept until she retired. And, luckily for me, my student visa was approved. I went to college. Five years later, I graduated with a Magna Cum Laude degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Throughout her life, Mom was caring and practical, purposely determined, and fiercely independent. She traveled around the world, established a career, bought her own home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and saved and invested up to proportions that even astounded me. Even in her retirement years, she never had to depend on anyone else financially. I know that this was another way that she showed how she cared in a pragmatic way, by not being a burden to anyone. She made courageous decisions that led to a fulfilled and productive life. She chased the American Dream, grabbed it, and made it her own. In many ways, she is my role model.
As I write this on my flight to Michigan to see Mom for the last time, the realization that she had led a full life doused my sadness with peace. Together with her three children, in-laws, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, we celebrate her life. We thank the Lord for giving her the gift of 83 wonderful years.
Goodbye, Mom. You will always be in our hearts.
James Tecson Lim is the General Manager of the Omni San Francisco. James is also an adjunct professor at Cal State East Bay, Executive Director of Philippine International Aid, and Board Member of the San Francisco Travel and the San Francisco Hotel Council.