The Flowers of May

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
Dad's favorite places to go were the churches.

Dear Reader (or the Nancy a decade from now),

I saw how my dad died—an iron-muscled hero with the strongest will to live and the sincerest display of faith in God until his last breath. It was May 12, 2021, past 4 p.m. The sun was probably petulant about setting down and the world outside was probably just as cranky about being curried by the heat. But on that afternoon, I was not part of the outside world. I was trapped in a sphere bordered by the four walls of the room on the seventh floor of Chong Hua Hospital.

In that sphere, all I could see was my father. Here was the man who carried cases of beer and soft drinks for more than 35 years, from propelling a two-wheeled pushcart to deliver to houses blocks away to driving an elf truck to get fresh supplies from another barangay. Here was the man who carried me several times growing up from the sofa in our living room where I would fell asleep while reading to my bedroom a few meters away. Here was the man I would often get into hearty debates with over the economics of the business and the business of economics.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
Dad's smile, his contented expression, his seriousness (which my sister and I feared--yeah, we're
good kids that way)... He never told us, but I would like to think he lived a good life with us.

I could still see that admirable inner strength emanating from him while half a dozen medicines with absurd names were plugged into his body. I was desperately trying to find that same inner strength within me. So while he was fighting to live, I was fighting to stay hopeful. While he was calling out Jesus Christ, I was screaming inside and suffocating. While he struggled to stay awake, I was numbed with a strange coldness that separately suspended my mind and body in time.

The cruel irony was that he did not die of Covid-19. He tested negative for the virus. He died of the last thing that could happen to him, a man who does not drink nor smoke: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. One of our last conversations—just the two of us—was him wondering out loud and partially asking me how this could happen to him when he has no vices. I told him it was probably God’s way of showing him, a stubborn workaholic, that he needed a good rest. I cut off my answer immediately, knowing full well what cancer at its fourth stage meant. Reader, that is what too much knowledge does to you. Ignorance, even in misery, is still bliss.

This misery started a couple of weeks after Dad’s 61st birthday on March 20. My parents were still tight-lipped about my father’s real condition, not wanting to worry their children. I called them and finally pried the news from out of my dad who still hesitantly told me it was a late-stage disease. I suddenly felt like I was in one of those old ice bucket challenge videos on social media. I told my dad not to worry too much and to get admitted to a hospital immediately. I knew my voice was cracking over the phone, but I still managed to say with a smile that we would pray and faithfully ask for God’s blessings.

The moment I hanged up the phone, I cried buckets. I cried like my dad just died. I was already grieving for my father while he was still breathing. Deep down, I knew my dad was going to die. I knew, even when no one in my family was talking about it. So I promised myself that I would set aside my blunt rationality and be the last person to bring up that reality check. I would be like everyone else, to hope against hope and pray for a sliver of a miracle.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
My parents were inseparable. Most of the time, they went to places together. I guess my father
spoiled my mother a little too much (like he did with his two children). After he passed away,
my mother showed how incredibly strong she is in her own way.

I went to visit and see dad immediately. I relied on my body’s reflexes to get me through the 20-minute drive going home. I hated the traffic stop then. There was only one I had to pass through and yet I thought it was a waste of time. I had these notions of dad collapsing at any moment from a heart attack and I couldn’t bid him a proper farewell because of one stupid red light. But I made it safely to my parents’ house where I found my dad resting on his inclined plastic chair, drowsy from taking several medicines at once. His skin was yellowish, his stomach was making bloating sounds when he tapped it, and his muscles were drooping. Yet he managed to smile when he saw me. It was a very sincere, very bright smile, which I will never forget. I smiled back widely at him—wider than usual, as I stilled the alarm bells in my head and turned off the panic button in my heart.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
(Left) Dad, with his two well-nourished children. (Right) Dad, with his two
grown-up children. His last picture with them.

We talked for nearly an hour. About anything and everything. I told him about my work he didn’t understand. I apologized for my plan to postpone finishing my postgraduate studies. I shared some things about the past—the good times and the bad—that I never got to share with him. He told me to hire one more person to help me at the Memoriter so that I wouldn’t be stressed out. He accepted my apology and understood my life plans and career goals. And he asked a lot of questions about what I went through.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
Dad cries at my wedding. If I would ask him again about it, I'm sure he would say there was a nasty dust in his eyes that needed a good rubbing. My sister looks like she is itching to tease me. My mother is probably covering her tears by looking down (or just worried about the reception preps). 

I hugged him. He sobbed a little. I told him I loved him. He answered the same thing back. I assured him that God is good. He said he has always kept his faith under any circumstances. I let go. He asked permission to sleep. It would be our last lengthy conversation.

From that point, time became a stranger, a true abstract. I numbly went through April and May in a daze, not focusing on work, surviving on food deliveries, my mind adrift in blankness. That numbness culminated in that sphere of a hospital room, large enough yet small enough. It was an utterly ridiculous situation. My mother, my sister, and I were made to sign a document to signify our agreement for dad to die naturally. It was like I let my father die when I didn’t want to. Reader, it seemed that the natural order of the world has conspired to work against my hope.

