We may not shower him with praise
Nor mention his name in song,
And sometimes it seems that we forget
The joy he spreads as he goes along,
But it doesn’t mean that we don’t know
The wonderful role that he has had.
And way down deep in every heart
There’s a place that is just for Dad...
It seemed strange that after quite some time it was only again last night that I dreamt of papa. Perhaps, it was his own way of making me feel his presence in this ‘unstable’ chapter of my life. That dream brought a kaleidoscope of bitter-sweet memories as I recall with nostalgic feelings the years I spent with him.
Almost six years ago when Papa was suddenly taken out from the family. I guess, it was also the first real pain I experienced in my whole life.
It was right after my sister's wedding that papa was first brought in the hospital. All through the ceremonies, he was in pain and could hardly breathe. Nonetheless, he forced himself to be present in the most special day of my sister, Baby. He contented himself watching my sister marched since he could barely walk to accompany her.
The morning after the wedding, I was on my way to work when I received the call that papa would have a surgery. When I entered his room, different tubes were attached to him. The once was strong man was gone.
While he was in the hospital, it became my habit to drop by before going to school. Things changed when he was finally able to go home. I got so busy with the work that visiting became less frequent. For several months, he was in and out of the hospital.
I never thought that the birthday celebration of mama and my niece, Shayne, would be also be the last time I would see him. It was a pain looking at his thin body. However, before I left to go back to Naga where I worked, I entered his room and bid farewell. That was December 5.
A week before his death, I received a call from mama that they asked for another doctor's opinion and it was finally confirmed that papa had a cancer. I listened to her cry on the phone while I felt numb inside. Mama told me that he had only six months to live.
How do you react to things like that? It was at first a denial to me. I am not the type of person who shows off emotions especially to the family. Eventually, I got to talk about it to a co-teacher. I did not have the vaguest idea whether to just let him go or to continue watched him in agony.
That call didn't make me go home more often. I was establishing a career or so I thought that making time for a visit was out of the question. Perhaps it was also the thought that he has still six months so I could make it up during vacation. Ironic but true. I was banking up to the idea of the "six months."
December 19 was just another day except by frantic hustle bustle in school. It was the day of Christmas party and my first ever as a teacher. I was in a salon around 4:30 p.m. when I felt like somebody hit my chest and my heart pounded so hard.
Thinking it was just brought by all the excitements in the air, I decided to just shrugged it off. The party was held at the Archbishop's palace since priests and the archbishop were joining also. Christmas feelings hovered in the air. The program was set to start at 6 p.m. I couldn't explain it but somehow even with my heart pounding we were still the noisiest in the group. We were laughing so hard that I didn't hear my phone ringing.
It was five minutes later that I checked my phone and saw that ma (the one whom I lived with) had a message. She told me to go home because of an emergency. I tried to call her but she wasn't answering her phone.
How to ask for permission to leave was such a dilemma. Our school director was seated with the archbishop and other priests and I could hear the emcee making the announcement that the program was about to start soon.
I couldn't shake off the feeling that something's wrong so gathering enough courage, I approached the director. He immediately permitted me to go.
When I arrived at our house in Sorabella, ma prepared already some of my things. She told me to go home in Sipocot since she said it was already vacation. I was trying to read her eyes but she couldn't look at me.
Ma was evading my question what really happened and just told me she received a call from my sister that I needed to go home. I packed my things bereft of emotion. Before leaving, she hugged me so tight I thought my heart would burst. Somehow, I knew something terrible happened.
The ride on the way to Sipocot was long and arduous. I couldn't bring myself to pray the rosary just like I used to whenever I travel. My mind was totally blank.
When I arrived, I saw that our house was still open and it seemed that all the lights were turned on. When I entered, my nieces had their gloomy look on their faces. My sister just stared at me and mama was crying in a corner.
I put down my bag and entered papa's room ready to get his hand to bless just like I always did. I couldn't put into words what transpired next. I was at a loss when I saw papa covered with a blanket.
The pain was so extreme that I blocked it from my system. Crying uncontrollably didn't help to ease the raw feeling of intense longing in my heart.
Days seemed to pass in a haze. How do you celebrate Christmas with the coffin of your father in the house?
One way or another, each of us found ways to placate our grieving heart. But I knew in the quiet corner of my heart, papa's death left a permanent scar.
It was almost a year before I could finally talk about papa's death. We were in a retreat when I shared it to a group of five. Prodding from my group convinced me to share it to the rest of my co-teachers. I hated talking in a large crowd but on the other hand I knew I needed to do it to find healing.
I couldn’t remember exactly what I said or how I said it but I left the group in tears.
“I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to you,
to tell you that I loved you,
to say what now must be one long, unbroken cry
now that at last you're gone away.
I cannot tell you what a joy it was
to be the one to tend you in your need.
The burden was a gift, for giving does
not burden one who loves,
though loving bleed.
I wish I could have been with you when you,
perhaps aware, perhaps not, turned towards death.
Alone, with no one there to wonder to,
To share your fear, your hand, your one last breath.
For papa, wherever you may be...
I wish, I wish, I wish . . . but it is done,
And now I must surrender what is gone.”