Day 15

Exactly one month ago was the day dad took a drastic turn for the worse.

This was the day we had to rush him to the hospital because he had started losing overall muscular control.

We all thought he would just stay in the hospital for a few days to regain his strength.

Little did we know then that it would be his last car ride ever. And that he would never again leave the hospital alive.

I recall during the seemingly endless and painful ride going to the hospital while dad was gasping for breath, moaning with pain and trying to hold back his bladder — I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think. All that existed at that point in time was how unbearably painful it was seeing and hearing him that way.

15 days after dad’s passing, little bits and pieces of images continue to flash in my head every now and then. Images come unbidden of those moments where my once strong and happy father was feeling his worst inside out. The moments when his desire to live had deserted him, and all that was left was despair and hopelessness.These were the moments when he would cry, weep or shed a tear wordlessly. The moments when he would ask permission to just pass away and leave us behind.

I wish I could just erase these memory flashes, take away all the horror and despair that surrounded our family during these times. And I wish to God that my memories of my father would be nothing but the good memories.

It’s not to be so.

Those who’ve grieved all tell me it will take some time for the painful memories to become a little less harsh. It will take an even longer time to start resurrecting happy memories that don’t leave an empty gaping hole in your heart.

Over the weekend, I told mom that one of the most difficult things I have to live with now is the fact that in his last few years, most of my interaction with dad was very unpleasant. The last few years of his life characterized the worst part of our relationship. At some point, we had not spoken to each other for several months because I was angry. Mom acknowledged this, saying that the sad part about our relationship is that the last few years, our relationship was all about money.

My birthday was a perfect example. On that day, (my birthday was the day before we rushed him to hospital), dad never even texted me or called me to greet me a happy birthday. True that maybe he was feeling extremely ill already. But my mom reminded me… he was strong enough to text to ask for money.

Dredging up good memories is harder for me than it is for the rest of my family.

The hard part about all this is realizing that while I couldn’t change the nature of our relationship, I could’ve spent more time with him so that we could create better and happier memories to offset the memories we don’t quite want to remember.

In the hopes that this blog, and this entry would resonate with one or some of my readers, here’s something I want you to remember.

All human relationships have imperfections. We can’t all always get along. The closer we are to someone, the bigger the chances of encountering conflicts, problems, and the better chances of getting hurt or angry along the way.

But really, if we take time to nourish those relationships that matter, investing more time and more in the relationship is bound to give both of you more memories to cherish. So much so that all the things you wish had never happened; all the negatives that surround your relationship — would pale in comparison to all the happier times.

Photo from http://www.snapsandflipflops.blogspot.com

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Day 10

I finally went back to work today in spite of a progressing cold and a slight fever. I think I couldn’t bear to spend one more day cooped up in the house trying to keep my mind occupied to avoid having flashbacks of the last 3 months.

It gets easier as the days go by.

And it certainly helps to start bombarding your head with other simple problems or obstacles to get through. It helps to put a temporary halt on reliving in your head the most painful moments of the last 3 months.

Since dad passed away 10 days ago, I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things that struck me the most throughout this ordeal.

First, an alternative career as a funeral planner is not such a bad idea. I heard a couple of friends talking about it a couple of weeks ago. I found it funny then. But now I kinda get it. Minutes after my dad passed away, we already had hospital staff bombarding us with questions we couldn’t quite answer properly. Where are they bringing my dad’s body? What is he wearing? Are we cremating or burying? Where will the wake be? Are we cremating now or later? Will the funeral parlor pick up his body, or should we put him in the morgue overnight? Who will settle the hospital bill?

In the middle of all of this, there were family and friends to call. Calls to answer. Text messages to send and reply to.

Now I understand why one of my best friends immediately offered that she and her husband could act as our errand guys just minutes after I told her about the news.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world making decisions such as that when you’re still in the process of recovering from shock and grief.

Second, “last days” are the worst. I thought nothing could compare to the pain immediately after a loved one’s passing. I thought seeing his body being put inside the crematorium was already the worst. Nothing prepared me for the pain that comes with the last day of the wake, and the day of the inurnment. The days of the wake keep you busy and numb you to anything you might feel. So you go on thinking that it’s all okay already, and you’ve already gone through the worst.

Apparently, the “last days” are unbelievably difficult. It’s not the eulogies.

