By Maria Olivia H. Tripon

“I want to touch it,” my then five-year-old grandson Hugo said, as he took my wrinkled arm. Then he looked at me with large, knowing eyes and declared, “Lola O, you’re old.” My reaction was acceptance and love for this honest little boy.

Yes, I am old. There is no doubt about it. I feel it in my creaky joints. I used to walk with a cane for my osteo-arthritis but that did not stop me from commuting and seeing friends for lunch or coffee.  That was before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.  In the early days of quarantine, I used to walk four blocks in the neighborhood without any mask until the “children” cautioned me to stop. Now the seniors are on “house arrest” and our children are very strict. My eldest son, who lives in a nearby village, takes care of my food supplies. Another son, who stays with me, goes out to buy my medicines and the essential cookies and chips we both crave.

Now I don’t use the cane at all at home. My knees are no longer painful. I make sure to do my physical therapy exercises in bed everyday as soon as I wake up.  After breakfast,  I do 15-minute exercises under the sun before showering. Nothing strenuous – just a combination of taichi, stretching, and the dance moves we used for our homecoming 60 years after high school graduation! (I can use an emoji of wonder and surprise here.) Hey, we graduated at 15! We’re in our 70s so our moves were like slow motion Zumba to the tune of “Girls just wanna have fun.” That’s my morning routine.

At night, after the local news and dinner, I surf the tv for interesting programs. Then before settling down to bed with a good book, I walk from end to end – lanai, sala, dining to kitchen until I finish my rosary. That is the only walking I do during this pandemic to clock at least 2,000 steps for the day.

With Henry in pre-COVID times with his only living grandparent

Now my day is not complete without online Holy Mass. I was a Sunday mass-goer before. Then I found that mass from Rome was available online with Pope Francis officiating at 2:00 p.m. Manila time. I actually spent the entire Lenten season online –  holding a branch from our welcome plant on Palm Sunday to be blessed by the priest on TV Maria, and later virtually sprinkled by holy water from Lourdes; Visita Iglesia with our choice of local churches or anywhere in the world,  virtual Stations of the Cross at the Vatican or Lourdes. The churches are empty but there is a growing online following right in our homes.

Since the lockdown, I’ve been praying more than ever before. The rising COVID-19 cases are really scary. We have two doctors in the family who are frontliners in the Philippines and a niece who is an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse in Texas. In March, my eldest brother succumbed to the virus.  He was 79. His family was able to greet him on his birthday, which was the day they prepared him for intubation.  He died three days later. Until now, the family cannot come together to condole and hug one another. We are waiting for the time when we can hold a funeral mass and put his ashes to rest.

Others went ahead and held a funeral mass and inurnment.  In April, there was another death in the family – my compadre Jun Factoran, my youngest daughter’s father-in-law succumbed not from the virus, but from the many illnesses he was suffering from. His funeral was on Facebook Live. That way, even those in other countries can participate.

The author with Leon and Hugo (in green)

I used to wonder why old women are always praying. Now I understand. I feel like a nun in a cloister praying incessantly. At my age, my prayer list has been growing tremendously. I find it sad cancelling a name from my prayer list of the sick. After fervently praying for healing for months, I switch to prayers for the dead. That’s another list. I actually listed 28 doctors and nurses who died as well as 17 Filipino frontliners who died abroad.

Speaking of lists, I spend a considerable amount of time looking for items we need that we can order online, not too pricey since we still have to consider the delivery cost. I am so thankful that in our village, there are many enterprising people selling all kinds of products from masks, alcohol to fruits, eggs, and homemade delicacies. We also have a village market every Saturday. However I still fret because I cannot go out and choose what I want. At least I have a suki for bread and coffee.

I bake my own oatmeal cookies and banana bread on days when we run out of sweets. Also made biko and cassava cake which were not bad at all.

Then there’s the list of payables. I don’t know what I’ll do without online banking!

 I try to follow Julia Cameron’s suggestion to write daily morning pages and evening notes. There are many nights when my head swims with words, depending on what I have seen in the news. Most of the time these are angry words.  As a veteran of “the parliament of the streets,” my frustration is my inability to go out and protest. There are days when I reflect on the homily I just heard and resort to prayer. Or I drift in another time and place, depending on the book I am reading.  Such are my days, especially when the newspaper stopped coming and I have to check the calendar to find out what day it is.

Video call capture screen with (clockwise) Henry, Leon, the author and Hugo

In the first two months of quarantine, I discovered a whole new world in the internet. One can google anything! You can watch concerts, movies, go to museums, travel the world!  I also discovered myriad things like recipes and free lessons on Udemy. I joined Oprah and Deepak Chopra on 21 days of meditation with the theme, “Hope in uncertain times,” which is so relevant today. This somehow made meditation a habit and I started a gratitude journal to lessen the negativity.  I also follow Humanity’s Team with Jean Houston, author of the book, “The Possible Human.”

One thing I am so thankful for is connecting with family online. I miss my children and grandchildren. Every other Sunday, all of them would visit and the house would come alive with laughter, and children running around.  So far, we tried video calls on Messenger, Zoom and Google Meet. Sometimes my youngest grandson Henry, 3, would ask his mom, my daughter Jo to “call Lola.” He misses us, too. On my birthday card he drew the two of us holding hands.

Leon’s birthday card for Lola “O” (they have another grandma who prefers to be called “nona”). Note the arrow “this is wher (sic) the y is.”

My birthday has come and gone but it was just like any other day. I usually go out for lunch with at least three friends. Or celebrate it with a group of seniors at the mall. Leon, 7, made a card for me and just showed it on the screen while Henry blew a kiss.

After more than a hundred days, my youngest son, Jim and his family came to visit. As doctors, he and his wife made sure that everyone was tested with the total antibody rapid test. Glad we were all negative although we still practiced physical distancing. Hugo tried to embrace me and I cheated a little by turning him around and sitting him on my lap. “You are like a pillow to me,” he said. It is so hard not to be able to hug your grandchild.

The following Sunday, my daughter, Jo and her family came, as well as my eldest daughter, Mariel and her husband.  They also tested negative. When it was time to go home, Henry was adamant. “But we can’t go home.  Lola said she missed us very much!” WWW


Olive Tripon is a freelance writer and editor, and a doting grandmother. She is on Twitter but not so active @OTripon and has a blog, “memOrandom” that she tries to update once in a while.