Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Reality of Death

Hello my covert and random readers, 

It's been a while since I last posted here. I couldn't even muster the strength to write an entry for Christmas 2013 or the New Year. No one's to blame. Too much workload, a busy social life and time-consuming academic plans had nothing to do with it. I have no excuse, really. I simply didn't have the heart to write anything - not even my unfinished novels.

My last post dates back to November, more than a week after typhoon Yolanda tore my country apart and wiped off structures, livestock and 7,000 Filipinos in the Visayas. The whole world grieved with us. For a moment there, I thought China would have a change of heart and cease being greedy after seeing how badly beaten the Philippines was. Ah, never was I so wrong. I am, however, consoled by the fact that the ASEAN, together with Japan and India, continue to watch each other's back.

Now everyone's picking up the pieces and making an effort to move forward. It may take some time and there may be a long list of roadblocks to overcome but the idealist in me believes that things will somehow, someday, fall into place.

So why didn't I write anything for 6 months? Well, I'm that kind of writer. I do not write for the sake of writing. All the posts I've written so far have all been driven by a compelling purpose. 

And I do have one today: my paternal grandfather just died.

Death has been a normal occurrence in my life for more than a quarter of a century now. My first ever encounter of death was when my childhood best friend died from Dengue at the age of seven. I was in my fifth grade and, because I wasn't used to seeing coffins, smelling formalin or feeling a deep sense of loss at that age, it severely affected me. In the next few years, a number of distant and nearby relatives died. I took it all in stride, trying to develop a more mature outlook towards and be more accepting of this inevitable human reality. No matter how hard I try, though, funerals still leave me with a churning stomach and a sickening sensation.

My grandfather was an ordinary man. He wasn't an exemplary grandfather - not that I was the greatest granddaughter ever. He had his faults and even to his deathbed he wasn't able to completely forgive those who offended him. A chain smoker, a gambler every now and then and an occasional drunkard, that he was. He had the tendency to bully my shy and rather passive grandmother. At other times, he seemed to care for her and would throw a tantrum whenever she left his side. Except for my dad, who was his favorite, his relationship with the rest of his children was strained. Ironically, he had lots of friends in the marketplace where he often gambled or bought lotto tickets.

Despite receiving his pension some twenty years ago, he died penniless. Just last month, my father and mother took the initiative to rebuild his old wooden house that was already on the verge of crumbling down. Some years ago, my poor grandparents were living without electricity for a number of months. My aunts and uncles were reluctant to pay for their electricity bill or repair their electrical system, so my parents resolved this problem for them. During my parents' latest visit to grandpa, he was crying and wailing when he heard my parents were returning to Cebu. Perhaps he had a premonition back then that he would soon be departing.

Yes, my grandfather was a difficult man to get along with. Hardly anyone understood him. Hardly anyone tried. My father was the only one who came close to understanding him so he always saw my dad in a better light. Being my dad's daughter, even though I stopped visiting him after I graduated college, I became really fond of him. Before he got so sick he couldn't even walk anymore, he was a frequent visitor to our house. He would come over unannounced and we would, in a dither, pick him up at the bus terminal or at the pier. When I was about to complete my undergraduate degree, he told me to study law, become a lawyer and put up a law office at his hometown so he can handle "under-the-table" transactions on my behalf. I didn't know if it was just a joke or he secretly fancied such an undertaking, but grandfather was a man with many regrets and frustrations. 

People may think 81 is a good age to die. I've always known that though he knew death was imminent, he wasn't exactly prepared to die. That I didn't pursue law school gave me no regrets. But after hearing of my grandfather's death, I do feel a stab of guilt for not complying with his wishes. He was so excited at the prospect of me becoming a lawyer and making a law office out of his house that he promised to slaughter a fattened cow as soon as I pass the bar. One time I almost conceded. There was that yearning to make them happy - him, my family and everyone else hoping I'd be the first lawyer in our bloodline. It was a tall order for me. What I sincerely wanted was a writing profession with a cause.

