People who haven’t seen me in the past month noticed I had lost weight. Something like five pounds. Excitement like electric current in their voices, they asked: “How did you lose weight? Share naman your secret with us.”
Well, it’s a “secret” I would not wish on anybody, even my enemies. You see, my father – a retired soldier in the Philippine Air Force – died last October 18 at the age of 76. And exactly a month later, my mother – a retired Music teacher – died at the age of 77. Losing a father after seeing him struggle to live in the intensive care unit with, in his own words, “ a sack of rice crushing my chest,” was traumatic enough. Losing both is beyond words.
I could not eat for two days after Father died. My main worry then was how to tell Mother, who had just undergone angioplasty and was undergoing dialysis three times a day – that Father had gone ahead. It was the most sleepless night of my life. And so the morning after, when Mother asked us why we left Father alone in the hospital, my sister, my cousin and I formed a tight circle around Mother lying on her sickbed. The words choked in our throat, but we managed to inform her, slowly, that Father had passed away.
A trickle of tear ran down her face. Sadness shrouded her eyes. It was a sadness that would never leave her. Not during the funeral wake, when she came in her wheelchair, dignified and calm, asking only to see Father and uttering his name in her broken voice. It was a sadness that would never leave her. Not during the vigil, when a succession of Philippine Air Force soldiers in light blue uniforms stood in attention before my father, in his casket draped with the Philippine flag. It was a sadness that would never leave her, after the soldiers fired their 21-gun salute in the memorial park, and my siblings and I finally erupted into the tears that we had kept in our hearts for many days and nights.
I resigned from my job, to take care of her and to prepare for the coming elections. But stayed at home I did, especially when she was more sick than usual, making sure she had all her medicines, was cared for, and comfortable. We went to a nephrologist for her check-up, and her health was beginning to improve: her skin was no longer as pale as paper, and she was gaining some weight.
When my mother was in her sickbed I would sometimes think of my father, and my memories of him revolve around him telling us to be brave, never to run away from a good fight. My father sent himself to college when already a soldier with a young family, commuting 30 kilometers every day to night school, and back. Later, he sent himself to law school, taking the same route for another four years. One of my deepest memories of him is graduating from law school, and the whole family taking a dusty ride home, and finally entering the military base, walking under the sheer brilliance of the stars.
Two days before Mother died, she wanted to stop taking her medicines. My cousin and I would cajole her, brush her forehead with our hands, whisper in her ears. I think she didn’t want us to worry, and took the medicines. But the sadness never left her eyes.
Two days before Mother died, the orchids she had tended with uncommon care bloomed – yellow and lavender and white – their petals like clearest skin. Two days before she died she waved to me and I went to her and I hugged her, kissing her face and her now-bony hands.
The night she died she told my cousin she was already OK, we should not worry anymore, and she gave one of her rings to my sister with Down’s syndrome. She said it was time to sleep so everybody could rest, and from that deep repose she never woke up again.
Now I walk around the city with nothingness in my chest. To lose one parent is devastating. To lose both within a month of each other is beyond words. I try to be brave for my brother and sisters, and for my adopted daughter. In my mind I remember my parents, outside my Grade Six classroom. Under the green translucence of leaves, Father was trying to reach for a star-apple fruit. The fruit was ripened by the sun, and he gave it to Mother. My classmates nudged me, and I felt embarrassed by it all, but that was how Father was toward Mother – always protective, a warm hand around her shoulder. And now they are together, enjoying the fruits of paradise, like the soul mates that I think they are. It’s a thought that lessens, somewhat, the pain lacerating our hearts.
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