We were with dad until he passed away, including some relatives. With our face masks and face shields on, we held his large hand, we wept, we prayed, we turned silent, with grief starting to loom distinctly above our heads and around the room. When his time of death was declared, we held him some more and wept some more, our masks and shields in disarray.

Then, out of nowhere, I sprang into action, like a different personality took over my senses and dominated my rationality. My way of coping and my instinct as the eldest child placed my grief on the back burner. So dad died, what next? This was what I asked myself mere minutes after my father took one last look around the room, slumped his shoulders, and slanted his head. In response, my body took me to all the offices (with the aid of some relatives) and the funeral home just to get dad home within 12 hours.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
The flowers of May

We are a small family—dad, mama, me, Inday, and my husband—and I thought we have to do a lot of work during the wake to give dad a very decent burial. We still did, but we were cushioned well by the support of the community. My parents’ work as humble storekeepers and their pay-it-forward philosophy paid off. Every day, neighbors, in-laws, friends, and relatives as far as Balamban, Naga, Lapu-Lapu City, and Negros Island came to see Dad. People offered food, flowers, donations, strength, understanding, sympathy, and time. Strangers came on bicycles and braved the rain to pay their last respects. Friends volunteered to lead the novena, do mass readings, decorate, do the cleaning, and even stay awake for the wake. And all were so thoughtful about wearing face masks all the time and keeping visitors to a minimum, so some visited in the morning, others in the afternoon, and the regulars at night.

Later on, I realized I would not have survived all that without the community. I would not have survived the extreme emotional distress if my husband were not around. I would not have successfully traced the cash input and output if my sister were not around. I would not have known what snacks to serve every day if my mother were not around. I would have worried a lot about my mother if it were not for her overwhelmingly wide circle of good friends. I would not have survived the physical trips to various offices if my mother’s helper, my late cousin’s wife, and my father’s brother were not around. I would not have known who to approach, how to go about things, how much to pay if neighbors, friends, and relatives did not come forward.

Sometimes, grief made me think the darndest dastard things—that I was alone in my sadness when, in the face of painful reality, I was not. In varying degrees and ways, other people were also grieving with me. I also worried a lot about my mother and sister. The three of us depended on Dad a lot. What will become of us? It took me a long time to see that my mother, despite full of antics, is strong in her way, that my laidback sister immediately stepped up without further prompting. I took comfort from these facts and they made my burden lighter.

Reader, while some kept telling me that time heals wounds, I learned for myself that it was the good and sincere people I met during the most trying times that gently rubbed a cooling balm on the stinging wounds. Time, I’m sure, will take care of the rest of the healing process. It’s amazing to think that, even in his death, dad taught me this extra lesson.

I also realized that I survived the strict months-long quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 in the same way—with the support of the community. Food supply was a serious problem then, but the community had its creative and resourceful ways of selling food or getting them delivered. Technology eased the frustrations, too. I frequently called my parents through Messenger. What was regrettable were the protocols that prevented us from seeing friends who lost their own fathers to the virus. But the community did what it could at the time: prayed, gave money, sent food, called, sent messages, and prayed some more.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
This was a slice of our life during the strict home quarantine in 2020.

On Father’s Day on June 20, 2021, my family observed the 40th day since Dad’s death (Dad sure knows how to make a good timing). From then on, I stopped counting the days since he died, but I remained living in gratitude for all that Dad taught me, for all that he gave me in his lifetime. There are still many things to do—documents to sign, government papers to deal with, properties to sort out (Dad sure knows how to keep all of us busy that there’s no time to be all gloomy). But, in trusting the kindness of humanity, in depending on the sincerity of people, in being patient with time, in living a life of daily gratitude, I feel I can survive anything.

Well, reader, I’ll see you at the bright and hopeful glimpses of life.

Nancy

P.S. I dreamed of Dad. He is half-sitting on the edge of our old dining table. When he sees me, he smiles and points to something for me to do. It was a beautiful split-second dream.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor
After dad passed away, my sister and I got a dog for our mother. His name is Winter. My sister continues her adventures in café hopping. And I bought for myself a new rice cooker (my dream rice cooker) with text labels I don't understand, but still managed to cook rice anyway. Yes, I'm cooking and reading and writing again. With our memories of Dad and the lessons he taught us, we are living life forward.

* * *

This story is an entry to ComCo Southeast Asia’s “Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor”. The initiative continues to respond to the need of our times, as every story comes a long way during this period of crisis.  The initiative aims to pull and collate powerful stories from the Philippine blogging communities to inspire the nation to rise and move forward amidst the difficult situation. The “Write to Ignite Blogging Project” Season 2 is made possible by ComCo Southeast Asia, with Eastern Communications and Jobstreet as co-presenters, with AirAsia and Xiaomi as major sponsors, and with Teleperformance as sponsor.

Cebu Freelance Writer Nancy Cudis Ucag Write to Ignite Blogging Project Season 2: Dear Survivor

Comments

Enjoyed this post?

Enjoyed this post?
Never miss out on future posts by following this blog!

Popular Posts