If she were here right now, she would ask us to do 2 things. The first that we Rejoice, just like she rejoiced when our father, Ramon, left us in 2000. Those of you who were at our father’s funeral mass will never forget how joyous she was because the love of her life was now in the presence of Our Lord – the source of Peace, Love and Everlasting Happiness – and how she longed to be in Heaven with him one day. That day has come, so yes Mommy, we will rejoice with you as we too look forward to being with you, Pappy, our brothers Ramon and Louie in Heaven.
The second thing she will ask us is that we keep this Eulogy short – 7 minutes to be exact – she believed that after 7 minutes people start to lose interest. Only she could get away with asking priests she knew to keep their homilies to no more than 7 minutes…so, yes Mommy, we will try and keep this to about 7 minutes even if there is so much we would like to say about you. I could pass the mic around and I am sure you all have a special story to share.
There is no doubt in Mommy’s mind and heart what her vocation and purpose in life was: to be the best wife and mother she could possibly be for the glory of God. She did just that every day with Joy and Love, embracing life’s triumphs and tribulations as they came. She believed everything came to her life for a reason. She trusted in Our Lord and His Blessed Mother and leaned on them for everything. Her Faith was unshakable and her Hope was grounded in that strong Faith.
She credited her Faith to her grandmother, Abuelita Blanca Calero, who raised her and her 3 siblings: Tony, Josemari and Conchita. She was born on the 28th September 1929 to Federico “Pipo” Calero and Mercedes Zurrunero, who passed away when she was barely 1-year old. She talked about going to daily Mass with her Abuelita and having a deep devotion to Our Lady, especially in praying the Holy Rosary. She credited many answered prayers to Our Lady of the Rosary, including how during the Japanese occupation, her brothers were taken away on a truck with other young men. Their grandmother immediately called Mommy and her sister Conchita to kneel and pray the Rosary. A few hours later, as they were reciting the Rosary, they see my uncles walking back home. The truck they were in stalled because the bridge across was bombed, allowing them to jump off, hide in the bushes and run home. Mommy had many stories about how Our Lady protected them during the war. She was a thin and sickly child then and her father worried that she will not make it through the war. However, through the gratitude of a gardener in their employ before the war, who happened to be a Japanese General in disguise, they were able to get access to the food they needed. He was grateful for the kindness shown to him as he worked for them.
Mommy was educated at St Joseph’s College by Dutch nuns. She had many fond memories of school and enjoyed learning and being creative. She had a flair for the dramatic and was chosen to perform in plays and musicals. One time, she volunteered to do a Chinese dance number, memorizing the lines of the Chinese song every day for many weeks. Her Chinese classmate tirelessly worked with her to make it as authentic as possible. Well, on the day of the performance she blanked out on the words of the song. That did not stop her though and she went on with the show, making up the words to the song while she danced. She received a standing ovation since nobody in the audience knew what she was saying but the classmate was very angry and never spoke to her again.
Mommy met Pappy when she was “sweet 16” as she would like to say. They fell in love and married when she was 19 on the feast of St Joseph, the 19th March 1949. They were a beautiful couple, very much in love. At that time, Pappy thought of having about 2 children…ha! Little did he know that Mommy had made an “agreement” with Our Lady when she was 12-years old. She asked the Blessed Mother to grant her a good, loving and kind husband and in turn she will generously accept as many children as Our Lords sends her…well, 17 pregnancies – 4 miscarriages which mommy would call our little angels in heaven. She made good on her promise: 13 children - Chitina, Marite, Ramon, Federico, Fernando, Pachig, Mariita, Louie, Javier, Maricar, Maitoni, Montse, Josemari (singing). She liked to tell us that we were all made from Faith and Love. From Chitina, she has 11 great grandchildren and 2 on the way.
Fr Javier “ Fr Jay” de Pedro, who knew my parents since 1964, mentioned that in 1968, Marite called the Centre of Opus Dei asking for my dad to say that Mommy left in a taxi alone to deliver. She was gifted with having relatively “easy” pregnancies and she cried when the doctors removed her uterus after Josemari, her 13th, was born and even asked the doctor if she could have a womb transplant!
