Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. 

How do you measure a year in a life?

My aunt’s passing opened a new set of floodgates that forced me to contemplate on the topic of life and death all over again.

These days, I’ve been having numerous conversations with my immediate family about how dad died. Contrasted against how my aunt passed away, dad actually died beautifully. If there ever was a perfect way to move on to the next life, I’d say dad’s manner of death was just perfect.

The months when he was sick, all the way until the precise second his heart stopped, he was always surrounded by those whom he loved best.

We all made our peace with him, and he with us.

We all had the chance to let him know and feel that whatever else had happened in his lifetime, he will always be husband and father to our family, and that he is loved.

Even while confined to his hospital room, we found a way to make sure we’d spent quality time with him — watching TV together; sharing magazines; talking and arguing about my younger brother’s love life (or the absence of one); contemplating the mystery of my work and persistent busy schedule; alternately teasing him and annoying him while his grumpy nature would cause send us into fits of uncontrollable laughter…

While transitioning from life to death, there we were again. All around him, holding his hand, whispering words of love and encouragement to let go and take God’s hand while soft music played by his bedside, guiding him toward the path of light and into God’s lovely dwelling place.

Whatever else happened in the course of our relationship with him during his lifetime, he knew at the end how well he was loved.

Somehow, these memories now help soften the agony of remembering those months. Close to a year later, we can finally look back and remember him fondly. While the images of his pain and struggle still remain in our heads and hearts, the passage of time has also cushioned the intense pain it used to bring about when remembered. Now, we can talk about him with less sadness. We can laugh in memory of our grumpy, ultra-sensitive and clueless dad and wonder if he’s already found a new cigarette buddy while his spirit has finally found a peaceful resting place.

My aunt’s passing is a different story. Separated (physically and almost legally) from my uncle, and physically apart from her daughters, my cousins.

At the time her illness was discovered up until her death, my cousins were in Canada. I hear that even during the difficult months of her chemotherapy sessions, they weren’t talking much then either.

When she died, my uncle and cousins were all in Canada. On her death, her sister was in the ICU waiting room along with my brother and sister-in-law.

My aunt is not even a blood relative. My/Our blood connection with her exists because of my cousins.

(Though this biological fact doesn’t lessen the gravity of her death to me — of all my aunts, she was one of the few I was close to while growing up. Apart from being the one to introduce me to reading romance novels, she was one of the few who took the time and had patience enough to spend time with me and play with me as a child.)  

On her death bed and in the last few hours of her life, she couldn’t see, feel, touch or hear those dearest to her because they were all too far away. They couldn’t even bring in a mobile phone for her kids to be able to say their goodbyes — her body was too vulnerable to germs that even mobile phones couldn’t be brought into her room.

After 2 years since they last spent time with her, my cousins came home to Manila to see their mom already embalmed in her coffin.

I cannot imagine the pain and grief they must be feeling now. And somewhere in there I know is a guilt that won’t easily go away.

I’ve always believed — and, since dad passed away, I’ve known — that death is hardest on the ones left behind.

While a loved one is going through the agony of an illness, you’ll never really know what to do and how to behave. While dad was sick, it hurt me that some members of my own family could not find it in themselves to be there for him. On his death bed, none of his own kin (siblings, aunts & uncles, etc.) were around, even if they knew it was just a matter of time. During his wake, his blood nephews and nieces weren’t even around — when his nephews and nieces from my mother’s side were around almost everyday.

What I realize now is that we all deal with these things in our own way. Not everyone is equipped with the strength to withstand the pain that comes with a loved one being terminally ill. Many just naively hope for the best that death is not yet around the corner and there will be days yet to spend together.

In the end, the best thing anyone could hope for is the reassurance, the knowledge and certainty that when their loved one was still around, that they did everything they could not just to ease their time while they were still around, but also to do everything they possibly could to make them feel loved and cherished.

It’s the gift of bestowing the knowledge on one you love — that they lived a life worth living; that he/she can move on to the next life at peace and in harmony with the world, knowing that he/she had truly loved and was truly loved in return.

How do you measure a year in the life? Measure in love. Seasons of Love. 

Written in memory of Josefina Martinez Qua-Hiansen. Ever-loving wife, dedicated mother, loving aunt and friend. June 1957 – June 2011. 

Another (Lost) Battle with Cancer (and more thoughts about Chemotherapy)

My aunt passed away late last night. Once more, cancer had taken another member of our family.

My aunt’s cancer this time around began in her uterus. How sad though that she thought of seeing a doctor only after 2 years of excessive bleeding. We’ve been through enough cases of cancer of the uterus in our family to immediately recognize the symptoms of its beginnings. Of all the cancers, cancer of the uterus is one of the easiest to treat. When all else fails, a hysterectomy would have been more than sufficient to prevent its spread to other organs.

Her surgery and chemotherapy were just sadly, too little too late. 

Her cancer though was not as advanced as dad’s was.

Which was why for all of us, her sudden death remains to be an alarming shocker.

She was rushed to the hospital late at night on Sunday since her blood pressure had plummeted. She had a case of UTI (urinary track infection) which on normal people would be nothing… but because her immune system had been compromised from her last chemotherapy session, her white blood cells and platelets were close to none.

Her condition stabilized a few hours later.

Tuesday morning, the doctors had already planned on sending her out of the Intensive Care Unit since she seemed to doing fine.

Until an hour or so later when her blood pressure plummeted again. By this time, the bacteria from her UTI had spread to infect her blood. Because of this, her kidney failed. Her lungs were struggling. It didn’t help that she was diabetic.

A few hours before midnight, her heart just stopped.

Complications from chemotherapy was the cause.

I wrote about chemotherapy sometime last year when we were contemplating treatment options for dad. I’m no doctor so don’t take my word for it. But if you’re reading this and are in a predicament where you have to deliberate on chemotherapy or no chemotherapy, this is my advice:

Research first. Study. Know what it is you or your loved one are getting into. Chemotherapy for most does more harm than good. While it is the “one in a hundred shot of a possible remission”, for most it just intensifies the pain they go through, and frequently hastens death. 

My aunt is the 3rd close family I’ve lost to cancer. My grandfather spent a year having chemotherapy. He died after one year. Before his death, he told my mother that he regrets having gone through it.

Chemotherapy is not for the weak, nor for the faint-hearted. The few I’ve known who survive chemotherapy whose lives are either saved or prolonged are those who have the spirit and will to keep fighting even it means bearing with all the agony treatment will put them through.