It’s the horror of finality. It’s the fear of knowing the “what happens next” is just around the corner, and sooner or later it’s time to deal with reality. It’s the emptiness of putting the urn inside the crypt and watching them seal it for good. It’s knowing that whatever physical form he had is now truly, utterly and completely gone.

Third, “condolence” truly is the emptiest word in the Dictionary. What does it really mean anyway?

It takes one who’s lost a parent, to know what to say to someone who’s just lost one too. The most comforting words I’ve heard are from those who just outrightly say that nothing they say can make me feel better. It’s the truth. And it’s comforting because I know they understand my pain, and they’ve been through it and have survived it. Which tells me that I’ll survive it too. That someday, it will be okay.

Because truly, when reality sinks in, the hardest part to deal with is fear that life as you’ve known it, will never be the same again. Life without your parent will never be the same again.

But when I see my friends who’ve been there, then I know that yes, it will never be the same again, but it will be okay.

Fourth, getting home after the final inurnment is perhaps also one of the most difficult hurdles to get through. Whether the death happened abruptly and quickly; or was a long drawn-out process — the sudden eerie silence can drive you insane. All of a sudden, there are no phone calls, no text messages to answer. No news to fear. No relatives to update. No errands that need to be done. No money to raise. No hospital shift to go to. No wake shift to go to.

Suddenly, there’s just nothing… just, silence.

Suddenly, you have all the time in the world to do the things you used to love to do, but don’t remember how to do anymore. And you can’t eat, can’t sleep — even if you’ve been running on empty for weeks already. You find yourself just sitting, staring off into nothingness as memories of what you’ve just been through suddenly come crashing down on you on that first silent moment.

It’s still difficult talking about these things with others.

I’ve found that the first few days after, I didn’t really feel like going out, not even to just take a stroll in the mall. It’s a bit painful seeing that for everyone else around you, it’s the same old thing and life goes on for them. It’s just another day, nothing new. And yet, in your heart, you feel so crushed and so empty that you just wish the world could stop for one minute and grieve with you too.

But that’s not the way the world works.

So often I’ve hungered to just be able to spill all the disturbing, dark and painful thoughts lingering in me, but hesitated. Maybe I just didn’t want to burden anyone. Or maybe, I’m not yet ready to talk without breaking down, yet again.

Grief

Written on September 4, 2010.

Grief was such a foreign emotion to me that when it hit me, suddenly, everything I just used to see, hear or read about just clicked into place. And suddenly, it was all clear.

It’s difficult to even articulate.

The feeling of emptiness, the longing just to get a glimpse of the man who’s been a part of me from the moment I was conceived. The urgent painful desire to just have one more hour with him, just to tell him how sorry I am for any pain I’ve caused him all the years of our lives together. The burning need just to tell him and assure him how much I love him, and how much I appreciate all that he was, imperfections and all.

I thought that “talk” we had was enough. But maybe nothing is ever enough.

So many words that should’ve been said before it was ever too late. So much time wasted on a battle of wills, fighting for what now seems so inconsequential. So much anger and bitterness getting in the way of something that could’ve been better.

Yes, I have regrets. I suppose that’s all normal and part of the grieving process.

I miss my dad with an intensity that’s making my chest ache.

This morning, we brought him to his final resting place. It is in a beautiful garden surrounded by flowing waters and angels keeping watch. I know in my heart that he’s finally found the eternal peace and rest that’s eluded him all his life.

But how I wish that when I close my eyes tonight and fall asleep, he will be in my dreams as I long to see him – happy, peaceful and bringing me comfort from that emptiness and pain that I don’t quite know how to dispel.

Life must go on, but it will be a life without him in it. It wrenches my heart just to write it.

Dad, wherever you are, I love you, I miss you and will always do.

Eulogy

Written and read on September 2, 2010.

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I think that for anyone, preparing a eulogy is not easy.

How exactly do you paint a picture of the life of a man you’ve known all your life in just a few pages? What adjectives do you use to describe someone who’s been a part of your life from the day you were born? Which among the thousands of stories and anecdotes do you choose to share with everyone else, to give them an idea of what kind of father dad was?

It would be much easier to say just the usual things you’d hear in a eulogy. About how dad was such a great, caring and loving father… about how he would always pick me up when I fall… about how he always seemed to know the right words to say to make everything better…. The stereotypical things one would normally expect to hear from a daughter delivering a eulogy for her father.

