There are stars whose light only reaches the Earth long after they have fallen
apart. There are people whose remembrance gives light in this world, long after
they have passed away. This light shines in our darkest nights on the road we
The run-up to All Saints Day or Todos Los Santos or All Soul’s Day (Dia delos Muertos, as the Hispanics call it) makes me miss home the most.
For every year since I was 11 – except the time when I headed a local government task group that manned the help desk in public cemeteries and when my late boss Joe Burgos sent me on a mission to Mindanao – I was on top of preparations when the fam hies off to Papa’s final resting place at Loyola. Since transforming into an expat worker close to three years ago, I’ve become incapacitated to perform this task.
My Papa died on the first hour of September 3, 1980 at the Philippine Heart Center for Asia. His death certificate says Papa died of cardiac arrest. Seems simple, but the road to Papa’s passing was a long painful route.
My father – a lawyer – worked for the government. He was involved in the management of housing projects of the GSIS and at one time was even in charge of the demolition of the Manila Hotel. His work required him to travel a lot, visiting many places in the provinces. I’ve gotten used to seeing him fly in and out, coming home with baskets or crates of fruits and all sorts of stuff like live giant blue crabs and souvenir items.
Then one day, he got sick. He was shivering that night. When he got a bit better, we went to the Cardinal Santos Hospital where he was supposed to undergo further checks. The nurse at the hospital was rubbing people the wrong way. She talked to patients like they owed her a favour. She wanted Papa to wear an identity bracelet, but he refused. She was rudely insistent and that got the goat of my old man. He pulled off the white bracelet that was forcibly strapped on his wrist and stormed out of the hospital in a huff (Had he submitted himself for a check up, his ailment could've been detected early and diagnosed before it got out of hand).
Several months after, my usually energetic father started slowing down. Later on, I learnt that he had a “kidney problem”. I was clueless. I was too young to even know what a kidney was. I didn’t care much as my own world was revolving around how the earth’s machine “heroes” where faring in their battle against the Boazanians, the Brahmins, and Dr. Hell.
My father tried to live as normal as possible. We’d still go out and travel like we used to. We’d curl up in our sofa as we watch late night movies on TV, go to Recto or Avenida to see new films on the big screen or eat hotdog waffle at Jopson’s in Bustillos. He and Mama would still bring me to school on their way to their office in Makati.
Papa’s meals, however, changed. He was no longer touching the sumptuous nilagang baka or pork humba specially prepared by Ate Isa every Sunday. His food was prepared separately -- bland, no salt. A big, tall glass of “banaba” tea has also become standard together with a fistful of medicines of all shapes and sizes.
Once a week, an entourage would escort Papa to the Heart Center where he’d undergo dialysis. The procedure – I was told – was very painful. Long needles are inserted into the veins on each arm where blood is drawn and passed into a dialysis machine for cleansing and injected back into the body. The session would zap Papa’s energy and he had to lean on my cousin Awe or whoever is at hand in climbing the flight of stairs at home.
One day, Auntie Evie – Papa’s sister – came over and they had a serious talk. They were speaking in Bicolano (or whatever was the lengua franca in their hometown in Masbate). I couldn’t fully understand what they were talking about, but I remember hearing them discuss “transplant” and “organ donation”. I’d later find out that they entertained the possibility of Papa getting a kidney transplant, but the operation could only be done overseas as the technology was then not available then in the Philippines. Auntie Evie was willing to donate her kidney to his kid brother, but she was understandably edgy until the option was abandoned.
Summer of 1980, Papa, Mama and I embarked on our usual summer trek. We went to Bohol for the Holy Week then visited Papa’s pet project – an hacienda named after me – in Pilar, Sorsogon. It was my first trip to Bicol and I was awe-excited to see the majestic Mt. Mayon, thrilled to cross the sea between the Sorsogon mainland and the island where “my hacienda” was located and feel gung-ho taking my first horse and carabao-ride. Back in the capitol of Legazpi, we spent several nights in a hotel as my father had to meet some old friends (I’d say it was his farewell call) before flying back to Manila.
Soon after returning home, Papa was back in the hospital for his “regular check up” but this time, he was not allowed to go home anymore. He stayed at the Heart Centre until his condition deteriorated. My once spritely father – the source of strength and guiding light of the entire clan – was helplessly strapped to his bed with a countless number of tubes and a life-support system by his side.
One fine night, I was whisked to his side as my Papa had insisted on seeing me. Hard of speaking as he had tracheotomy to help him breathe, Papa struggled as he talked to me in whispers, telling me to be good and to take care of my Mama. Several weeks later, he was gone.
Years have passed and I still talk to my Papa. Going to Loyola was not a once-a-year exercise to follow the pack. I’d go visiting whenever I can to talk to my Papa.
Like Forrest Gump – but in silence – I tell him what I’ve been up to, how I feel, what I need, what I want. I still snuggle up to him and seek his guidance just like when he was still physically around.
Papa has never failed me and has remained my source of strength. He still talks to me in whispers from above just as how King Mufasa explained to Simba, what the stars from above are doing.
Simba: We're pals, right?
Simba: And we'll always be together, right?
Mufasa: Simba, let me tell you something my father told me. Look at the stars. The great kings of the past are up there, watching over us.
Mufasa: Yes. So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you. And so will I