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.


The Currency of Life

buddha kindnessIt was a few days before the deadline for graduation ball registration. I had been waiting for a particular person (not A♥, he is quick to remind me) to ask me to the final ball of our high school years. I was jittery and already a bit afraid that the call would never come but I had my heart set on that one boy. Just him. I crossed my fingers and waited.

Perhaps sensing the distress I was in, a friend came up to me and said “Hey, Pinks, I know how much going out with him means to you, but if he doesn’t ask you, I’m here. I’ll take you to the ball.” I hugged him awkwardly (back then, hugs were always awkward affairs) and thanked him profusely.

“No big deal,” he said. “That’s what friends do for friends.”

As it turns out, I finally got the call the night before the deadline and what I mistakenly thought as my dream-come-true did come to be. Still, in all these years, I have never forgotten the thoughtful words of that young man. Although he and I have gone on separate roads since then, his act of kindness remains undiminished in my memory.

The other night, A♥ and I went to say goodbye to him.

His was the third wake we have been to in as many weeks. The first was for my cousin, who passed away after a bout of illness. Then, early this week, we paid our respects to a friend’s beloved parent. On Wednesday night, we bade farewell to our Pisay batch mate and dear friend of our youth.

As we find ourselves going more to wakes and funerals of those we hold dear, we are changed by the knowledge that Time is no longer our friend. Life is short and each passing second draws us nearer our end. While we used to measure our lives by grades and achievements, by graduations and promotions, by the leaps and bounds of our youth, today we are suddenly more aware of the beats of our hearts and the breaths we take. For the first time in a really long while, we feel mortal.

But life, as they say, is a one-time offer. You can’t have it more than once. As such, we need to live and live well. To love and love fully. To make each second, each breath, each beat, count. And we need to live with kindness as the currency that drives our short lives. “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”* – it’s to live forever.

Judging from the testimonials on our friend’s Facebook wall, kindness was never in short supply in his life. He gave it away often and all too willingly.

Many years ago, I was one of the recipients of his gift. I only wish I got to say “Thank you” one last time.


*Hallowed Ground, Thomas Campbell

Dreaming of the Dead (Part II)

I was going to finish my blog about my weekend trip to Cebu today, I promised myself. Since I got home Monday morning, I had done nothing but sleep as the flu ravaged my body. I guess the long hours of nonstop chatting took a toll on my system as I lost my voice and developed a nasty cold.

And then, something happened to me this morning, something quite unusual in the ordinary scheme of my recent life. I had the strangest dream. Well, not just one, but two. Two strange dreams in less than 24 hours and I felt I had to write about it to try and make sense of it all.heaven

Yesterday, in the middle of a fever, I fell asleep in our darkened bedroom. I had taken an antipyretic/decongestant half an hour before and the med must have gotten me sleepy. And so I dreamt. Which is nothing unusual because I dream every time I sleep, as we all do. Unlike many of you, however, I remember every single thing that happened in my dreams when I wake up.

I should keep a dream diary; you’d be surprised at the things I have dreamt of. From my own death (executed as a hostage, weird) to being someone else in another place (weird again) to driving a half-car, well, my dreams can be outrageous but sometimes they can also be quite revealing. Whatever they are, most of them are as detailed and as lucid as this one.

I must have fallen asleep for two hours yesterday afternoon, enough time to go into one whole REM cycle. I woke up suddenly, I don’t remember why, but I felt unsettled the moment I did. The last thing I saw in my dream was the face of a young woman smiling at me. She seemed so peaceful and so happy.

It took me a few minutes to remember who she was. I closed my eyes to recall the last few snippets of that dream, now slowly fading away, and then I recognized the face and got goose pimples all over. The young woman I dreamt of was the daughter of my neighbor. She passed away four or five years ago from leukemia.

M, as we shall call her, was only 14 when she died. I had not thought of her for a long time. I knew the circumstances of her illness and diagnosis were brief. She had but a few weeks before she died, and knowing she would put her family in even more dire circumstances (her mom stayed at home, her dad did not have a stable job, and there were four kids, only two of whom were in school), she told her parents she would much rather keep her hair than lose it all through chemotherapy.

