I forgot who I was or what I’ve seen of the world in the many wanderings I’ve done. I who have made tough choices, who have risked beyond reason who have dared to love and lost. It is I who allowed myself to cower in the shadows, always trying to hold back and mould myself into something I perceive to be acceptable.
I forgot. That was the essence of that deep sorrow I’ve been feeling. In the midst of the unfamiliar way of measuring a human being, I allowed myself to forget that I am unique, just like everyone else.
Hence I decided to call it a day at 6:00pm and left work filled with despair and with full intention of taking a day off the next day to rest and recover. I needed time away from the sorrow that was gripping me then.
Little did I know that a far more painful experience was lurking, waiting to show itself in my most vulnerable moment. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to begin a journey that was about to take me to places and experiences that would give me the time and the opportunity to learn about fear, loss, grief, acceptance, sacrifice, love, and death. I was at a point where my world will be shaken with only my faith and my heart to guide me again.
The world tilted…and everything wasn’t right for a while
My Tatay (lolo) was dying. That summed up all the text messages I received from my sister and aunt while I was on my way home. I called Tatay and mustered every last ounce of courage I have to stop myself from crying while I talked to him. I confirmed how grave his condition was when we talked on the phone. I couldn’t understand a word of what he said but I let him talk. All I could do was tell him how I feel and tried to put much hope in my voice even if my heart was breaking.
It was a long trip home filled with grief, regret, hope, and memories.
Decisiveness in a time of Doubt
That night was about helplessness. It was a moment of despair, of giving up, of waiting, of slow and steady descent to darkness. But if experiences taught me anything, such times never last. There will always come a time when a touch of courage and clarity will emerge. There will be that fleeting chance to escape the creeping darkness and rise above despair. There will always be that time, however briefly, that just sits waiting to be taken.
It was then that I made the decision to go to Cebu and see Tatay. That was the only clear thing I knew then. I wanted to do go and I found the strength to find the means to make it possible on such desperate times.
I didn’t know if I’d still see him alive. I lived through Friday not thinking I might not reach him on time. The Saturday flight was like decades away. I felt like I was on borrowed time.
Tita Nora, Kuya Boy (my uncle), and I were on the same flight. Their presence made me stronger. My hope flickered like a flame made stronger by a strong but gentle breeze. It made me think of how mundane my worries last Thursday. Those problems and disappointments prior to this much painful news seem very insignificant now.
I realized that love above all else make us feel life and death more concretely. And each family, regardless of its unique stories, of all its ups and downs, is created from love. A family exists because of love hence it never fails to transcend even the seemingly insurmountable challenges. It bonds together when it is tested. I thought then that anything that’s defined by love, no matter how vaguely is bound to hold up against the onslaught of even the strongest storms.
The will to live
Tatay was dying last January 22. All of us who talked to him that night on the phone knew that he may not have much time anymore. We tried to say our goodbyes while holding on to the flimsy hope that he would still recover, that he would live through this.
Ate Elma, my eldest tita, said the doctor gave Tatay four hours to live. But then, the doctor never knew Tatay, of how strong his mind was. So when ate said that we’ll be going to Cebu to visit him, he defied the odds and lived on for two more days. Two more days just so he can see his family.
At last we were in Cebu. We found Tatay miraculously better than what our conversations with him on the phone suggested. He spoke clearly, his mind was sharp, he talked to us just the way I remembered him do. And each time the other children and grandchildren talked to him on the phone, he’d tell them that we were there and to just pray for him.
That was an afternoon of rekindled joy and hope. We began to plan for more days with him. He was sick but he was okay. We began to believe in more time with him.
Tatay slept early that Saturday night. Then he left us. He was slipping away when we said our goodbyes. He looked so at peace when he finally left. He looked like he was only sleeping. He died just before 1:30am of Sunday.
It was a moment of grief. It was a time of pain. It was like flashes of memories bombarded my brain like a series of films of timeless memories.
Following your bliss
My Tatay's life made me think that perhaps the best legacy we can really leave behind is love or our unique ways of manifesting it. It is how we touch the lives of people and how we spent our time listening to our heart.
Tatay was not a perfect man. But he was a good man. More importantly, he was a man who followed his bliss. And in doing so, each of us whose lives he has touched remember him and try to honor him.
Acceptance and Sacrifice
We buried Tatay in Cebu despite our deepest wish to bring him home and bury him in Davao where most of his family lives. But the decisions of his wife of eight years prevailed over the family’s wishes.
I remembered that moment when the decision was made. I began thinking that a sacrifice is much easier to bear when it is made out of love. We wanted everything to be fine for Tatay hence the difficult decision to give way.
The family endured this test. My sisters, tita, and cousin from Davao arrived in Cebu last Monday to say their goodbyes and attend the burial. We were suddenly brought together from different places and found strength from each other. In grief we endured much than we could have possibly imagined. Yet we held on.
It has been a whirlwind of emotions. We were overwhelmed but we endured.
I came out of this with more conviction and faith that above all else, it is our humanity, our capacity to feel pain and love, our faith in people, our courage to follow our dreams no matter how stupid they appear to others - these define our lives.
Everything else is just trappings that may lend us temporary feelings of completeness. But a life devoid of love, a life of distrust in people who defy the labels we put on them, a life pushing people in the margins…is a life I don’t wish for myself.
Finding solace in this beautiful Japanese poem by Mitsuo Aida