Suffering. No one can ever live this life without experiencing suffering. Perhaps we vary in the level of suffering, but one thing is for sure, suffering always gives us two choices – either we make it or we break it.
Growing up, I know we weren’t rich as others. We lived a very simple life. My dad was working as a manager in one of a printing company in Makati and my mom, a simple housewife who owned a small sari-sari store. We always had enough, and I know that we really never had to worry much about the basic necessities. My dad worked really hard, sacrificing himself a lot of times and what he wanted in life so that he could provide for all of us. It was because of his hard work that he was able to move up us up from renting to owning our own home. It was because of his hard work that we were able to own our family car. It was because of his hard work that we children never “suffered” much, and would live a comfortable life. My mom, on the other hand, is smart. She saved up until she could, and lived simply so she could provide for us. It is only now that I realized how important her saving meant. It is because she saved that we were all able to go to good schools and universities. It is because she saved that she was able to send us off on vacations and experience flying on a plane and the life outside our homes. It is because she saved that we were able to pay off medical bills we faced when suddenly, Papa had a fatal stroke that led him to be bedridden to this day.
Papa was a worrier. Perhaps he had every reason to. He was a “war” baby. He grew up when the war broke that is why he grew up the smallest in his family but he was big in compassion. He knew what it was to suffer, to scrimp, to sacrifice. His dad also left them due to a heart attack when they were barely making it on their own lives. He stood to be the father at an early age. He constantly cared for every member of his family, and eventually, his own family when he married Mama. We were unlike many Chinese families living in
It all happened on July 9, 1998. I can never forget that fateful date and year. It was my sister’s birthday and that year, I was to graduate from De La Salle University. I was on the field, interviewing mothers for a research we did for Nestle when I received a page (it was still pagers that was the thing those days) from my sister to come home because my dad had a condition and was rushed to the hospital. I remember I was in Pag-asa,
It was a long and tedious recovery period. The greatest achievements were when he finally could move his head from left to right, to lift his arms when a physical therapist assisted him, and when he could answer us by blinking his eyes if it’s a “yes” and by shaking his head if it’s a “no”. This became our communication with him.
He went to the hospital a few more times, but after the first year, we were able to experience some sort of peace – as we stayed at home – with no visits to the hospital (except to replace the nasal tubing and the trach) for the next seven years.
I have intentionally delayed mentioning my mother in all of these episodes because I want to devote speaking about her until this moment. Papa was undeniably a fighter. But to me, the greatest strength would come from my mother. She was never without tears, but she always stands up after being on her knees. She would toil, she would become the provider and she would be the one person who kept this family united. She would sacrifice her wants in life so that even if we are faced with this difficulty, she could provide for us a better life. Such self-sacrifice is one thing that I admire about her. I cannot describe with words how fearlessly she braved all these. I know one thing kept her alive and sane – and that would be her faith in God. Mama would not win in any theological debates, or memorize the Mystery of Light and defend her faith by giving out scripture passages, but her eyes fixed on God and her faith is something not all people could possess. She always held a rosary in her hands, and mumbled out the prayer sometimes incoherently – but with fervent faith she pressed on and prayed. It is not by words she communicated to God, but with a mental communication between her and her Maker. I have to admit that in these past almost ten years since Papa had his stroke, we weren’t perfect. We all had our misunderstandings. We made mistakes, hurt her in some ways, and pierce her heart when she only had our best interests at heart. But she would forgive and move on. She maybe persistent at times or even is unreasonable at times, but in the end, who could ever blame her? She had carried such a huge burden on her shoulders and no amount of trying to understand will we ever understand how brave she is and how she was able to go through this.
Our family wasn’t aware, but when Papa first had his stroke, Mama prayed to God to give her 10 years to take care of Papa. And on July 9, 2008… it would be ten years. We could not have made it without prayers, without the support of family and friends – both emotionally and financially. We would never make it without the excellent care his doctors and nurses have given him. (The doctors and nurses who are taking care of Papa now are the same people caring for Papa now. They have never left us.) In the past, we would flinch when we were given money. We never liked it being the charity case. But if we do not accept, how can we survive with our meagre earnings? We had to recognize that this has drained us financially, and cushioned very little only with the savings Mama had set aside. Pride then left us, and we accepted everything as blessings.