Just two short weeks after diagnosis, she passed away. Her wake was in their small, cramped home, a small hole in the wall in a confusing maze of narrow shacks piled one on top of another. There was hardly any room for visitors when her coffin was placed inside their home. There were a few forlorn homemade floral arrangements standing near her coffin. Her mom had brushed her jet-black hair till it shined and laid it across her shoulders. That day I paid my last respects, D, her mom, showed me an ID-sized photo covered in plastic, taken from that year’s enrollment records. This would be their only remaining picture of her.

I don’t know what prompted that dream but it was all I could think of last night. The way M looked at me, her dimples framed in a serene smile, her eyes bright and happy. Was there a message in that short dream? I scratched my head and wondered. Did I unconsciously summon a memory of her? I don’t know.

Now, if that first dream rattled me, this one shook me to the core. Just this morning, after A♥ had gone really early to a golf tournament and the boys moved from their beds to mine, I dreamt again. And in this dream, which was as vivid as real life, I saw A♥’s mom standing by the foot of our bed, where the boys and I were sleeping.

She had longer hair now, curly and styled in a bob. She looked young and happy. I noticed her cheeks were full and rosy. And smiling down at us three, as we laid there in bed, I saw her climb up the bed. She mouthed “I love you” and then kissed me on the lips.

I woke up with a start at 6:45 this morning with that dream still clearly etched in my mind, the sensation of those lips still on mine. Why was I dreaming of the dead again? On one hand, I think of M’s and Mom’s countenances and I feel joy remembering the smiles on their faces. On the other, I keep feeling I am missing out on something they are trying to tell me.

Whatever it is, I hope I am doing enough by telling this and by remembering them even when they are long gone. I shall whisper a prayer for them both tonight. And if by God’s will, I am destined to meet them again, I pray that our reunion be as welcoming as that sweet kiss I felt on my lips this morning.


I had previously written about similar experiences in Dreaming of the Dead. I did not imagine there would be a part II. Please click the link to read that article.

Cory Through A’s Eyes

I had the privilege of covering President Aquino for the better part of the second half of her term, so the Cory I saw was a far more mature, far more seasoned, far more decisive, and certainly, far more sensitive chief executive than that who was swept into power on the strength of history’s most peaceful — and most profound — strike against dictatorship.

It was no surprise, therefore, that the end of Mrs. Aquino’s administration coincided with the country’s political and economic development. Repeated attempts to usurp her authority did help stunt initial efforts to progress, but, in my view, her confident gait and resolve to chuck concessions among supporters with varied interests in favor of a clearer vision directly spurred growth.

In this regard, I was fortunate to see Mrs. Aquino at her diplomatic best. The 1992 ASEAN Summit was certainly her most significant foreign trip as head of state, not counting her rousing visit to the United States at the start of her dispensation. She was still the darling of democracy when she made her way to Singapore, a role not lost on her as she shared insights with heads of neighboring nations, but she was also extremely effective in championing the Philippines’ causes at a time when protectionism was becoming passé and barriers to a truly free world trade environment were being torn down.

Ironically, Mrs. Aquino was not one to rub elbows with members of the media to seek support for her objectives. In fact, she was highly distrustful of scribes, borne, perhaps, of her negative experiences with critical quarters of the Fourth Estate. Thus, her “dialogues” with the Palace press corps were limited to twice-monthly “press conferences” and once-a-week taped programs that were heavily regulated and restrictive in nature. My fellow reporters and I were otherwise collectively stuck with sending her a maximum of three questions per day, in writing, and with receiving her replies — two sentences per query at best — also in writing.