But the truth is, dad was a complicated man. And in some ways, an unconventional father.

While other fathers would be the one to offer advice and words of wisdom to his children, our dad would instead be the one to often ask for OUR advice on things that bothered him.

Mom was just sharing with me the numerous conversations he had with our youngest brother Jeff whenever they’d be alone together. Dad would share this latest predicament with Jeff, and a little later on, you can expect that Jeff would be the one to deliver a long sermon to dad.

I realized that in many ways, dad was the same with me. He would talk on and on about his woes, worries and frustrations while driving me to work on some days or while chatting on the phone… from the smallest things like why Daniel Craig is the new James Bond (he says Daniel Craig is his least favorite James Bond); or why the car in front of us is going so slow while furiously blowing the horn of his car… to the bigger, more pressing things like worrying about the future, money and during these past few months, about his health and sometimes, about death.

We didn’t always get along. We’ve both had our share of disappointments and frustrations with each other. Ours was also a very complicated relationship.

But then, that’s also what made our relationship special.

And ultimately, it is also the best and most lasting legacy he has left me with.

See, in spite of everything, my dad was always there. He was always just around, his door and his heart always open for me any time of the day. Even when I was a child, he never disappeared and never left us alone to fend for ourselves. Every single school day, he would wake up early in the morning to drive us to school, and fetch us at the end of the day. Every Sunday, he would take us out so we could spend some family time together. Never fail.

And when we all grew up, he would always make himself available for us whenever we could spend time with him. He never cancelled on any plans we made, and would always be there. When we’d visit him at home, he would always wait for us no matter how late it was or how long it took us to get there. Even when he was already in the hospital, he would wait for us to battle flooded Metro Manila rush hour traffic to get there, even if he already wanted to rest for the night.

No matter the time of day, no matter how we felt about each other at that point in time, dad was always there.

Dad was also always one of my biggest champions.

I remember a couple of years back, dad visited me at my office. While we were outside the office talking, my boss, who happened to be no less than the Managing Director of my office then, came outside and joined us for awhile. To my complete embarrassment, dad actually asked my boss how I was as an employee, and if I was any good at my job! Parang Parent-Teacher Conference. Thankfully my boss’ reply was very positive otherwise it would’ve been nothing short of complete humiliation. J

But it turns out, I found out that since then, dad proudly talks to anyone and everyone about my successes at work… maybe even to strangers sometimes. And he does the same about my brothers.

A few years ago too, I had gone through a very difficult time at work. Without even hearing the complete story yet, my dad was already extremely furious at the people who had caused me pain. If he could, I think he would’ve given those people a call to say “how dare you do that to my daughter!”

On the last few hours of his life, his doctor told us that while his lungs had already failed, what kept him alive then was his heart. His heart continued to beat, solid and constant.

That’s just like dad. Solid and constant. Because he was a man with a big heart, and a giant capacity to love. He loved deeply and completely. In our family, we’ve always said with great fondness that among all of us, he was always the one who was most sentimental.

His loving heart was what got us through many things and saw us through many difficult times. No matter the circumstance, no matter what crisis we had faced as a family, no matter the disappointments and frustrations… his love for us never failed. He never stopped being proud of his family and bragging about us to anyone who would listen. He never stopped holding all of us in the highest regard. He never stopped being there for us when we needed him. He never stopped asking for us, wanting to spend time with all of us whenever we could.

He may not have been the perfect father. No one is. But he left me and my family one of the best and most enduring legacies in life; and something even better than a grand inheritance, or any life lesson.

By his example, he’s taught us what it means to love unconditionally, steadfastly and completely.

We will miss you, dad. On one of our last serious conversations, you told me “Jing, sorry ha. Ang gulo ng daddy mo.” To which I said, “But you wouldn’t be my dad if you weren’t.” And then you said  laughingly, “Oo nga naman. That’s true.”

In a funny way, maybe our lives will be a little bit simpler without you around. But it would certainly be emptier. Less complete.

But we take comfort in knowing that where you are, you’ll just be there watching over us like you always have, and still continuing to teach us that at the end of it all, it doesn’t matter what we have, what we do, what we say or don’t say… what matters is how we all love each other, enough to overcome anything.

We’ll see you again someday, dad.  I hope that up there in heaven, you’ve found your eternal peace at last.