However, the trial has not ended. In the past two years, we’ve been in and out of the hospital due to Papa’s worsening conditions. His heart which had kept him going before is slowly failing. His recent admission to the hospital was March 4, 2008. Each day, we are faced with so much suffering. He was rushed to the hospital because of his low blood pressure. He was on and off the ventilator machines. He was on expensive medications. But after the 5th time of him getting well and worsening, doctors told us that his getting well is not probable anymore, and we should prepare ourselves already of the inevitable that we will be losing him soon. His quality of life is not present as well. Slowly, his internal organs are giving up – he’s not able to urinate, to do bowel movement. He’s NPO – Nothing Per Oral, because his body is rejecting the food he eats. This in turn has worsened his ulcer, and we could see blood coming out of his nasal tubes. Every day, the doctors would tell us, “it might be today”. For almost two weeks, we were literally waiting for him to die. It was a different kind of pain to go through this each day. But all these had made our faith stronger. This experience also proves that doctors aren’t God… and it is really up to God when he wants to call back his Son to return to Him. We see the pain, and feel the pain ourselves, but ultimately, it is God’s will. Although it has been and still is, a difficult journey, our family is entrusting ourselves to God’s will. He has been there, providing for us all these years. If I count all our earnings and the expenses we incur, I cannot for the life of me, balance them both. We always received more than enough. This, to us, proved that God is indeed bigger than all of our problems. However, it was difficult to go through this every day. What comforted me are Mother Teresa’s words when she went through her darkness… “In the call You said that I would suffer much. – Ten years – my Jesus, You have done to me according to Your will – and Jesus hear my prayer – if this pleases You – if my pain and suffering – my darkness and separation gives You a drop of consolation – my own Jesus, do with me as You wish – as long as You wish, without a single glance at my feelings and pain. I am Your own.” Although our suffering differs from Mother Teresa’s, we recognize that our suffering may be indeed a way to “satiate Christ’s thirst for souls” – and with this, we lift it up to the Lord and embrace this pain with only trust for Him.
After a month and almost two weeks, he went into coma again. His eyes were starting to dry up, so we had to place a cover to make it easier for him. His fingers have started to turn black. However, it consoled our family a bit that he went into coma, because finally, he could not feel the pain anymore, although physically, you could still see his pain. The next day, the fight was finally over. It was April 13, 2008, and it was the Good Shepherd Sunday. God has decided to call back one of his flocks back to his care, and it was truly a great comfort.
I woke up around 4:30 that morning and checked up on Papa. He was breathing shallowly, so I just kissed him in the cheek and told him “Papa, if you’re tired, rest with God.” And I fell asleep again. The nurse was preparing to clean his trach around 7:00 – 7:30 in the morning, and went to gather the things needed at the comfort room. When she came back, Papa was not breathing anymore. So she roused me up from sleep and told me Papa was not breathing anymore. I asked her to call the doctors to check up on him and by 7:47 after his ECG exam, he was confirmed dead.
After that, it was a whirlwind of emotions as we got busier preparing for his funeral. Every day, we celebrated the mass for the dead (Thanks, Paul). A lot of people visited, comforted us and extended help. It was a week full of stories about Papa – it was refreshing to hear people talk about Papa always in an encouraging tone. Papa was a great loss to our family. He was so much to everyone. He was able to help people without asking for anything in return. He was a joy to be with, and was a very accommodating friend. He was a loving husband to my mom, a generous brother to his siblings, a doting father to us, and a caring albeit silent grandfather to his grandson.
We had the internment last Sunday, April 20. He was cremated first in Chinese Cemetery. When he was in the cremation chambers and the door finally shut down – I finally realized this was it. We would no longer see Papa physically. He was later installed in Elysium Gardens, a columbarium located near our home. My Buddhist Uncle later told us that it was a perfect day for Papa. The timing was perfect, it rained around 3-4pm, which he said would complete the day as “perfect” in Buddhist terms. For our family, it was a day which pain, sadness, exhaustion, realization, gratefulness and mixed emotions started to manifest.We are very grateful, though to all our relatives and friends, Papa's former employers, Papa's friends, Papa's affiliates, and everybody who took time and effort to visit us during the wake and those who were with us on our final walk with Papa. We could not thank you enough for bringing us enlightenment, comfort and joy during this difficult time.
It is still hard to go through each day now that he is really gone. Today is the 3rd day since Papa was physically gone. But we all know that God’s guiding hand is with us and was always with us, and we know Papa is now in a much better place.
Pray much for us. Pray that we will not be led astray. But most of all, pray that this suffering will make us – for the greater glory of God.
In moments when I doubt, I turn to this song:
To You O Lord (Psalm 25)
To You, O Lord I lift up my soul
To You, my God, I shall trust
Let me know Your ways and lead me in truth
I will wait for You, Lord, for you are my God.
Turn, to me, O Lord, be gracious
Heal these wounds of affliction and pain
Relieve this heart of mine with Your eyes of mercy
And embrace me back in Your arms.
Lord, my God, my cries You have heard
Healing came and my life was restored
I’ll sing Your praise Lord and my mouth shall give thanks
And with courage will my soul live again.
This song was created when the Holy Spirit led me to do so a week before Papa went into the hospital the last time. Incidentally, this was one of the responsorial psalms used in the rites for the Mass of the Dead. This was also sung during the mass on the last night. (Thanks, Omar and Jaja)
I offer this song for Papa, as well as for all those who are suffering – may their pain lead to hope for God’s mercy and peace. May God be always with us.