When my father died
by Laguna Lupie
I saw him die. We all did. We were there in the ICU as they were trying to resuscitate him and they were about to intubate my father when my brother signaled to the other doctor to stop. And slowly the numbers on the machines turned red and alarms started but my brother turned off the sound and then everything turned into zeroes and then my kuya turned toward me and my mother, broke down and hugged us saying, “let him rest, let Tatay rest now.” We all cried then but I was all cried out, been crying all day for the past two days by then. I looked toward my father and saw the pain on his face, how death had distorted his jaws and his face looked disfigured. He was still warm but gone to sleep forever. They don’t tell you about that. That it’s painful and it will show in your body and in your face when you go.
Afterwards, after the priest came, after the doctors have talked and signed and patted our backs, it was just me with him, watching over as the nurses cleaned him. It was just me with him before he died as well, only one was allowed to watch over in the ICU. It was me, it was always meant to be me. I was his favorite and he was my daddy. I left the movement and took over the family business when he could no longer keep it together, I kept things going and saved the house and the press from foreclosure. He was already sick with cirrhosis then but not yet the cancer. I got married, started a family and took care of them. Things seemed ok, we were happy despite the sickness and the financial problems his gambling brought us, and then the cancer came and it was a year of that. Of cancer. Then he died.
I remember that last night, I sat by his side and said my mantras, my prayers, my calls to heaven. I didn’t really know what to do. Only that everybody else has said their last goodbyes and they were all asleep, exhausted by grief, but I was still awake and it was just me and him and I didn’t know what to do. I ended up singing to him. This beautiful ethereal church song we used to sing during holy mass when I was a school girl with the nuns, it’s called “Anima Christi.” I sang that to him, like a lullaby, I knew he must have been tired as well and scared and unable to wake or talk or say goodbye. It was my way of saying goodbye and goodnight. I remember a nurse coming in while I was singing that but my eyes were closed and I didn’t stop, I ignored whoever it was who came in and continued singing. I felt a hand at my shoulder, a gentle squeeze and then we were alone again. When I finished the song, I kissed my father on the forehead and sat down on a lazy boy chair near the wall and fell asleep. Four am I woke up to the sound of people, nurses and a doctor being all hurried and frantic. I stood up and in a panicked voice asked the doctor, what’s happening? He’s crashing. What should I do? Should I call my kuya? He looked at me, hesitant at first, then said yes, I think you better call Dr. Dela Pena and the family now. And I knew it right at that moment that it has come. It was happening. Tatay was dying now.
I remember the trees out of his window that morning, how beautiful they were as they swayed in the wind. It was a bright day, a beautiful day I’d call it. I always notice different hues of yellow in sunshine, how sepia afternoons remind me of my childhood home; how the blindingly bright sun of our summers made me think of swimming trips and watermelons, of barbeques and children playing in the street. The sunshine that morning of my father’s death was bright and windy. It was a January morning, bright and cool and full of promise. But right then, I wondered how could I even notice this beauty when I just lost my father.
I seemed calm all throughout in the hospital on the way home. We went straight to the mortuary and the family discussed his funeral service with them and then we went home to rest and wait until the body was ready for the viewing in the evening when we start his weeklong wake. I remember looking at him in the morgue, how I disliked the white tiles in that room, how hard and cold that room felt. I didn’t like that room at all. They asked if a family member would stay to watch over the embalming and we all refused. We were looking over coffins and my brother chose an expensive white one for him. I went out and wanted to go home, I couldn’t stand another minute in that place.
I remember going home, entering the house and being met at the door by Jackie, our secretary, we hugged and cried. Somehow I just couldn’t stop then. I looked over at tatay’s bed and his pillows and something in me snapped. I went to his room and looked over his desk, his medicines and syringes and I couldn’t stop. Then I opened his closet and saw the rows of polo shirts my tatay kept and collected, the smell of them, of him. Something snapped and I remember this deep howling sound of grief from somewhere and it was me, and I was on the floor, bereft and without reason or shame or any thought left in me, I wept. I wept for all the things I could not say to him. All those months of staying strong and being positive and being a good caregiver. Of keeping it in and not showing him how scared and sad and awful I felt to see him in pain and dying and dead. I must have gone mad then but they didn’t tell me.
Months afterward, I remember one night, we were driving home and I was in the passenger seat looking out on a clear night sky and seeing the stars. I wondered then where my tatay was, if he was still out there in this universe, existing someplace else. And I realized, with sudden clarity, that I have lost the certainty that someone out there loves me completely, unconditionally. I was so well loved. I grew up with that security and it made me strong and confident and proud. But the person who gave me that strength is gone forever and I cried again when I realized that. At that moment, I felt truly alone. I had my husband and my son and my mother and siblings but it didn’t make me feel any better. He is gone and the world is a different place now.