ONE of the most painful episodes in a person’s life, they say, is the act of having to bury one’s child. The sheer gravity of such a loss cuts across races, cultures and even religions.
Death can happen to anyone anytime, but the pain of losing a child is more acute since it defies the natural scheme of things. The cycle of life where children are supposed to look after their parents in their old age until they breathe their last is disrupted and turned upside down.
Having chosen to remain single and childless, I really wouldn’t know how a parent would feel under such a seemingly unnatural circumstance. Losing a well-loved pet probably doesn’t even come close.
Feel the pain
But I could still empathize with and feel the pain of parents who are going through such a situation, especially if their child was as kind, accomplished and dependable as journalist Jeffrey O. Valisno.
Jeff, 36, succumbed to pneumonia last January 6 after being confined in the ICU of a Caloocan City hospital two days earlier. He left behind father Jose, 67, and sister Jennifer.
My friends and I from the Philippine Daily Inquirer were able to pay our respects to Jeff, a sub-editor of Business World, last Saturday, January 10, the eve of his burial. We invariably met members of his immediate family.
The soft-spoken Jose, who also lost his wife in 2004, was obviously hurting, but he managed to remain dignified as he told us bits and pieces of his son’s life.
Before Jeff was rushed to the ICU, he had an earlier bout with pneumonia in late November. He was confined for two weeks in another hospital also in Caloocan City until his attending doctors gave him the go signal to return to work.
We also learned that night through a slide show presentation lovingly stitched
together by Ed Uy, another newsman and one of the deceased’s good friends, Jeff’s educational background, including his decades-long admiration for Megastar Sharon Cuneta.
And since Jeff’s middle name is Oh, a number of close friends used to tease him about being related to Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh. It wasn’t a stretch, really, since he was also blessed with a twinkling pair of Asian eyes.
Jeff, who took up European Studies at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, graduated with honors. He was drawn to the German language and frequented the Goethe Institute before landing his first job as a speech instructor at Speech Power.
He joined Business World in 2001 where he covered various beats, including politics, entertainment and lifestyle.
It was during one of those lifestyle events that I met Jeff a few years ago. Although our encounters were few and far between, we eventually grew fond of each other.
As I was to learn later on, not a few people were also drawn to the hefty Jeff because of his calming presence, hearty laughter and self-effacing ways.
“He was already working and attending a number of parties over the holidays,” said Jose. “We had no idea he would again end up in the hospital.”
No apparent health issues
Despite his size, Jeff had no major health issues, said his father. He wasn’t taking maintenance medicines to manage such silent but potent killers as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.
Since he had to regularly take public transport, including tricycles, jeepneys, air-conditioned buses and the MRT, from the family’s place in Caloocan to Quezon City and beyond, Jeff had to constantly endure pollution and abrupt changes in temperature.
“The daily commutes probably weakened his immune system, which caused him to contract pneumonia,” Jose said.
Jose also thinks that the last party they attended, a clan reunion in Alabang, on New Year’s Day, ultimately pushed Jeff to the brink.
“The party ended quite late, and it was cold,” he said. “Jeffrey was exposed to the cold weather since it took us awhile to get a cab.”
Back to hospital
Since his immunity was likely compromised, Jeff started feeling a bit under the weather the next day, Friday. By Sunday, he already found it difficult to breathe. Before the day ended, his family had rush him to the hospital. He was a control freak to the very end.
“He didn’t want us to take him to the other hospital because he felt that the doctors there weren’t able to cure him,” said Jose, referring to the first hospital where Jeff was confined. “He insisted that we take him to a smaller hospital nearby.”
Jeff proved feisty, too. He could barely talk, but he expressed his discomfort by constantly removing various oxygen tubes connected to his mouth and nose to help him breathe. Part of it was probably a reflex reaction.
“Doctors were forced to tie his hands to the bed, which made him even more furious,” said Jose. “He became calmer on the second day.”
But every measure doctors took was in vain, as Jeff finally succumbed to cardiac arrest resulting from lack of oxygen on the afternoon of January 6.
With his death, Jose lost a loving son and an able breadwinner whose devotion to his family is as intense as his dedication to his job. We’ve lost a colleague and a dear friend whose quick smile and roly-poly ways belied a seriousness and maturity far beyond his years.
We will miss you, Jeff. If there is indeed an after life, please put in a good word for us as we continue to endure, put up with and brave what you had braved before with seeming ease and unqualified conviction.