The irony was that Mrs. Aquino could be very charming in person. I deem myself lucky to have witnessed her much lighter profile. When she invited the “Brat Pack” (as the Malacañang mediamen were then called) to spend a day at Hacienda Luisita, for instance, she played the perfect host, regaling us with off-the-cuff, off-the-record stories that showed her soft side. She was equally open when she treated us to lunch at her Times Street residence, beaming with pride as she talked not about her pressure-packed working days, but of good times with her son and daughters, and, most happily, with her grandchildren.

So, yes, I remember Mrs. Aquino with much fondness. She didn’t make my job easy, but she was always more than just a news subject to me. I believed in what she stood for when I marched for her, and wound up with countless bylines when I covered her, but my most treasured memories are those of her as a family woman with deep moral values, and who understood that every move she made had to be for God’s greater glory. Thus, she was, to me, the epitome of a leader. She was by no means perfect, but her word was gold, and she certainly did her utmost with the best of intentions. She will be missed.

This was originally published in BusinessWorld, August 4, 2009.

cory with anthony lowres

A with President Cory

My President Too

Originally published in Herword.com, August 4, 2009

kitty in yellow copy3She didn’t start out as my president.

Perhaps I was an exception, but I was the politically ignorant child of Pisay (Philippine Science High School) of the eighties, proficient in maths and sciences but absolutely lacking in savvy in the real world around me. Head burrowed in books, living a comfortably middleclass existence, I was raised to believe that status quo was the way to go. I was blind and I didn’t even know it.

And then my husband came along. My husband, student council president, was the firebrand in our batch. When the school authorities suspended some of our batch mates for a melee inside school grounds (whereas the opposing team from another school who was also involved in the brawl received much lighter sentences), he rallied all of us to the cause. We stayed out of classes for a sit-down strike. We marched around school carrying banners with slogans calling for justice and equal treatment. This was but a preview of what he would be when we grew up—fiercely idealistic and morally uncompromising.

magtanong sa pangulo lowres

A (right foreground) with President Aquino in "Magtanong Sa Pangulo"

If my husband was politically mature for our age, I was the exact opposite. We were just 18 when EDSA called to us in an unlikely revolution, and while he heeded the call of his beliefs, rushing to the streets with the rest of them and risking his life for a cause, I stayed home and studied, waiting for announcements of when school would resume. And so, when Cory Aquino was swept into power in this historic, bloodless clamor for change, he always knew she was his president.

In 1989, straight out of college, he found work as a reporter for a business paper, the same paper he still works for today. As a rookie scribe, his assignments brought him to witness the inner workings of Congress and, shortly after, Malacañang, This was his last and most important coverage as a reporter, entering the Palace grounds on the second half of Mrs. Aquino’s term as president. (When Mrs. Aquino’s term ended, he was promoted to sub-editor/section editor.)

press corp officers lowres

A (second to the left) in Malacañang Press Corps Officers oathtaking

I was in medical school at that time. Occasionally, he would bring me to the press office in Kalayaan Hall where I met his friends and colleagues in the Malacañang Brat Pack. The night a major storm paralyzed most of the city with waist-deep floods in 1991, he and I sought shelter in Kalayaan Hall, where Mrs. Aquino sent all of us “storm refugees” pandesal and sardines to tide us over for the night. He brought me with him when the press corps was invited to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, acting as his photographer and alalay (assistant) in one. I was thrilled, of course, to meet the President in person and in less formal circumstances. She was a gracious host, sincere and warmhearted. Contrary to expectations of what public officials would be, she was interested in people and made an effort to find out who we were, even with the short time given to all of us. When she found out I was studying to be a doctor, she gave me a soft pat on the back. It wasn’t difficult at all to respect and like her.

tools fo a journalist lowrescopy

An old point-and-shoot film camera, a microcasette recorder, pen and paper-these were the tools of his trade then.

My husband loved being a journalist, even at a time when laptops were still not widely used and he had to send stories meticulously written in longhand. (His record number of stories in one day: 15!) And if he loved what he did, it was because he had such a deep respect for the subject he covered. Mrs. Aquino was his president, the one he stood for and with on the streets of EDSA, the one he bet his life on amid the tanks and soldiers of the powers-that-be, and, for better or worse, he stood firm in his beliefs that she was an extraordinary individual in an extraordinary time. And, indeed, she was.

