730 Days Gone

I wrote this on July 15, 2016, on the Second Death Aniversary of my father.

The Home Above

Two years ago, while my sister Jas and I were going through boxes of old papers, a single letter fell on the ground. It was a letter from the Carmelite missionaries, dated July 15, 1978, saying that July 16 was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I told Jas about it, wondering at the coincidence and pondering on the importance of this unexpected discovery. It turned out to be Daddy’s last day. A week later, I found a stash of old cards we gave Daddy, and this was in them. I think Daddy was sending us a message. I know for sure he is in heaven now.

It was late on a rainy night much like this two years ago when Daddy left us. Alphonse, normally in bed and asleep by ten, could not sleep that particular night. He paced around the room, restless and seemingly bothered. We tried to appease him by blowing bubbles with him, an activity that almost always soothes him, but he angrily shooed us away.

When the phone rang twice at 11:00 pm, Alphonse stopped walking around the room. He stood near the foot of our bed, transfixed and silent. When I put down the phone, he seemed relieved. Then, without fuss, he allowed himself to be led to his bed by his brother. I often wonder about this night, how Alphonse seemed to know of or sense Daddy’s passing even before the call came. Daddy passed away sometime after ten in the evening, alone in his room in a private care facility in Taguig.

I broke the news to our mom as soon as the call came. She started wailing loudly, her heartbroken sobs interrupted only by the anger and blame she directed at me. I stopped her from going to the facility that night. There was a storm coming, I told her repeatedly. I promised we would all go back when the storm had abated. How was I to know?

At one in the morning, amid strong rains that whipped and lashed at our convoy of vehicles, we made a slow, sad trek back to Quezon City with Daddy. We finished signing papers at two in the morning. The funeral staff had brought him to the preparation room but they allowed us access to him. Daddy was soft, but cold. He smelled faintly of baby powder and dried blood. The attendants had wiped Daddy’s face clean and we kissed him on the cheeks and forehead. We held his smooth, cold hands one last time. And then we left him lying in a metal slab, a white cotton sheet tucked around him as if he were sleeping.

The power was out when we returned home. It was going to be light soon but we needed to rest our weary bodies and troubled minds. My husband and I tumbled into bed and fell asleep, my fingers knotted in his. I closed my eyes and willed myself not to cry. There were still so many things to think of. I made a mental list of them, going through each item over and over again until sleep finally came.

Hours later, I woke up unexpectedly from my dreamless slumber as I felt a cold chill pass through me. Sometime during the early hours of morning, A♥ had let go of my hand and rolled over in a fetal position, his back to me. I turned over to reach out to him but in the darkness, I saw my dad lying between us. Daddy seemed to be just sleeping. I’m a self-confessed scaredy cat but somehow, I didn’t feel scared; I felt comforted. I stared at the figure before me and whispered “Let’s rest na, Dad.” I rubbed my eyes of their tears and closed them again.

Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun) made landfall in Metro Manila early that morning, leaving much of the city in shambles and without power. The rains fell without let-up but Mom, A♥, and I needed to brave the downpour for one more errand. Daddy needed new clothes. All his old ones were much too big for him. He had lost so much weight in the last six months that he needed to hold up his pants with a tight belt. And his shirts, even the new ones, they all hang off his scrawny frame loosely.

Mom went through all the racks of suits they had and chose a navy blue suit, a light blue shirt, and a striped tie. A♥ hurried to pay for our purchases while I oversaw the packing of the suit. The saleslady reminded Mom to hold on to the receipt so we could exchange the suit if it didn’t fit. Mom looked at her sadly, eyes brimming with tears, and said “We won’t be bringing it back.”

Daddy’s wake lasted all of five days. We did not expect so many people to come. From early morning to late at night, we sat with guests who wanted to pay their final respects to him. We told Daddy’s stories over and over again and in turn, we heard snippets of his life from those who knew him as their friend, as mentor, as business partner. Daddy felt most alive to me then.

The night before his funeral, I finally allowed myself to cry. I knew that the next morning would be the last time I would ever lay my eyes on his face. After that, I would only get to see him in my dreams, and only if I got lucky. I burrowed my head in A♥’s arms and wept till his arms were drenched in hot, salty tears.

At six in the morning of Daddy’s funeral, I woke up suddenly again, shivering. My teeth chattered from the cold that wrapped itself around my chest and back. I knew it was Daddy hugging me goodbye.

Over the next year, I would dream of him intermittently but often, and in each one, he grew more robust and less frail. I dreamt of him frequently as the father I had in childhood but of late, I see him looking more like he did in his early sixties. The last dream I had of him was a few months ago. In it, I saw him through my bedroom window looking up at me from the garage. He looked healthy, happy, and serene. I saw him mouth the words “I love you” over and over again. I woke up with cheeks wet from tears. I think he’s telling me- us– that he is alright where he is.

It has been two years since that rainy night in July. Seven hundred thirty days without Daddy. I don’t feel the pain and loneliness too much these days, but God, I really miss him still.


Of Tikoy and Memories

Today, on the second day of the Chinese New Year, I am missing my father more than ever. My father always loved this lunar holiday. Growing up in a Chinese-Filipino household, ours was always an extended season of merrymaking, Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year included in an already unusually long holiday season. And because Daddy was a tireless giver, he always found reasons to present us simple little gifts, even if we didn’t necessarily deserve them. Now that he is gone, nothing about today feels the same anymore.

