The Last Trip: Part 2
March 2003: Hours before my departure for the Philippines and in the midst of last-minute packing, I called my mother to verify my arrival in Manila. Despite the bad phone connection, I sensed that something wasn’t right. She sounded frazzled. She haltingly informed me then that my father was just brought in to the hospital. I felt the blood drained from my body and my heart was beating so loud and fast that I almost missed what she was saying. Apparently, my father got into a disagreement with someone at work. Avoiding a confrontation (as his nature), my father went back to his office and soon after that, his co-workers noticed that he wasn’t looking well. He didn’t even put up a fuss when they rushed him to the hospital.
I spoke with the doctor on the phone who assured me that my father will be fine and likely to be discharged in a day or so. Right before I left for the airport, I was told that he was resting and feeling better. I refrained from talking to him as I didn’t want him to sense my anxiety. In hindsight, I should have talked to him. Some of my fears were allayed but not knowing the extent of his medical problem gave me a feeling of impending doom. I tried to shake it off, not wanting to give the notion a chance to ferment and fester in my head. “Think positive”, I chided myself as I endured the long flight home. I was dreading what kind of reunion it might be but I was ready to be there with my family.
I lulled myself to sleep to avoid thinking those pesky, distressing thoughts. At one point, I suddenly woke up, gasping for air and with a sick feeling in my stomach. It’s as if a cloud of sadness enveloped me with an intensity I couldn’t fathom. My body was racked with an inexplicable, overwhelming feeling of loss. I was on the verge of tears and it took every ounce of my restrain not to succumb into a weeping mess. By the time we got to Japan for a layover, I felt like a ticking bomb, ready to explode. I knew something had happened and I had no way of knowing what it was. I’ve never felt so vulnerable and isolated in my entire life.
When I finally arrived in Manila, I ignored the usual melee and muggy air outside the airport. I scanned the people’s faces and recognized my cousins among them. I immediately inquired, “How is my father?”. I got my answer before they even uttered a single word. They could barely look at me. Oblivious to the chaos around me, I broke down in tears. I just wanted to curl up in a ball and release all the pent-up emotions I had been holding back for hours. Everything around me was in a tailspin. “Why, God, why? Not my father, please…not him…” I beseeched. Mercifully, my cousins ushered me away from the curious looks of bystanders. One of them got my mother on the phone. She was as distraught as I imagined her to be. I cannot believe the nightmare we were in. I kept wishing that I’d wake up and everything will be back to the way it was.
The following days were in a blur, a roller coaster of emotions: anger, guilt, grief, numbness, indifference, denial, exhaustion, and regret. A lot of people came to offer their condolences. My father was a highly regarded man so it was no surprise to see the outpouring of support we received. We tried hard to be gracious, bereaved hosts. We were seemingly functioning but lying underneath was the need to be left alone to lick our wounds, to acknowledge the bitter reality that the person lying in the coffin was our own dearly beloved husband, father and grandfather. Needless to say, the burial was one of the most excruciating thing I’ve ever experienced. There are no adequate words to describe it and I’m not even going to attempt to. Although I have come to terms with it, there are still days when it’s a bit tough to accept that I can no longer see, hear nor touch my father. As much as I comfort myself with the thought that he is “in a better place” now, I still feel the pang of longing and void.
My father’s death has certainly awakened my zest for life that laid dormant for years, buried under the stress of keeping up in a rat race, of self-inflicted boredom and indolence. I have been pursuing my thirst for travel and adventure. I have a renewed enthusiasm in writing and got engaged in different interests outside of my comfort zone. I’m taking every opportunity to be with my family and friends. Most of all, I try not to take for granted the fact that it could be me next in the lottery of death. We all die, that we know for sure. The only unknowns are the manner and the time and if people would even care. I only have one life to live so I’d better make it count. When I get off this trip called life, I hope to have a graceful exit.