Coping with Grief
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My sister Alma Lou was born on February 13, 1949--the first fruit of the Big Love and marriage of our parents, Arsenio Pineda and Mariana Lorico. She was baptized as ALMA which means ‘Arsenio Loves MAriana’ better known among siblings and relatives as 'Ning-ning', the eldest of nine siblings, and we -the six boys and two girls who followed her-- have always regarded her as the quintessential Big Sister. I came next to her, so in our early years in Florida Logging Camp (Butuan City) we were close. She was always kind to me despite my tendency to rattle and annoy her. [Knowing how fanatically devoted she was to the actress Amalia Fuentes, I once filled her scrap book with all sorts of ugly, made-up stuff about the movie star, adding that Amalia's rival Susan Roces was far more beautiful and clearly superior -which didn't really make her angry, just sad.] She often complimented me on how nice my singing voice was. But in 1958, when I was eight years old and she was nine and we both joined the annual fiesta singing contest, she won first prize with her heartfelt rendition of 'Twilight Time' while I fared miserably with my jerky version of Elvis Presley's 'Teddy Bear'.
Two years later in 1960 our parents took the two of us to Baguio City, where my mother enrolled in summer courses at the Baguio Vocation Normal School. There we spontaneously formed a vocal duo with me on the ukulele, regaling the staff and residents of Teachers Camp with hits like 'Oh, Carol' and 'One-Way Ticket To The Blues'. Sharing a dormitory with so many teachers posed a serious problem for us: how to hold in our farts. One day she came up with a solution. She said that, although we can't always suppress a fart, we can at least make sure it doesn't make that squeaking sound. She then demonstrated to me her newly discovered technique involving deep bends, which had both of us in stitches for hours and days on end. [In her late forgetful years this was one of the few childhood memories that she retained and cherished.
Perhaps this willingness to explore possible solutions to a problem--no matter how unusual, unconventional or even absurd--was among the main reasons for her many career successes. She displayed this priceless quality in all the jobs she undertook throughout her professional life. Whether it was developing and implementing nutritional programs for the Department of Health in the Philippines. Providing emergency relief with CARE Philippines. Working as a nutritionist for the William F. Ryan Center. Serving as Board Member and one-time Chair of the New York State WIC Association. Or managing WIC's health and nutrition program as WIC Association President and Senior Associate Director at Bellevue Hospital. In this regard, another Bellevue Senior Associate Director--the most elegant black person I've ever met - told me about his enduring admiration for Alma, citing her remarkable problem-solving abilities. Proof that that this admiration was eminently warranted is the fact she was invited to participate in the NWA 2017 Washington Leadership Conference and also spoke at the U.S. Congress.
No account of Alma's life would be complete without noting her uncommon generosity. Her siblings, countless nephews and nieces, her many friends, relatives and even strangers in need of some financial assistance can attest to that. I was among the biggest beneficiaries of her generosity. In March 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. Doctors gave me at most six months to live unless I submitted to the standard cancer treatment. Knowing the extreme gravity of my condition, the prohibitive cost of treatment and the uncertainty of its outcome, I told my sister I'd just let it go. In short, just wait till I die. But she would have none of that. Without any hesitation she volunteered to pay (thousands of dollars) for multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation therapies. Today six years after, I'm alive and well and forever grateful for my sister's kindness. I know there are a lot of us who feel that way. If we add to these the number of disaster-stricken people, the mothers, children, infants and families in general who were kept alive and well thanks to my sister's efforts, we can say that hers was a life well spent...a life truly well lived.
Alma Lou Pineda-Brandiss is survived by her son Scottie and her stepdaughter Heidi.