AS a writer, I have been trained to avoid clichés at all cost. It’s not that they don’t work. But since they’ve been used often enough by almost everyone, their effectiveness in gaining readers’ attention and getting your message across has been greatly diminished.
But not when you’re dealing with death in the family. Having lost my Dad recently, I’ve come to realize that all the clichés and explanations writers and theologians have come up with through the ages are still relevant and applicable in helping the bereaved cope or, at least, make sense of their loss.
They include such gems as “He’s now in a better place;” “Everything happens for a reason;” “Death is just the beginning;” “He’s now in heaven watching over you;” “It was part of God’s plan;” “God knows best;” “Una-una lang ’yan.” For some reason, before and soon after Daddy’s death, they all sounded fresh and useful.
If there’s one truism that truly resonated with me during the past few months, it’s this: “no matter how prepared you say you are, nothing truly prepares you” once a loved one passes away.
As my father grew weaker by the day, I was already conditioning my mind for what seemed like the inevitable. In fact, I have been steeling myself for more than a decade now ever since my parents started to slow down and show obvious signs of aging.
Yet when that day came shortly after noon of Feb. 22, I was as lost and as devastated as ever. Now I know. Nothing and perhaps no one could truly prepare you to face up to the death of a dear parent.
As the ICU nurse advised, I started saying goodbye to Daddy, who was then already unconscious, an hour or so before noon, or less than two hours before he flat lined.
Since Ronnie, our youngest, had yet to begin his flight to the Philippines, I dialed his US number. Once he was on the line, I turned the phone’s speaker on and put the receiver close to Daddy’s ear.
It was the closest my brother could get to saying goodbye to Daddy. While my sister Ida and I were able to attend to our father during his last days, my brother wasn’t. That phone scene, despite being short and one-way, was beautiful as it was touching.
In many ways I was lucky. Even if I had to bear the brunt of all the developments, which kept getting sadder as the days progressed, I was at least most of the time by my father’s side. My brother didn’t have such an opportunity.
Like scenes from a movie, my Dad’s final weeks weren’t all that bleak. His body might have failed him, but his mind and his wit remained surprisingly intact until almost the very end.
On Feb. 16, or four days before he was moved to ICU, I posted this status on FB. You have to be Filipino and a former Tomasian from the University of Santo Tomas to get the punch line. My Dad’s reaction was so spontaneous that I found myself laughing despite the dire straits we were in.
“Amid the seemingly gloomy scenario in the hospital, my sick, bed-ridden Dad is still able to give me reasons to smile, even laugh. Clad in a pair of adult diapers, we were discussing the latest round of aches and pains he was dealing with until he suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.
“What’s the matter, Daddy, I asked him alarmed. He looked at me straight in the eye and said in his weak but audible voice: ‘Na UST ako.’ He wasn’t referring to my alma mater, of course.
“Oh, Dad. If there are two things I admire about you, it’s your wit and sharp mind. Age and disease may have wreaked havoc on your body, but your mind remains as keen and as critical as ever. I love you, Dad. I’m leaving your fate to the Grand Director in the sky. May He grant us a reprieve.”
Banish that woman!
He could be quite acerbic, too.
One morning, when I went to see him in the hospital, a nurse and a med tech were huddled around him trying to get a sample of his blood for a new round of testing.
What’s routine for us healthy individuals can be a form of torture to sick, ailing patients. A simple procedure like extracting blood becomes complicated because an old, unhealthy person’s veins tend to collapse, making it harder for the med tech to do his job.
As I learned from Daddy’s caregiver, a female med tech had been vainly trying to locate a vein since 5 a.m. that morning. Like a giant mosquito, she had to plunge the needle into my father’s arm with each unsuccessful attempt.
It was as if my sick father needed new sources of pain. But he patiently and bravely took it all in. Unsuccessful, the med tech had to take a break to discuss the matter with her bosses.
As soon as she left, my Dad told his caregiver to bar “that woman” from entering his room: “Huwag niyong papapasukin ulit ang babaeng aswang na ’yan!” (Don’t you ever again let that woman vampire in!) I nearly rolled on the floor laughing.
And she never did, as a more experienced colleague took over and finished the job. The new med tech, a man, this time, was finally able to locate a vein and extract the much-needed sample from my Dad’s arm.
Miffed over Mamasapano
A week or so ago, when my Dad was admitted for the third and last time to the hospital, my sister saw a glimmer of hope while our father was watching one of those senate inquiries on the Mamasapano massacre.
My Dad, who was a voracious consumer of current events, always kept abreast with latest developments through CNN, BBC, “TV Patrol” and the Inquirer. That was how he kept his mind sharp and in tune with the zeitgeist.
As was his habit, he would always break into a series of critical commentaries and expletives whenever he would encounter government ineptness, corruption and murderous extremist elements in the news. Of course, it was just his way of venting his frustration.
But it was enough to rouse my jet-lagged sister into texting me while I was still at the office.
“He’s now watching senators discussing that incident in Mindanao,” my US-based sister texted. “Nag-mumura na. That’s a good sign! Even asked him when it started. (Jan.) 25 daw.”
It was a good sign, indeed, but it was short-lived. Even before his first day at the hospital was over, he himself requested that we turn off the TV for good.
Not even inspirational shows aired over EWTN and TV Maria were enough to buoy his spirits. Daddy was clearly in pain and was in no need of additional stimulus.
Everywhere and anywhere
Finally, there’s one more cliché, which, in light of recent developments in my life, I now fully understand and have found relevant.
Here’s how I saw it, as shared with my friends on FB, a few days after Daddy’s death:
“I’ve come across people ending their eulogies for dearly departed friends and loved ones with these words: ‘…Goodbye, I’ll be seeing you everywhere.’
“Clueless but blessed with a crazy imagination, I would imagine them seeing and imbibing dust particles of their friends whirling and floating in the atmosphere.
“It’s lame, I know. It took a recent death in the family for me to fully grasp the real meaning and essence behind those words. Daddy, you may be gone, but I will be seeing you everywhere. I love you!” There is not an hour in a day that I don’t think of you.