I may have disappointed so many people, grandpa included, who placed all their hopes in me. But since our earthly existence is so fragile, we can only find real meaning if we go where our heart is. So the literary path was what I chose. I joined a cause-oriented group for balance.

I do not have enough information about grandpa's beginnings but from what my dad told me, in a nutshell he was a self-made man. His family was poor. They were a landed lot but resources were few and far between. To make matters worse, one of his siblings sold their land without informing the rest of the family so they lost it without a single struggle. He didn't have much of an education but was able to study a short-term course and worked as a mechanic for a period of time. If my memory serves me right, he decided to change his way of life, moved to a sleepy town off the coast of Negros Oriental and switched to farming and fishing when he and my grandma met, fell in love and eventually got married. My dad was his first-born son and the second child of a brood of nine. My dad did all the work my grandpa did while his siblings were busy with other things and was also the first one to finish college all on his own. Naturally, he became grandpa's favorite.

Had he been given the chance to develop his potentials, I think my grandpa could have been a much better person. He wasn't altogether a bad person but his frustrations and regrets made him bitter about life, prompting him to treat his wife and some of his children in a hostile way. He wanted to be more but couldn't. He was also living in an environment where past grudges reigned supreme over forgiveness and understanding. He had no proper outlet to these negative emotions building up inside him. He may have given up on himself and turned into a spiteful old man like Ebenezer Scrooge. 

My only regret is that I've been too slow making a name for myself. I've always understood him yet I wasn't able to do anything for him. Instead I spent my post-graduate years trying to prove myself, hardly ever looking back. I wanted to visit my dad's hometown only after I've established myself. In truth, I couldn't stomach comparisons with my cousins or people asking me about my income. Those things don't matter to me now but when I was just starting out, I succumbed to an early quarter-life crisis so I did my best to remain positive by avoiding narrow-minded folks. I was presumptuous too. I thought grandpa would live well until 90. I shouldn't have been complacent.

So now, all I have are my broken fantasies. I was planning to give my old folks happy memories this year so they can leave this earth with a smile. I guess it's too late to do so for grandpa, who I wasn't able to see in close to 6 years. There are so many old people with regrets and this saddens me. Aside from praying for him, what I can do from hereon out is to continue to think of him fondly though I wasn't able to do much and relatives may think otherwise. 

For all his faults, I have so much to thank my grandpa for. Thanks to him and grandma, I have a wonderful father (who of course by God's grace married my beloved mother). My cousins are colorful individuals with distinct personalities and who, in their own way, have made a mark on their respective endeavors. My aunts and uncles are fun people. Whatever my grandpa may have done or failed to do in his lifetime, his shaky relationship with his other children makes me see the importance of reconciliation and healing in the family. That family is and always will be.

It may happen over and over again to strangers, to people from other countries, to acquaintances and to those close to you. You may have seen countless of movies or television dramas with it as a theme. Books you read may have exposed you philosophically, psychologically and emotionally to its significance. Although you know it is a normal, inevitable and inescapable reality that everyone must go through, death will never give us a sense of normalcy when it's right there before our very eyes. We can never prepare enough.

However, to quote a line from Monster, one of my favorite Japanese mangas of all time, "humans are built so conveniently." We can only cope up with the passage of time.

I just hope that by writing my thoughts and feelings, I can cope not only with my grandpa's death but also with the anxiety of thinking too much about future losses. It's not so much on the fear of death but on the fear of not giving enough happiness, love and affection to the people who matter to me. Pardon me for being morbid, but one way or another we have to have the courage to face this reality head-on. The sooner you deal with an issue as difficult as this, the more resilient you become. You also start to value loved ones you may have taken for granted and strive to live each day for a greater purpose.

Let us all be that kind of person. I wish with all my heart to be such a person.

To my grandfather, wherever you may be, may you rest in peace. I know that we have a kind God. He may not turn a blind eye to your faults but He will take good care of you. Perhaps, like Scrooge, you will find redemption too.