At a period in history when honesty and virtue were in great demand in government, she supplied it with a life lived by example. For one who had already lost so much, for one who had been violently stripped of any semblance of normalcy and peace in life, and for one who had been thrust in the eye of the storm, she was an amazingly brave and selfless person. Years after she left the presidency, she lived a life of quiet dignity, albeit always cognizant of her role as social conscience to her people.

On Wednesday, August 5, 2009, we bury Corazon Aquino, wife, mother, president. To her people, however, she will always be more than the positions she once held. She was valor, integrity, and virtue personified. I weep with my husband as we mourn her passing. She was my president, too.

Love In A Time Of Grief

05_08_8---Cross-at-Sunset_webTonight, A, Alex, and I attended a vigil mass in honor of the father of Alex’s classmate and friend, G. After classes today, the parents and young men of Alex’s high school class gathered together to pay their respects to G’s dad and show their support for their brother.

It has been five days since G’s dad passed away in unexpected circumstances that have devastated their family. The boys were on a spiritual retreat Friday night and were awakened from deep slumber with the sudden news of G’s dad’s passing. Many wept with G as they received the news. Many found themselves in tight embraces, weeping and consoling each other. Brothers-in-class that they were, that moment, they simply became brothers.

As we celebrated mass in G’s dad’s memory, I had to swallow back my tears many times. I have never seen these boys in somber circumstances; these boys are often clowns, always joking, always able to bring out laughter from all of us. But tonight, they stood as brave young men, their lives touched with the sorrow of one of their own. They clung to each other in groups and propped each other with encouragement and kind words. I hope that G, in the center of their group embrace, found strength and love when he most needed it.

I was amazed at G’s composure and maturity. G is a natural leader, an inspiration to many of his more jocular classmates. Even Alex is in awe of him. When the “commander” (their good natured nickname for G) speaks, everyone listens. And tonight, we all did. In his short speech before the end of mass, he said that before this, his life had not weathered many storms. This would be his biggest, most difficult test. I almost cried then, were it not for G’s calm demeanor. He misses his dad very much, he said, but he had faith that where his dad is, it is where the Lord is. To see such faith in the face of adversity makes my heart sing and weep at the same time.

To G, his mom, and his brothers, you are all in our prayers and our hearts are with you.  God bless you all.

A Parent’s Nightmare

It is every parent’s worst nightmare.

You are in the middle of a long day, waiting for the last few hours before work finally winds downs to a halt. You are thinking about dinnertime with the kids, and how noisy and fun it’ll be when the family sits down for a relaxing meal. You are thinking of the long, hot bath after that, while the kids finish their homework and projects, and you have a few minutes of alone time to wash the dirt and grime of the work day from your tired body. You think of the kisses you will get when you tuck them to bed at night. You glance at the clock, impatient for the time you will be with your family.

And then the phone rings. And your worst nightmare comes true.

Two days ago, on an ordinary Tuesday for many of us, a family’s life was changed forever when their fourth-grade son was run over by a van while inside the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. Pinned between two large vehicles, Julian Carlo Miguel Alcantara, 10, lovingly called Amiel by his family and friends, did not survive his head injuries.

good20fridayI can never imagine how it is to lose a child, and I pray that I am never ever tested that way. Even now, as I read news reports, blog entries (here and here), and forwarded email from friends in the Ateneo community, I am unable to stop weeping.  Amiel’s death hurts all of us who love our children and wish them nothing but happiness and joy in their lifetime. That he left this world so suddenly, so tragically, and so devastatingly makes many parents like me feel helpless and frightened. We can’t be there to protect our children all the time.

My family and I send our prayers and condolences to the Alcantaras in their hour of deepest grief. We pray that they find their strength as a family and draw from this in their darkest hours. And we pray that Amiel looks down from heaven to help his family heal from the wounds of his passing.

God bless you, Amiel.