Our parents joined Opus Dei in the early sixties. In a trip to Rome to meet the founder, St. Josemaria Escriva, they were told not to mention the problems they were having in the development of the Makiling Conference Centre, which had no source of water. Upon seeing St. Josemaria, Mommy tells him “no tenemos agua en Makiling”. St Josemaria said I will pray for this and you will have water and so it came to be when Makiling was completed in Barrio TULO, Calamba.
Our parents complemented each other perfectly: Pappy was organized and intellectual who loved to travel, learn other cultures, listen to classical music and watch movies. Mommy was spontaneous, creative and street-smart, she loved to sing and dance and did not like to travel or go to movies and instead preferred to read the newspaper for her diverse clippings, her health and cook books and attend to her many “projects” at home. They made it clear to us that we were first in mind when making choices in life. We had the most wonderful meals at home, bonding on stories and experiences long after the meal was done. These were precious moment to us and we are so grateful to Pappy and Mommy for doing this for us when we were growing up.
Her projects! She always had some project going on, mostly around health and getting the best bang for your buck. She had to stretch her budget and she did so in the most entertaining and fun way. One of her first projects was vermiculture raised in trays of soil in the basement as it was a cheap source of protein that she would sell as we refused to eat it! Those earthworms multiplied quickly and there were more and more trays of soil. This went on for many months until our father had a nightmare that the worms overtook the whole house and asked our mother to either sell of get rid of the worms. There was also the time when she read that putting some sort of mineral powder on the navel of tomatoes will keep them fresh for weeks. However, instead of trying it out on a few tomatoes, we had every shelf in the kitchen lined up with tomatoes, which did rot in a few days. Or that time when she read that crushing garlic and fermenting it for 1 year will give you a natural antibiotic. She had all the helpers, her trusty side-kick, Mary “Tory” Pastori and friends, peeling and pounding garlic until their hands burned. They kept the crushed garlic in a large clay vat in the garage for 1 year and when it was opened, a certain species of worm that we have never seen before emerged.
Not all her “projects” flopped though. In fact, she was ahead of her time in alternative medicine and natural healing. She took a long-distance course in Reflexology in the late 70s teaching whoever she could, especially those that she knew could not afford medicine and provided them with a skill for livelihood. She showed them how they could cure their ailments by pressing pressure points or prevent sickness with good nutrition and supplements. It was sometimes embarrassing seeing her explain to the pregnant cashiers at Unimart how they should hold on to a comb while giving birth “but watch out, it might come out like a bullet so let go of the combs as soon as the baby is starting to come out”. They listened to her and were very grateful for her tips – she sounded very convincing! Her friends would call her and she would prescribe vitamins, minerals or some other alternative means to heal themselves and their families. She seemed to have success as they kept on calling her back, much to our father’s worry that she prescribe the wrong thing and do more harm than good.
Another discovery was the Kalan stove that she brought with us to a camping trip to 100 Islands. It saved the day as it used bunched up newspapers for fuel and cooked a feast for us every day. She hosted sewing circles, did Paper Mache, Macrame, pottery, beads, tie-dye – name the craft, she did it – and enjoyed it very much although she did not stay in it too long and always moved on to try something new.
Mommy loved to joke around and play silly pranks on us and her 28 grandchildren. Even in her last years and thru her illness her humour was never dampened. Her grandchildren would be sitting around with her and she would start to breathe deeply, when they asked her what was wrong she would mischievously say, “I am just practicing for when I become a multo”. At night, she would sneak up on the house staff as they were relaxing in the kitchen and make ghost sounds to scare them.
