Happy Birthday Dearest One

My father and I, we were two of a kind.

He walked the straight path — a character par excellence — being at the helm of the many areas in his life. Disciplined, strong, fearless: a few of the traits I inherited from him, even though it could be a mere illusion of mine. Save for his extrovert nature, the strength of connection plus my life-long allegiance to him spring from the qualities we share.

Dependable, hard-working, practical, candid: these are additional description of the man who took residence inside my heart for the longest time. He was a soul who coped with physical torments I’ll never be able to endure. Having witnessed everything he had gone through, I’ve known of no braver man.

There was, however, one thing both my father and I had always been afraid of: Death. The unknown destination even the most courageous of us could find frightening … and unthinkable. Death happens to us all, yes. Between my father and I, though unspoken, there was a comprehension of it being nothing more than a train of flatline to nowhere; an utter darkness; the absolute silence.

Almost three years has already passed since my dearest one died. I won’t lie by saying such duration has thus healed the wounds; the pain pounds as if I had lost him only yesterday. That I don’t give credence to life-beyond-death could have compounded my grief. It’s the heavy price I pay for being a non-believer.

But there had been nights when he would come into my dreams. In flesh and blood, he was there for me to hug. And I could press my cheek against his, while sobbing, begging for his forgiveness, telling him how much he has always meant to me. . . Then my eyes would open once again to another morning in this current world. 

Much of my life was spent waiting, searching for the love I thought I deserved; from lovers, friends, other blood relatives — which, of course I didn’t find. Wasted time it was … For there is no love on earth more transcendent or purer than a parent’s love, no matter how fervid our stance that there is.

My father couldn’t put me foremost in his heart because I wasn’t special enough. It engendered a quiet discontent, which caused my failure in discerning he lacked the means to bestow upon me any more tenderness than what he already had. What right does anyone have expecting for affection at least equal to their devotion?

But If he were still alive, I am certain he’d be the only person who might shed a tear for my present heartaches as a parent. Despite his stoic exterior, he’d still be the caring father that would flash eyes of compassion toward his daughter who, by turn of events, has undergone recent tribulations over her own child.

As I get older, I am starting to understand my father more — especially now that he’s gone. I could have appreciated him better. I could have regarded him a wonderful parent to a much greater extent, forgiven him further for not loving me the way I had wished him to.

Love that has the power to melt even the longest-standing resentment might come a bit too late. With my love for him more pronounced than before, what’s been left is the weight of my guilt and a pining for some mercy I cannot define.

On a moderate day during his last months, I deliberately sat beside my father to ask him if he could share to me stories from his past; Stories that would aid me in gaining a better sense of his history. Perhaps, by reason of his aging memory, he wasn’t able to share anything — or maybe he just wouldn’t…. I couldn’t help ruminating on the hard feelings he might have been harboring because I had failed him as a daughter in more than a few ways. Whatever caused his silence that day, it was heartbreaking on my part.

There was another staggering fact that hit me during his dying days and after his demise: He wasn’t loved in the manner I thought he was by the people he had trusted. The realization of how unwanted he actually was haunts me to this day. There had been people around him (including my sister and my mother) – yet he was practically all alone. I could have done something about it. But I didn’t.

No tears, no flowers, no amount of attention to his final resting place now can somehow diminish this much regret that I feel. So here I am — telling the world of my gravest mistakes, of how much I am still grieving, of how deeply I miss my dearest one.

There’s no question I look forward to the remaining gifts life still holds. I do allow for the sun’s rays to transpierce and rally my spirits while keeping my bearings intact; yet in the course of my tranquil mournfulness, there’s a little in me that keeps dying every single day.

In this special time of the year, I once again honor the only person who has truly ever loved me. My father. The one who will remain as the greatest love of my life.

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Happy Birthday, Dearest One

I came from a dysfunctional family. Never in my whole life did I see my parents hold hands or hug each other. Never in my whole life did I feel an atmosphere of love between them. If there’s any word that described my father and my mother’s relationship, it’s animosity.

My father’s long-standing contempt for my mother evaded my full understanding. But then, he’s a complicated man. If he had only chosen to reverse things, my mother would have welcomed the change. For sure. And we wouldn’t have been all so broken.

