We borrow our title from an article in The Manila Bulletin written by Amyline Ching in September 2003 about a married couple. To serve as as an overview of their very inspiring love story, below is a quote from the said piece:
“Theirs is a love story the stuff of legends. There are no glass slippers, no ball gowns, and no wicked stepsisters. There wasn’t even anything remotely fairytale-like with the way they met. It could have been one of those happily-ever-after types and for a while, they thought it would be….”
It’s a fitting segue to our main story about the same couple which we are reposting here today. Below was a personal account by Wawel Mercado, the husband himself, about his wife Mila. He wrote this on their 14th wedding anniversary back in January 2010. He passed away in July 11, 2012. Mila, the wife he cared for through the years, passed on a few days ago (August 31, 2013).
Cheers to Wawel + Mila for being an inspiration to many others. They left this earth leaving a legacy of unconditional love.
My wife Mila and I celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary today. We were married in 1996. Mila got pregnant after our honeymoon, and gave birth to our first child on October 20 of the same year, ten months after our wedding. A few minutes after giving birth to our daughter Therese, Mila had an Amniotic Fluid Embolism. She lost all her vital signs and the delivery room went into code blue. This means that she was clinically dead. Her doctors and the nursing staff put her on life support and were able to revive her, but the hypoxia that resulted caused severe brain damage. She fell into a deep coma. Initially, her prognosis was quite grim, and her doctors thought she would never wake up from her coma, consequently spending the rest of her life in a persistent vegetative state. But defying medical statistics, she woke up after three weeks. The extensive damage to her brain left her paralyzed, unable to use her arms and legs, and no longer able to speak.
Mila’s love for me
Mila was a very demonstrative person. She would embrace me, kiss me on my cheek for no reason, and insist on holding my hand when we were out in public. I was not used to this. Growing up as a child, we were not very demonstrative in our family. So often, I would withdraw my hand from Mila when we were out together, afraid to be called a mushy hopeless romantic. When Mila fell into a coma, I quickly but painfully learned how to be demonstrative myself. Caressing her, embracing her, and kissing her were, beyond words, the only ways left for me to tell her how much I loved her.
Mila thought I was good looking. When we were newly dating, she introduced me to her cousin, and asked her if I did not look like Ariel Rivera, who was a heartthrob balladeer at that time. She, of course, never gave her cousin the chance to disagree. Mila is probably the only person I have ever met who cared at all about how I looked. My first girlfriend in college was honest enough to tell me that she did not fall in love with me because of my good looks. But Mila was convinced otherwise, and she made sure to tell me often. And when a young woman as beautiful as Mila is convinced that you are good looking, you tend to believe it!
A few months before we got married, Mila and I attended Discovery Weekend, a preparatory workshop for couples engaged to get marriage. We were part of a large class of almost forty couples. Our first activity was to introduce our respective partners to one another, by describing his or her most endearing qualities. When our turn came, Mila said: “Wawel’s most endearing quality is that he is Christ-like”. I was shocked, and quite embarrassed. It was the first time for me to hear Mila describe me that way, and I could not identify with her description. Especially because on our way to Discovery Weekend, I had lost my way, took several wrong turns, lost my temper and vented my anger on Mila. Hmmm… was she referring to the angry-Christ outside the temple in Jerusalem?
Mila loved me in spite of the negative images I had of myself. Mila loved me beyond any way I had learned how to love myself. Mila loved me unconditionally. And because of that, she saw the Christ in me, she thought I was beautiful inside and out, and she showered me with hugs and kisses to convince me of it.
Mila’s most endearing qualities
Mila was an accomplished ballet dancer in her youth, performing at the CCP Main Theatre under the auspices of the legendary ballet teacher, Vela Damian. She was lean and flexible, and had a good arch. She had a classic ballerina body. When she was older, she continued her involvement in ballet by teaching young children in a dance studio in Makati. When we got married, Mila was a successful advertising executive, and led a healthy, active lifestyle. She went to the gym regularly for aerobics and weight training. She loved to travel, and wanted to learn how to scuba dive. She was devoted to her parents, visited them regularly, and looked after her orphaned nephews and nieces. She was also deeply prayerful, and had a devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She attended retreats and recollections with the Cenacle Sisters, and read a lot of spiritual books.
