We laid Daddy to rest on Sunday, July 20, among verdant greens and marble tombs, beside his mother’s grave.
We had prepared for rain, but the forecast was wrong. The sun shone on us and gave us our first glimpse of natural light in what seemed like ages. For weeks, we were holed up in windowless rooms, shielded from the outside world and rooted to the same spot Daddy left us in when he had his stroke on the first of July. On that Sunday morning, as we breathed in the scent of freshly mowed grass and wet, fertile soil, we raised our faces to the sky and imagined Daddy looking down on us.
Daddy passed away alone, in his own room at the nursing home where we had brought him Sunday the 13th. In the weeks we had been in the hospital, we kept a steady vigil around him, round the clock. We never left him alone. When one child would leave, another would come to take his/her place. My youngest sister Jasmine and I were his constant companions. We stayed whole days and alternating nights until Alphonse made it known he needed me home, too.
We had decided among ourselves that Mommy should go home each night to sleep on their bed. The hard leatherette couch in Daddy’s room was too uncomfortable for her old bones, we thought. But, unused to being separated from Daddy, she stayed wide awake most nights and puttered around needlessly, looking so often at the now-empty spot where Daddy used to sleep. So Mommy kept night vigil with Jasmine in the second week and she had her first real taste of restful sleep with Daddy in the same room with her.
My siblings and I had prayed for complete healing, but by the end of the first week, after Daddy suffered new bleeding in the brain, we knew that a functional recovery was no longer possible. Even as we mentally prepared ourselves for goodbyes, we kept hoping that he would still wake up. The man who defied the odds by living through seven strokes, the one who survived a thoracic aortic aneurysm that had ruptured days before surgery, was surely made of sterner stuff than most mortals. He would outlive us all, we said. We were desperate for hope.
All we wanted was for him to wake up. He didn’t even have to say a single word or move his limbs. We knew we were always prepared to take care of him.
I was the pragmatist. As painful as it was to crush hopes and drag everyone back to reality, I was the one who reminded my siblings that we were fighting a losing battle. Still. buoyed by Jeff’s indefatigable hope, Joee’s incessant prayer, Jasmine’s uncharacteristic optimism , and Kuya John’s comic encouragement, I started to hang on to that sliver of hope, too.
With Daddy stable and no longer hooked to a ventilator, we started to plan around a life with a sleeping Daddy. We made arrangements for family visits, divided tasks, and wrote down lists of things to bring him. A Sacred Heart picture to hang in the wall of his temporary room. His favorite blanket. His music. A large refrigerator to hold all sorts of treats for his visitors. More sundries and medical supplies.
And then, all our hopes died late in the evening of July 15. Daddy’s nurses stepped out of the room to get his midnight meal ready, and when they returned just minutes later, he was gone. Just like that.
That he died alone, without anyone of us around him, when he had clung to life so steadfastly in the weeks we were at the hospital, makes me feel like we have somehow failed him. And yet, a part of me would like to think that he chose to face death bravely on his own. That Daddy did us another kindness by sparing us of this moment rather than let us be witnesses to it. Daddy always knew we could not let go.
In the early hours of Tuesday, July 16, amid heavy rain, we followed the ambulance that brought Daddy’s body to the funeral parlor. Daddy never knew that typhoon Rammasun heralded the first day of his new life in heaven, but it was so like him to do things like that. Daddy never did things in half measures. He always knew how to live with kindness and generosity. And he gave so much of himself to everyone he met that during his five-day wake, we were always surrounded by people who always had a kind word to say about him. He was everybody’s Daddy Pons.
I wish you could have seen that, Daddy. All those people there just for you. Then again, maybe you did, looking down on all of us from where you are now.
I love you, Daddy. I’ll see you again, I know, but I miss you still.