Day 46. Watching my Father Die, Religion and Pop Culture

While watching an episode of NCIS last night featuring a woman who witnessed a murder happening next door, I suddenly started having flashbacks of watching my father die.

On a separate occasion months before he passed away, I also remember one particular episode of Criminal Minds where Penelope Garcia rushes to the aid of an assaulted man, and holds him in her arms as he dies. She says something, “One minute he was alive, the next he was just… not.

While watching dad die, that line did pop up in my head for a brief moment in time. I recall his nurse also telling me then “look, he’s taking his last breath.” I don’t know how she knew that, maybe it comes from years of experience.

I didn’t feel as morose about that thought back then. But the flashbacks I had last night were alarming.

Yes, Penelope said it right. One minute he was alive and breathing, the next he was just… not alive anymore.

Literally watching life leave a human body is profound.

In Harry Potter, JK Rowling creates a distinction between people who have seen death as it happens, and those who have not.

Harry Potter: What are they?
Luna Lovegood: They’re called Thestrals. They’re quite gentle, really… But people avoid them because they’re a bit…
Harry Potter: Different. But why can’t the others see them?
Luna Lovegood: They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.

Watching dad die raises a plethora of new questions about mortality and life after death.

With a Roman Catholic upbringing, surrounded by nuns and Jesuit priests in my most formative years, not believing in heaven and hell is unlikely to happen. I’ve always had faith that these “places” actually exist.

As an adult, I’ve created a slight redefinition of who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell.

While the stiff and unrelenting Catholic Church strictly espouse all their traditional, conventional and outdated rules and regulations supposedly set by a very harsh, judgmental God; I believe my God is a loving and merciful God.

Blame the Jesuits, if I believe that when you’ve already exhausted all you can to make an honest and clean living, that stealing from rich people to feed your starving family is forgivable and does not merit a soul going to hell.

On this premise, then I always knew in my heart my God will welcome my father into heaven.

I believed that… until he actually passed away. Seeing the frailty of mortal human life, watching life leave his body, watching him take his final breath, it made me ask questions.

Where is he going?

Is he going anywhere at all?

If there’s no heaven and hell, then did he just truly, unequivocally cease to exist?

And if heaven and hell do exist, did my father just go to heaven?

What if he was sent to hell?

And in heaven, does he remember his life? The ones he left behind?

Does he “watch over us” as everyone keeps saying?

If he is “just around me and in me”, how come I can’t feel his presence anywhere?

Why does it feel like he really is completely gone, and I can’t even feel his spirit anymore?

What really happens when a person dies?

I guess I’ll never know.

It’s been a month and a half since dad’s death. The intensity of the emotions has gone, and in its place is some kind of calm and resigned acceptance.

Yup, life has gone on.

My mom and younger brother (who lived with my dad) are rediscovering a new kind of “normal”. Especially for mom, the time that passes doesn’t come without pain and the feeling of loss, but thank God for this invention called “work”, time passes more quickly and the mind is not left idle.

In the midst of all unanswered questions about what happens when we all die, and where my dad now is, I suppose I’ll just take comfort in a song that’s brought me comfort for many years now since I heard it the first time.

Jars of Clay wrote this song for a good friend of theirs who had already passed away from HIV. Before his death, he confided his fears about dying and what happens to him after.

In death as in life, we always pray that we won’t go through the journey alone. And this is the balm my heart needs to reassure me that in his death, my father is not alone.

Be still let your hand melt into mine.
The part of me that breathes when you breathe is losing time.
I can’t find the word to say I’ll never say goodbye.

I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

I saw the host of silent angels waiting on their own.
Knowing that all the promises of faith
come alive when you see home.
Hold still and let your hand melt into mine.

And I’ll fly with you through the night
so you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

Shed your heart and your breath and your pain and fly.

Now you’re alive.
I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
Tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.
I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

Tears for Fears in Manila!

While my giddy female classmates would scream and swoon for Robi da Rosa or Ricky Martin at the height of the band Menudo‘s popularity some time ago in the 80s, I…. I rocked to the tunes of Ronald Orzabal and Curt Smith, singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” at the top of my lungs.

While schoolgirls got reeled in to the boy-ish good looks of the band who started all boy bands, I angsty-ly sniffled away a few tears to “Memories Fade”, “Start of the Breakdown” and “The Working Hour” (don’t ask me why I cried to this song, I don’t quite know myself).

And… while my female counterparts would memorize the dance steps of “Heavenly Angels”…. I bobbed my head to the unique percussions of “Mad World”; while pretending to understand the meaning of the song “Pale Shelter”.

You know what I’m talking about, dontcha?

I am a big fan. This duo took center stage in my life when I was still a confused, trying-hard-to-fit-in adolescent who already apparently already showed hints of senseless rebellion.

And as an adult, I still take the lyrics of “Advice for the Young at Heart” to heart. “Woman in Chains” is a regular in all my favorite playlists. I still feel a slight shiver when the opening bars of “Everybody Loves a Happy Ending” starts.

Tears for Fears. *shiver*

If you’re as big a fan as I am, then you’d have known long ago — they’re coming to Manila! May 2nd, Araneta Coliseum!

We’ve got our tickets ready and waiting. This is gonna so rule my world.

If you’re as big a fan as I am, see you there!


P.S. If you want to find out about where to get tickets, just click on the photo.