Not even 24 hours after Philomena took her final breath, I search through our family photos on the cloud and download one photo after the next, realizing it’s nearly impossible to properly label these photos because nearly every one is, “Philomena Smiling.” That’s what comes to mind when her five siblings think of Philomena. She was always smiling and could infect any person with pure joy who was lucky enough to see her open a Christmas present, blow out birthday candles, hold a niece or nephew in her arms, or listen to Roberto Leal. It didn’t matter that she was physically disabled and had the mentality of a toddler. She had the most perfect language that we understood completely. When she saw our mother, who passed away in 1997, and later our stepmother, Helena Silva, Philomena knew how to say, “Mommy.” Both our father and Philomena resided at the same nursing home for a short period before he died this year, she knew “Daddy” was just next door. When our sister-n-law Eloisa would paint her nails, she knew that they were “Pretty.” With the birth of every niece and nephew, she knew that they were the most precious “Baby.” And when she took the Eucharist at church, she knew that she took the body of “Jesus.” This was the vocabulary of a child with severe cerebral palsy: Mommy, Daddy, Pretty, Baby, and Jesus. Most people who don’t know our precious Philomena want to feel sorry for her. But there is no reason to pity Philomena. She was the wisest of us all, knowing her entire life what was most important to a happy and fulfilling life: Mommy, Daddy, Pretty, Baby, and Jesus. We should not pity Philomena. In fact, we should strive to be more like her.
Philomena Carmen Silva was born on July 28th, 1967, the oldest of six siblings. On September 13, 2020 at Adventist Health Hanford, California, our precious Philomena took her final breaths. Due to COVID restrictions, only three family members could be in the room next to her. I held her hand, combing her hair back while she listened to her favorite Portuguese singer, Roberto Leal. Our brother Anthony, a hospitalist, reassured us that hearing is the last thing to go. My sister Anna held her other hand, whispering over and over that we loved her, and our sister-n-law Eloisa prayed the rosary for a painless and swift reunion with our mother and father, waiting for her at the gates of heaven. I want to reassure everyone that our precious Philomena did not suffer. In her final minute, I placed my hand on her warm chest and felt her heart beat. It was this moment when I realized that this was the very first time I felt the beat of my sister’s heart, and as my hand grew more and more silent, my own heart filled with pure love.
What was not to love about our precious Philomena?
- Her favorite meal was McDonald’s chicken nuggets and fries.
- She loved using her finger to clean up the cake batter off the sides of the mixing bowl.
- If it was your birthday, the compassionate thing to do was let Philomena help you blow out the candles because she was 100 times more excited about your birthday than you were.
- Her favorite gift items were stuffed animals and baby dolls.
- The one time our mother took us all shopping was when Philomena inadvertently shoplift several items, something we didn’t discover until we got home and found a few small toys in her wheelchair, something she was so proud to show off. Of course, she had no idea that one couldn’t just take the toys at the cash register while Mommy paid.
- She adored the weekly visits at the nursing home from our nephews and nieces, Juliana, Cristiana, JonMichael, MarcAnthony, and Giana, as well as her brother Jesse Jr. and his wife Eloisa.
- When our nieces Sophia and Jessica brought their mini horse to the nursing home one year, it’s an understatement to say she was a little startled to witness such a large animal standing at eye-level next to her wheelchair, but she also loved to see her little cowgirls take such good care of her.
- She loved music and dance. When Hee Haw or Lawrence Welk would come on television, you would have thought Elvis or The Beatles had walked into the room.
- She was quite the photographer too, always making sure her thumb appeared in every photo she shot. When the world went digital, she loved to look through Tia Helena’s camera roll and accidentally butt-dial the last person Tia Helena called.
Philomena Carmen Silva is survived by her siblings Jesse Jr., Joseph, Mary Lourdes, Anna, Anthony, and her stepbrother and sister, Jesse and Theresa, and her stepmom Helena Silva. Services will be private.