Although the Christmas Days I have spent with my late mother were joyful family occasions, there was never a Christmas Day when she did not seek private time to shed tears of sadness.
At first she tried to hide this from us. After all, tears of sadness were not fit to be shed on such a joyful family occasion. Later on, she realized that we had gotten accustomed to it as part and parcel of Christmas Day and she no longer bothered to hide it from us.
When I asked Mommy why she cries on Christmas Day, she said that it was because of the memory of the passing of her first husband, the man we never knew but learned to call Tito Avelino. Mommy was Mrs. Praxedes Macgregor Osma before she became Mrs. Praxedes Macgregor Esposo.
Her first husband, Avelino Osma, was a sea captain who was occasionally hired to pilot foreign sea vessels through Philippine waters. From our old family album, we could see how Mom fell for the dashing figure of a gentleman who wore the formal white uniform of a sea captain on his wedding day.
Filipino but from Spanish descent, Captain Osma’s roots were in Logrono in Northern Spain, near Navarra. Mommy always described their life together as a blissful union — soul mates one might say.
I have come to admire my late father for many things and one of these qualities he had was his understanding and total lack of jealousy for the fond memories Mommy kept of her first husband. Not very many men could react similarly to that situation, although we could all see that Mommy loved Daddy very dearly, and she was never wanting as his wife and the mother to his children.
It was shortly before Christmas Day of 1946 when Captain Avelino Osma was hired by a European maritime company to pilot the SS Quina through Philippine waters. A typhoon was headed in the direction that the ship will pass and Avelino Osma dutifully warned the Dutch Captain of the SS Quina to seek shelter. The Dutch Captain did not heed Osma’s advice and bragged that he was a veteran of many storms and gales.
Against his better judgment, Avelino Osma obeyed the Dutch Captain and the SS Quina sailed and encountered the typhoon near Samar.
My Mom had this gift of intuition, perhaps a genetic thing with Macgregors who survived an attempt to exterminate them in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Macgregor Proscription from 1603 to 1774 was an attempt at genocide of the entire Clan Gregor. We survived that with flying colors and buried many of our enemies.
I remember that when Ferdinand Marcos was inaugurated president in 1965, Mommy intuited dark clouds and rain that fell in the afternoon as a bad omen for the country. She told me: “Pray for the country. This presidency is not going to be good for us.” Mommy was right.
As she slept on Christmas Eve, 1946, Mommy had a terrible dream. She dreamt that there was a loud banging of the door, as if someone wanted to enter the house in a hurry. When she opened the door, there was Avelino Osma, very wet and looking at her like what appeared to be the last time they would ever see each other.
Mom woke up from that dream and she cried like she never cried before. Her intuition told her that something dreadful had happened to the SS Quina and her beloved Avelino Osma. On December 26, 1946, Mom confirmed her worst fear.
When the SS Quina encountered the typhoon, the ship floundered and started to sink. “Abandon ship” was called.
Avelino Osma could not restrain himself, per crew members who survived. He cursed the pig-headed Dutch Captain and vowed to expose his folly to an investigation that will surely follow. Realizing his ruin and shame, the Dutch Captain suddenly pulled out a pistol and shot Avelino Osma. After killing Captain Osma, the Dutchman shot himself in the head.
I used to wonder why Mom never lost the emotional impact of that tragedy. It was later on when it dawned on me that perhaps it was because it happened on a Christmas Day.
In the late 1970s, shortly before Christmas, I was told that a respected family man jumped off the top of a four-star hotel. Among friends who also heard about that suicide, we wondered who would feel like committing suicide during the Christmas season.
It was then that I realized that the spirit of the Christmas season would have been the worst possible time for a man to face a desperate and seemingly hopeless point in his life.
Christmas is the season of love, hope and joy. It is a tradition that has been deeply etched into our consciousness. Christmas to most of us is the yearend reward for whatever pains and difficulties we underwent in the last 11 months.
However, for those with an unusually heavy burden to bear, Christmas deepens the enormity of their suffering because of the contrast that pervades in the Yuletide environment. In the midst of such hopefulness, joy and love, a heavy burden becomes unbearable.
This Christmas Day, let’s resolve to reach out to those with heavy burdens to bear, especially at this time when there is a heavy pall of hopelessness affecting many folks around us.