The minute my younger sister got into the car, she started sobbing.
I felt rotten. It was awkward driving and trying to console her while wondering why I was not as grief-stricken as she was.
Our father had died. She’d flown in from the US to pay her last respects and I was driving her to the funeral home where she would see his remains.
I’d received the news from our youngest sister, who called a little after three on that morning he had died. She was crying and I remember feeling numb. I think my emotions went on auto-lock as my mind raced to what needed to be done. Book a flight to Cebu. No, look for the airline number first. Get packed. Take a bath. And then… what about Cesar and Sinika?
My husband, Cesar, told me to go ahead, he’d follow with our three-year-old daughter. I nodded. I knew I was going to be helping out with the wake and funeral arrangements that day so it was better for me to go alone.
But when all the activity had ceased, leaving me nothing else to do but wait to board the plane, my eyes sought and found the statue of Mama Mary that stands by the doors leading to the tarmac.
I started praying the Holy Rosary and suddenly, I was grieving. I was praying hard for my father’s soul. I was asking Mama Mary to intercede and help Daddy find eternal peace in the Kingdom of God. I could not stop myself – I was crying so hard that after a few minutes, my eyes felt very sore.
I have difficulty describing my relationship with my dad. The years of being witness to the conflicts that marred my parents’ curious but tight relationship, my decision to live alone, my marriage and subsequent relocation to Manila had meant fewer chances of interaction with him.
To be brief about it, I had done nothing about keeping in touch with him although I was regularly communicating with my mom. When contact with him was unavoidable, I was respectful but guarded. When he sometimes caught me off-guard by showing some tenderness, I instinctively responded. But since these times were very few and far in between, I stayed away. I didn’t like fighting and I preferred to ignore the provocation that he very often provided. I wanted peace even if it meant disconnection. It was easier for me and more importantly, it was better for my mom.
Nevertheless, I had come home twice when I’d learned that he was in a bad way. I do not know if it was duty that made me do it, or perhaps guilt. All I know is that I felt drawn enough to come home by the news that he was not doing so well.
I am just glad that I did see him when he was still lucid. He greeted my husband and me pleasantly enough and tried to play with Sinika the first time. The second time – which fell on my birthday – was not as good a visit. I remember wondering why I had even bothered to come home and visit him.
I didn’t see his death coming. I’d left Cebu confident that physically, he was improving even if his mental faculties was deteriorating. I was so sure that he would outlive us all. I was more worried about the effect of his sickness on my mom, who was at his beck and call almost 24 hours a day.
He died while my mom was trying to feed him. The complications of diabetes, high blood, toxic goiter… it had all proved too much at the end. I suspect that he simply gave up. If there’s anything I am sure about – it’s that Daddy is not the stuff that long-suffering invalids are made of.
Maybe that’s why I grieve. Because his life ended in so much suffering. As I told Mommy when I saw my shrunken and once proud father being fed milk by the spoonful because it was all he could take -- “No one should live this way.”
I do not know what it is about airports but I cried again while waiting for my flight back to Manila. I cried for someone I had lost a long time ago. I cried for the father that I could never have and the one that I had. I cried at the futility of it all.
I cried because despite everything, I did care, after all.