February 18, 1952 – October 1, 2017
“ELDERS are the jewels of humanity that have been mined from the Earth, cut in the rough, then buffed and polished by the stonecutter’s art into precious gems that we recognize from their enduring value and beauty. Shaped with patience and love over decades of refinement, each facet of the jewel reflects light that awakens our soul to intimations of its own splendor. We sense that radiance in our youth but we cannot contain it. It requires a lifetime’s effort to carve out the multifaceted structure that can display our hidden splendor in all its glory.” - Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald Miller, “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” 1995.
HAVE you loved so much that folks would want to do what you did for them? Are you patient and hopeful for God’s providence, while with your own hard work and diligence? Will your smiles radiate so much love that folks can’t help but integrate you in their lives in the Philippines, USA, and Canada?
That was Bernandita — or Erna. Her life overflowed with love for family and her community, as a tricoastal resident of Navotas, Los Angeles and Canada.
“Umaapaw ang pagmamahal niya sa amin,” (Her love for us was overflowing), “Mom lived a simple life. She does not intervene. She also does not ask. She was selfless, generous and giving. She inculcated in us to think of others, before ourselves,” Criserna aka Reah, Erna’s eldest daughter shared.
Reah was joined by Cris, her father, Christopher “Pete,” her brother, and his wife, Venice, who all sat down over pizza with this writer to talk about Erna.
Bernandita (Erna) Panganiban Avendaño was born on Feb. 18, 1952 in Navotas, Rizal to Tomas Panganiban and Barbara Paz Panganiban.
Navotas is the fishing capital of the Philippines with the largest fish port in Asia. It is situated at sea level and during rains, the streets get flooded where residents are forced to wade in chest-high flood waters. Legend goes that this place was once an unbroken strip of land, but with the constant pounding of the waters, it was broken up by the sea, earning its name, ‘nabutas’ from being breached by the waters, forming the Navotas River.
Erna went to Daang Hari (King’s Road Elem. School) and finished sixth grade. She left school to work and to help her father earn a living. By dropping out, she was able to help send her sisters to school. She worked as a seamstress at Artex.
At 17 years old, she met Cris who worked at a textile factory as an eskirol, a person who works during a strike. Cris would spin the textiles, while Erna would weave. Cris supplied Erna with the bobina, the bobbins which temporarily held the yarn. He selected the best bobina for her so she could continuously weave without stopping or adjusting the yarn.
After working, the workers were housed all in one room, and while in this limited space, they slept with their heads stacked against each other.
Cris smiled and described how his head touched Erna’s head and at times, he stretched out his hands to touch her forehead.
He sobbed, “now, I would not have her head to touch.” (We all cried with him.)
Cris courted her and accompanied her to work and home, managing their schedules, even if he worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Erna worked 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
After four years, they got married and were just a few months short of celebrating their 45 years of marriage, this Dec. 2, 2017.
Cris had a dream for his family, “Tayo pareho tayong kulang [sa pag-aaral], nagsumpaan kami na paaralin namin sila, kahit igapang namin.” (We both lack the education. But we vowed that our children will not be lacking in education even if we had to crawl to earn it).
Cris ttended the SVD seminary for five years nd chose to drop out to earn a living. He took his first insurance job as a debit agent, and slowly moved up the ranks from supervisor, manager, regional production manager, marketing operations manager to a highly regarded problem-solver to assistant vice president, at the time of his retirement at Great Pacific Life Insurance.
Erna took on sewing jobs of dresses, curtains, bags, uniforms, including crochets and kept at her craft, saving every peso, to provide for tuition for her children’s school. She also has a Barbie doll collection with custom-made dresses sewn for each doll.
True to the couple’s pact, their children completed high school at Immaculate Conception Academy of Manila.
Erna would take her children to school, with her packed lunch, wait for them until dismissal, and they all took the jeepney home.“
“Maasikaso, hindi pinababayaan ang mga anak, lulusong sa baha, buhat buhat ni nanay ako, 4th grade at si Pete, 2nd grade,” (Doting care, she attends to her children’s needs, wading through the floods, while carrying two young children in her arms), Cris, Pete and Reah continued.