She loved to give us tips. One of her favourite tips was to rely on our Guardian Angels. She would call on her Guardian Angel to help her find her keys, eyeglasses or keep an eye on us as we went out at night. We now all call on our Guardian Angels just like Mommy taught us. Our eldest sister, Chitina, entrusted the kids during recess in the school she taught in Madrid to their Guardian Angels. It worked as she was the only teacher that did not have to run to the emergency room in all her years of teaching. She was also blessed with many guardian angels throughout her life and we are very grateful for them; Claring, Frankie, Sepa, Isabel, Estrella, Aling Maria, Manang Beth and our dear Rose.
She loved to have people come over and entertain at home. She charmed our father’s clients and business associates with her stories, light humour and good food. The house was always open and welcoming. She reached out and helped everybody and everyone, especially those that needed it the most. They truly had a special place in her heart. 249 Don Miguel was like Grand Central Station, people coming in and out at all times of the day. She became a “second mom” to many of our friends and a confidant to many of her friends.
How she loved to talk about Our Lord and the Blessed Mother, her relationship with them was very real. When we asked her what her intentions were when she prayed the Rosary, she said 3 things: “first, I pray for peace; second, that no one will be hungry and third, that no one will have serious illnesses. She planted that seed of love for Our Lord and Blessed Mother in all of us and prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide as along. She never pushed us but gently reminded us that we were made to be with God. “In God’s time” or “God knows” she would wisely remind us if we got impatient or anxious when prayers were not answered. She showed us that we are all Children of God and because of that, everyone we meet should be treated with the love and respect Our Lord would have shown them as they were all precious to Him. And all this always with much Joy and Generosity.
As Alzheimer’s gradually took over her mind and body, she never lost that Joy, Generosity and Love for God. She was an easy patient to have and endearing as she remembered once in a while certain things. Like the time our sister Montse, shocked her by reminding her she had 13 children – “que barbridad!” she exclaimed. Then she asked who she married and when Montse gave her a hint “RC”, she blushed like that sweet sixteen girl who fell in love and sweetly said his name “Ramon Cuervo” and smiled. Even to her last conscious moments, she was kind and loving. When the newly-ordained priest from the parish came to pray with her and bless her a few hours before passing away, she looked at him and said “Good afternoon Father, thank you!” Those were her last spoken words.
Ok, it is now more than 7 minutes…we would like to end this Eulogy with a video of Mommy a few months ago singing one of the many hymns she sang and which we sang to her in her last moments as she gently swayed to the tune.
On behalf of the family, her sister Tita Conchita, my brothers and sisters, we thank you for all being here and praying for Mommy. May we all be inspired by her life, her joy, generosity and love.
A eulogy for Montse Cuervo by Javier Cuervo delivered on April 7, 2018
The dictionary definition of the word grandmother is “the mother of your father or mother”. I disagree, a grandmother is so much more. She is your team mate when you argue with your parents. She is the person that gives you little treats like candy, or even better she would let you lick off the icing from the mixer and call it a lollipop. She is someone you share your Halloween candy with, but you especially separate all the marshmallows for her cause you know that it’s her favourite and you secretly don’t like marshmallows anyway. She is someone that lets you use her dining room table as a tent while her circle mates are eating merienda cause it’s air con and that was not the norm in the house.
I could go on and on on what the definition of a grandmother is, but I won’t cause we would be here all day. But one thing is for sure, abuelita Montse took the word grandmother and changed it to, and in all capitals, GRAND mother. She really took the role of grandmother to heart and she took that word grand and wrote it in all capitals by her acts like her corny and sometimes inappropriate jokes, her singing, and more and throughout her lifetime was our GRAND mother.
And I , just like the 27 other people that had the privilege to call themselves Montse Cuervo’s grandchildren, am eternally grateful to have spent so many years of my life with her, making and sharing memories with her and learning from her. She has truly set the bar for being possibly the best grandmother anyone can ever ask for.
Eulogy by granddaughter Marina for Montse Cuervo
Other eulogies on this blog:
From Bombi to Ambi for Ray Santiago by Dr. Paul Dumol
Obayism for Obay Rojales by Dr. Raul Nidoy.