The Woman Who Taught Me to Pray
The plan was to leave for Tokyo on September 1st and return the 10th, giving me a couple of days to get over jet lag before AtypI, and a few days on both sides of the conference to explore the city. I received a message from my dad on Wednesday morning, letting me know that his mother, my Lola, was in bad condition. On Thursday morning, he called to let me know that Lola had passed and that he and my mother were already at the airport to fly back home. Several phone calls later, I rebooked my flight for August 31st and added a leg from Tokyo to Manila to attend the funeral service for my grandmother. After a few en route crises, I finally landed in Manila this morning, September 2nd at 5a, Manila time, on what would have been my Lola’s 83rd birthday. Below is the eulogy I delivered for the woman who taught me how to pray, set the example for my parents on welcoming my friends into the family with open arms, and was the matriarch of not only our family, but her entire village of Magallanes.
Good morning. My name is Kara Gordon. I am Marilu’s youngest granddaughter and the only child of Glenn. I am very grateful to be here.
The last time I saw my Lola was in January. It was probably the first time it was just the two of us in over a decade. We got breakfast at Pancake House, because where else were we supposed to go? We ran into a bunch of people she knew, because of course we did. And then we came here [to the church], to visit Grandpa [at the crypt], who all of my cousins called Daddy Gordon. She parked right in front of the church in what was not a parking spot, and I didn't say anything because, well it was Lola. An attendant came to the car, and he must have been new, because he told her to move. I didn’t quite catch all of the exchange because I don’t speak Tagalog, but I did hear her tell him something along the lines of: “I’m Marilu Gordon.” As in, do you know who I am? He immediately apologized profusely, allowed us to park, and inside we went, into this parish she was so proud of, to visit Grandpa. Such is the legacy of Marilu Gordon. She was and still is known, respected, and beloved.
It’s a very good memory. That brief time I spent with her in January is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. But I have to be honest in speaking here, my memories of missing Lola have already always outnumbered the legend herself.
Let me tell you what I remember first: my Lola, it will come as no surprise, taught me how to pray. As a seven-year-old, I remember climbing the 28 steps of the Scala Sancta in Rome during the Great Jubilee of 2000, holding her hand and praying the first three beads of the rosary on our knees for each step. I remember in my childhood bedroom, or maybe it was my father’s, learning to pray three Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be every night, and not forgetting to petition my guardian angels. In the basement of my parent’s home in Michigan, learning about every apparition of Mary, but especially of St. Bernadette, and then begging my father to take me to Lourdes in France, which he did when I was ten. Many, many rosaries, most especially in Lisbon during Tita Cynthia's birthday two years ago while we were waiting before the New Year's fireworks display started.
But back to missing my Lola: I have been practicing saying goodbye to her my whole life. Because that’s the thing when you live half the world away from your grandparents. You spend a lot of time saying goodbye. It’s a lesson we all have to learn, and one I am grateful to have learned within the Church. There are many ways to say goodbye, but it is always hard and harder still to do well.
Living in the Catholic faith I inherited, a campus minister took me on a walk as I was about to graduate college. Every goodbye, he said, was practice for the final goodbye here on earth. There were three things that needed to be said to my loved ones, things that are the most important essence of living together on this earth, but things that are often not said. I’m sorry, thank you, and I love you. So, to my dearest Lola: I am so very sorry that we did not have more time together. Thank you so much for teaching me how to pray, for making me go to confession, and most of all for raising my father and therefore me. I miss you everyday, I’m still praying for you, and I love you.
Rest in Peace, Maria Luisa Viaplana Gordon
September 2, 1936 – August 29, 2019