Reah, their eldest daughter, finished college at St. Scholastica’s and graduated with a master’s degree in media and communications at the University of Oslo in Norway and works as Area Manager at a bank in Canada. Christopher “Pete” finished his college at UST, toured the world with the UST Singers, and works as a music director in Los Angeles, while Christine Bernadette, the youngest, is a medical technologist in Canada, also a UST graduate and a member UST Singers.
Erna regularly took on street children, whose weathered complexion resembled grease, earning them a name of “batang grasa” and she gave them showers and fed them.
She adopted several children in need, including a pregnant woman whose boyfriend left, and she helped care for both the infant and the mother. She even took on a child with a cleft palate and sewed uniforms for children she cared for, so they can go to school.
For 18 months, she offered to take care of her two young grandsons — who were 6 months and a year and six months — with Pete.
She has sent many students to college on scholarship to UST, including her own children.
Cris retired as Assistant Vice President for Great Pacific Life Insurance, and together, he and Erna spent 17 years traveling to be with their daughters in Canada and heir son in Los Angeles. Cris became a doting husband to Erna, including secretarial jobs for his wife and even dyed her hair.
Every December, Erna and Cris would join Immaculate Heart of Mary Church for 5 a.m. Simbang Gabi masses. Last December 25, 2016 to January 1, 2017, the family was reunited, after the siblings were separated for a decade, and all had a White Christmas, frolicking and playing in the snow, at 9 to 50-degree temperatures.
Erna stayed for eight more months to care for Roland Cian, her grandson born to her youngest daughter; and after, Erna traveled back to Los Angeles to visit her son, “Pete” and his family, before flying back to the Philippines.
She met an untimely death at UCLA-Harbor Hospital.
She died, surrounded by Cris, her husband; Reah, her eldest and her two children Maxiel Kane and Roman Christopher; and Cristopher “Pete” with his wife, Venice and their three children Christian Xavier, Christof Yzekiel and Christer Zachary.
The Immaculate Heart of Mary’s Choir Members kept vigil with the family, as did friends from the Los Angeles’ community of musicians.
The community prayed the rosary with the family, and the Divine Mercy, while four priests gave the extreme unction (Fr. Rodel, Fr. Obet, Fr. Miloy and Fr. Paolo) and a scapular installation.
Fr. Paolo whispered to Erna’s ears that she is loved by her husband, her children, and her grandchildren but that God loves her more. Her face lit up and then, the grandchildren kissed her to say goodbye, while the children told her of their love and said ‘thank’ you to their Lola.
She listened to Pete’s lullaby and shed a tear, while all the family members whispered their love to her. She then passed away peacefully at 3:35 p.m. on Sunday, October 1, 2017.
Fr. Rodel Balagtas, a former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and a friend of the family, had this to say about Erna: “She raised virtuous, good-hearted, and respectful children. She’s a humble and quiet person. She loves God and the Church.”
When the news of her death was texted to the community members, two masses were offered for her intentions that same Sunday — one was celebrated by Fr. Albert Avenido in St. Philomena in Carson, and in Navotas, Philippines, and Los Angeles, prayer novenas took place.
She had but one life on earth and used it well to love and give service to family, neighbors and community. She was indeed a jewel of humanity, mining the good in all whom she encountered, including this writer, whom she warmly greeted with hugs and smiles during Simbang Gabi.
Come December 2017, there will be an empty seat where Erna used to sit at Immaculate Heart of Mary, and now the family would seek consolation as they look up to the heavens, hoping to see Angel Erna or dream of her.
Much like St. Therese, the Little Flower of Lisieux, whose life was marked by Love of God, Love for Others, Prayer, Faith and Hope for God’s Providence, Erna’s life was defined by overflowing love, faith, prayers and hope for God’s providence.