But all that came to a sudden end after her embolism in 1996. Now, she has been living completely paralyzed for more than 13 years.
Yet there is no bitterness in Mila. No anger. No resentments.
Just peace, calm, and acceptance.
She smiles often, for the smallest of reasons. A kiss on her cheek, a cheerful greeting, a funny joke, a cool breeze, a good meal are enough to make her break into a broad, infectious smile.
Yet we know she suffers much. Because her brain no longer controls her body, her muscles often go into uncontrollable spasms, which are painful like cramps. These take place several times a day. The spasms are so violent that they have deformed her body. Her neck is now tilted to one side, her spine is curved, her arms and legs are bent, her hands are closed into fists, fingers deformed.
Yet she bears her sufferings in silence, without a whimper of complaint.
The advent season retells the stories of Mary, of Joseph, of Jesus who are all examples of acceptance. Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was to bear a Son, the promised Savior, and though she did not understand, and already had plans to marry Joseph, she accepted. Joseph too, after learning that Mary was with child, initially decided not to push through with their marriage, but after being told in a dream to proceed as planned and that the child was from God, Joseph also accepted. And Jesus, who is God, accepted the will of the Father, to become man and be born as a child in a manger, to save us.
In her ready acceptance, Mila has taught me to accept our situation as well. I am married to Mila. Mila is brain injured and paralyzed. And I lovingly accept this situation as mine, as ours, as Mila has lovingly accepted hers.
Mila has taught me to readily accept the challenges that come my way in my various responsibilities as an entrepreneur and small business owner, as parent to our daughter Therese, as husband and provider, as son and sibling to my extended family and as friend and responsible citizen to my community. Seeing Mila accept her situation inspires me to accept whatever I face in life with as much cheerfulness, hope and trust.
Our daughter Therese has learned to accept our situation too, developing compassion for her mother, and a sense of acceptance that leaves no room for self-pity, envy or resentment. When asked how she feels about her mother, her response is a simple: “Normal!” She is grateful that her parents are together, fully aware of the pain that some of her classmates endure because their parents are apart. When friends had asked me if I ever considered leaving Mila to re-marry and give Therese a normal Mom, her response was: “Tell them you are already both to me.”
Most of all, Mila accepts love.
Being paralyzed, and having no control at all of her environment and the people around her, Mila can only wait and accept the love that we give her, in our terms, and not in hers.
She is unable to put conditions to my love for her. She is unable to demand me for jewelry, or a trip to Paris. She can only accept what I am willing and able to give at each moment of our lives together.
When I am busy at work, have to stay up late, or fly out of town, she is unable to demand me to stay home and be with her.
When I come home tired from a long day at the office, in need of rest and sleep, she is unable to ask me to read her a book, or tell her a story.
When I am ill tempered or angry, sad or melancholy, she is unable to cheer me up, and tell me that things will only get better.
She can only quietly accept the love that I am willing and able to give her. If this means carrying her from her wheelchair into the car, she accepts. If this means pushing her wheelchair into the church when we go to Mass, she accepts. If this means accompanying her and watching over her in bed at night when she sleeps, she accepts. If this means stroking her hair, caressing her face, putting my arms around her from behind, she accepts.
No demands. No conditions. Just acceptance. Loving, patient, acceptance.
It is the closest quality to godliness that I can think of. For God, in his infinite love for us, sets no demands or conditions for us to love Him. He only waits patiently, silently, for us all to love Him. And accepts our love when we do.
And so, after fourteen years of marriage with Mila, thirteen years of which have been spent living with her in her paralyzed state, the natural question that may spring to mind is, “How much longer can we endure this?” But looking back after all these years, I can honestly say that we have “endured” nothing. I see no suffering. I see no pain. All I can see is love: The love that Mila has for me, the love I have for her, the love we have for our daughter, the love that our family and friends have for us, the love that God has for all of us.
I pray in thanksgiving that in spite of Mila’s fragile condition, God has given her the grace to live this long, and continue to share her love with us. And I pray in humble supplication for Mila to stay with us longer, to continue to be a source of inspiration and love for all those around her.