How Can I Say Thanks for the Things You Have Done For Me?

Things so undeserved
Yet you lived to prove your love for me
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude
All that I am, and ever hope to be
I owe it all to thee

Now Playing: “My Tribute by Andrae Crouch

MANIBAD SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH: Manibad, Mambusao, Capiz, Western Visayas, Philippines

My grandmother is responsible for the existence of at least six churches, and we visited one of them the day after we buried her. That morning, little children were passing out cupcakes to women in the church, greeting them for Mothers Day. Seeing us walk in, the girl leading the service grabbed the microphone and said, “We’d like to welcome the Fortin family and invite Miss Jillian (read: Jeel-yahn) to the pulpit to give a message to her mother. And also, will you sing” (both of which were statements, not questions, and also the first I had heard of it).

I had no idea what they wanted me to say, and based on the way the congregation was looking back at me, they didn’t either. But then my eyes fell on my mom, sitting in the back row, wearing the last two weeks on her face and shoulders (and also maybe a look of fear, equally unsure of what I was about to say) and the words started flowing on their own, beginning with gratitude to the members of the church who had attended my grandmother’s service the day prior as well as the ones who came every night since her passing to lead worship services for the tens and twenties who visited around the clock, each day.

I went on to continue that it was strangely appropriate, celebrating Mothers Day after two weeks of celebrating my Lola Nanay, and despite how bittersweet it was as well, my mother had proved time and time again through arguably one of the most difficult times of her life that she is Nanay’s daughter – strong, steadfast, forged by fire and led by God’s hand.

Mom, I said, you are the strongest, bravest, most courageous woman I have ever met. You have the biggest heart that no one knows about because you choose to show your affection through your actions rather than your words, just like Nanay did. You have devoted yourself to a life of service – to your family, to your friends, and to countless others whose hands I shook but names I do not know who were able to send their children to school, build their churches, and care for loved ones who fell ill. You are this amazing woman because of the amazing woman who raised you, and every day is an education in how my sister and I may one day live up to the examples set for us… that we may be worthy testaments of your life like you are for Nanay’s exemplary and fulfilling one.

My sister joined me on stage after handing the A/V guy her phone, the track queued up and ready to go. Joanna only had one song stored locally on her phone, and since there was no internet connection available, it would have to do. Like the occasion, the song title and its lyrics were also oddly appropriate, something I made sure to point out before the two of us began to sing “My Tribute.”

We sat down once we were done singing, only after telling our mom how much we loved her. She smiled. She also let us finish her cupcake.

Jillian's mother, pointing at a cupcake with a flag on top that says, "World's Best Mother"

Waiting for the Endoscopy (and My Boyfriend)

Inang: How long until we can go home?
Me: We’ll have to stay here tonight, Inang. Maybe a few days.
Inang: *dramatic pause* I’ll die now.
Me: Don’t say that. I haven’t found a boyfriend yet. And you have to stick around long enough to meet him, at least.

Blue Moon Moments

“Jill, where are you?”
“Still at work. Why?”
“Come to our house for dinner. Your aunties and uncles are coming to visit Inang.”
“Uh, okay. I’m still at the office. What time?”


Three generations of Fortins assembled in one house, tearing into some of our family’s favorite dishes (including mine – kilawin and fishballs, what what!). I had posted this picture on Facebook, but my parents called me and demanded (on speakerphone) that I edit the food pictures out, “because there’s only one fish! They will think we did not have enough food!”

It’s days like this- days when we are all together, days when we’re laughing, joking around, and (90% of the time) making fun of my love life- that I catch glimpses of Inang’s old, vibrant self. Her giggling eyes, her relaxed demeanor… they are things I rarely ever see anymore. I see her sit back in her chair a bit further, watching us and soaking it all in. I wonder if she ever thinks to herself, “By the grace of God, I did this… and what a job I did.” When I think about this, I feel the pride she must feel, the puff in her chest, the glowing warmth in her heart.

But then I think of what else she might be thinking, and it makes me sad.

“Why are these moments so few and far between? And where is everyone else?”

But First, Let’s Take a Selfie


We sure do love our selfies.

We take lots.

Of course, Inang has to approve of them – especially if she knows I’m going to be posting something “in Pacebook.” But she loves taking them – even the bad ones. I think it’s so she knows there are pictures out there to show her loved ones in other states and countries that she’s doing okay, that she’s laughing. Also, I suspect another reason is so she knows there will be lots of things out there reminding us of her.

As if we needed them. Silly Inang.

Most of our selfies are taken when she’s in bed, usually because by the time I get done with work/ quick exercise for the day, she’s already tucked herself in. I know I’m always welcome to crawl under the sheets with her; she always pulls the covers aside so I can get comfortable and tell her about my day.

When I ask her about hers, she mostly has her ailments to report. Her leg was hurting today. Her knees are sore. She didn’t make it downstairs until noon. 

That’s when we decide to whip out my phone or her tablet, to partake in things that actually make her happy, rather than remember the things that made her sad. 

That’s why we love our selfies.

And why we take lots.


Inang: (waking up) Oh, you are home now?
Me: Yes, Inang.
Inang: What time is it now?
Me: Around 9:00.
Inang: I thought you are not coming home anymore.
Me: Why would you think that?
Inang: Because it’s late already.
Me: No matter how late it is, I’ll always come and check on you.
Inang: That’s why you are good. You always come home.

She’s Either Been in Texas Too Long, or Really, Really Desperate

Inang: What are you going to ask your mom to bring back for you from the Philippines?
Me: Oh, I don’t know. Shoes, maybe. Things for the house.
Inang: You should ask her to bring you home a husband.
Me: What! No! I’m not attracted to Philippine-born Filipinos. Sorry.
Inang: (ignores comment)
Maybe she could find one of her relatives.
Me: What? One of her relatives.
Inang: Yes, one of her relatives to come home and be your husband.
Me: (flabbergasted)
But if they’re her relative, they’re also my relative! You can’t marry your relative. You shouldn’t suggest that.
Inang: Why not? I married my relative.

Car Chats: What Would REALLY Help Me Is…

Inang: Sometimes, I cannot bring the laundry basket up the stairs.
Me: I know. I’ve told you a million times to wait until I get home so I can bring it up for you.
Inang: Ayy, if I have to hem clothes before I sleep and you have to work late, what shall I do then?
Me: (sigh)
I’m going to get you one of those electric elevator chairs that you ride up the stairs. It’s not terribly expensive. You can ride it or send the laundry basket up in the seat.
Grandma: (as we pass Sugar Land Regional Airport)
What you SHOULD buy is an airplane.


Inang: I didn’t eat my snack last night.
Me: What?! Why not?!
Inang: I don’t know. I just woke up then went back to sleep.
Me: I bet your blood sugar is so low right now! Are you hungry? Why are you just now coming downstairs?
Inang: (slight pause)
(matter-of-frankly and slightly aghast) Because I had to color my hair. You didn’t notice?!

Pump Up The Volume

You may have to turn the volume all the way up for this. Justin Timberlake broke the microphone on my iPhone. Oh, life.

Tonight, I got home a bit earlier than usual. This gave me the opportunity to chat with Inang about her pressing concerns of the day: the wrinkles on her face and the patch of hair she missed will doing an at-home dye job this morning.

I think I convinced her that all she needed was a touch up and that she didn’t have any wrinkles. Truthfully, I love the lines on her face. They’re evidence of years and years of laughter.