I suppose I can always look back to the celebrations of the past for inspiration. My strongest memories of Chinese New Year were always associated with boxes and boxes of sweet, sticky rice cakes (tikoy), all meant for giving away to family and friends, and how my father always made sure that I had boxes of my own to give away to classmates and teachers. It was a tradition that he cherished and shared with us- me- most of all. The other night, as we ushered in another New Year, it felt strangely devoid of all significance, other than that he is gone.

Still, life goes on, right? And if this sudden apathy for this past holiday is a reminder of how unsettling and new and unexpected our lives have been since Daddy left us, I find strange comfort in how appropriate it is that the New Year’s Eve Celebrations this year fell on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. While Cardinal Tagle gave Chinese-Filipinos the dispensation to continue with their festive preparations, given the way I was feeling, I was more inclined to honor the fast. So that night, amid the sounds of firecrackers and revelry, we chose to do away with all that.

They say grief comes in waves, in large tsunami-like crests that overwhelm and inundate you one after another without let-up and without mercy. This is grief within memory’s reach, when the wounds are fresh and bleeding. In time, they also say, the waves come less often, spaced farther and farther apart. They lose the ferocity of their strength. They let you forget the depths of your anguish and ease you to healing and forgetting, But once in a long while, just when you thought that the worst of your pain has passed, a strong memory conjures a grief so strong that it knocks the breath out of you, rendering you raw, bruised, and hurting. Then you remember again how it was to feel vulnerable and afraid, to feel helpless and alone in the darkness of your sorrow.

Funny how a box of tikoy can undo all those months of “moving on.”

In these moments of weakness, I cling to the reassurance of my faith. This is what Lent is to me: a renewal of the promise of His love for us. And just as the New Year heralds another beginning, Lent signals our rebirth in the spirit. If only for this promise, I am once again strong enough to be washed in pain. I just wish I didn’t have to miss Daddy so much.

Stepping Into the Light

These days, when people ask me how I am doing, I can finally, honestly say that I am feeling better.

For a time after Daddy passed away, I was miserable and inconsolable. It’s easy to understand where the grief was coming from; Daddy’s passing caught all of us unprepared. I feel like we never really said our goodbyes. Losing him changed me and snuffed out the light and joy I used to have. Alongside these wretched feelings, I think what I found most perplexing was that I was also very angry. I never really undertood the source of that anger until recently.

Last year, a good friend lost someone dear to her. In our talks, she mentioned that she was “sad-angry” most of the time and was having difficulty processing those feelings. I could not, for the life of me, fathom what it meant until I lost my father.

On the surface, I think it seems as if I coped with the loss rather well. Putting on a happy face was, at times, easy because A♥ poured so much effort into making me feel normal and loved. Most of the time, however, I knew I was changed. I was forever blighted by sorrow and grief.

For a time, I preferred to be alone with my thoughts. I could not bear to talk to friends, or even see them. I was also prone to fits of hostile anger. I could feel it simmering inside me as I reined back my desire to curse, stomp, and rage at the world. I felt volatile, ready to explode.

Once, after a particularly weary day when I had been crying over something that reminded me of Daddy, I received a message of condolence and concern. Were I feeling more like myself today, I bet I would not have even reacted. But sent less than sixty days after Daddy passed away, the message ended with “I hope you are moving on.” It took all of my willpower not to reply with indignation and sarcasm. Locked in my bedroom where no one could see, I threw a tantrum.

Moving on? How does one move on when my heart still felt weighted down by overwhelming grief? How do I say goodbye so easily? I felt my heart pounding as I ranted and raved by myself. The callousness, the lack of tact, sensitivity, and genuine concern, the seemingly flippant way my loss was treated- these irked and vexed me no end.

Later that day, after I had exhausted my husband’s patient ear, I finally realized where this was rooted: the wellspring of my anger was fear.

I feared losing the acuteness of my loss. I feared time moving on, dulling pain of its sharpness. I did not want to wake up one day and not feel sad anymore. For months, we all breathed in the air of pain and suffering, and losing them both, our companions in this weary journey, meant losing the familiar and predictable.

I got angry at people who suggested that I “move on” because “moving on” felt much like forgetting. I could not let them forget that easily, that quickly. And I could not let go of my last tenuous ties to Daddy, however unhappy these were, as I feared forgetting him myself. It would almost be like I had willfully discarded him from my life.Stepping into the light

In those moments of my deepest fears, I prayed for strength and courage. I prayed for deliverance from this darkness that ate away at my joy and my life. And just like a thousand times before when I lost my way, He led me right back to His love. In my silent devotion, my heart found calm and peace.

I am grateful that the people who love me- A♥ most of all- never gave up and patiently waited for me to feel better again. Knowing that their love comes without judgment, I opened my heart to welcome them back in, allowing them unfettered access to my frailties and shame. Many kept writing to me with brief messages of hope and encouragement. And some went even further, sending me unexpected tokens of their love and friendship. I am blessed with beautiful friends, I am proud to say.

My heart still feels heavy at times. My smiles are still sometimes forced. But for the first time since July, I can stand in the sunlight without burning. I can open my eyes to the light.

I think Daddy would be proud.


Daddy 02

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.the long ride

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.