Our family became divided. My sister and my brother secretly allied themselves with our mother. Since I had adored my father from the start, my devotion could only belong to him. I also grew up in the undercurrent of favoritism in our house. My father gave my sister, the eldest, total authority over me and my younger brother — which at her young age at the time she misused. My father was old school who wouldn’t accept any form of defiance or reasoning justifying sibling squabbles. He insisted that the underlings always bow to the elder ones–unconditionally. Having my own mind engendered me to break that dictum and I was, as a consequence, dealt with harshly. A practice that went beyond my discernment throughout my young and adult life. The most sensible explanation I could draw from it: My sister was just fortunate to have it all.

And so resentments toward each other took shape and dragged on for years and years. So did my feelings of isolation and lack of self-esteem. In spite of my deep love for my father, I ended up with laid-out reasons for keeping my distance, especially in later years. I thought: Well, I was never his favorite. The best I could ever get was become third best to him, maybe second — on a rare lucky day. It’s always been my sister and, subsequently, his favorite granddaughter. Oh wow, I guess no one can expect anything from me now.

I was bitter.

And so foolish.

In his 80s, the drinking started. My father got himself a tiny glass he would ask to be filled with some alcohol — which he would gulp down every five minutes. I asked him to stop. My brother and sister told me to let our father have it his way in his remaining years. There was more to it than that, I realized. My father who had been so mighty and disciplined all his life had totally given up.

Thus began the most crushing period of my existence. To escape from reality, I began clinging to anything or anyone who could temporarily pull me away from my pain. For unexplainable reasons, I also lost interest in developing or preserving meaningful friendships, or in relying on people around me. Work and more work occupied me; so did malling, recreation, and later, hanging around in my newfound Eden – where it’s easy to forget one’s actual realm – the blogworld.

I guess I wanted to be happy, too, even for a few brief spells. My circumstances kept lingering on my mind; it was just too heartbreaking to lend them anything more than my physical presence.  Yet in the face of losing a dearest one, nobody and nothing could prepare you to what lies ahead.

***

The evening of December 31, 2012, my mother called to persuade me to spend New Year’s Eve at her house. I declined. I chose to spend my most favorite moment of the year with my father. For the last time.

The midnight of December 31 2012, my father was taking his very last breaths — and I didn’t even know. I was already in the hospital, with my son, but at the time was watching the dazzling fireworks through the many windows along the corridors of the ICUs.

5:30 a.m: I was outside his room on a bench, trying to get a little sleep, when the nurse alarmingly informed me my father had just stopped breathing. No, No, No…

I went totally beside myself.

Walking home that morning after his remains were taken away, everything inside of me seemed to be slipping into another state. I couldn’t tell what or where; it was indescribable. There was this hollowness, numbness… and a sense of being more than half dead inside. The feeling stayed with me for a long while. I went about my daily business in mechanical mode. I still do, most of the time.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter much anymore.

***

January 1 has always been my most favorite time of the year. Watching the spectacular fireworks in the sky on New Year’s Eve is a personal tradition I’ve cherished since childhood. The question that has stayed with me: Why did my father have to go at that time of the year?

January 1, 2014 was the first anniversary of his death. I sat on the grass, at midday, where my father had been buried. He had chosen this beautiful memorial park for his final resting place. I sat all afternoon and stayed until the sun set. Until dim shadows completely expanded across the heavens. I still couldn’t bring myself to leave.

Suddenly, a display of fireworks, coming from some places inside the park, began lighting up the sky. Colors danced and exploded, presenting quite an awesome sight. It didn’t occur to me park visitors celebrate in such manner on the first night of New Year. Perhaps father chose to die on that special day, so it wouldn’t be so sad a day for me spending time with him at his gravesite.

The pyrotechnics ceased an hour later; I stood up and started my way home. It was already 8:30 p.m…. I thought, “This will be an annual observance from now on–for the rest of my life.”

Because the only person who has ever loved me is now six feet under the ground.

***

Perhaps his heart had my sister consistently occupying the prime spot — prior to the falling out that put a serious dent between them. In the last periods of his life, my father did let me know his appreciation for the little things I had done for him. He told me I was his best child. And in his last months, he even told me I was the one he loved the most.

In the throes of my father’s death, he and I found each other once more.

My sister and I had a talk earlier this year. I expressed my wish that when I die, part of my ashes — some part will be given to my son to be scattered at any sea of his choice — will be buried right beside where my father lays peacefully. I want to be with him in the end. It gives me a certain peace that, somehow, my father and I will be together again.

***

Happy Birthday, dearest one. I love you so much. 

I Am My Father’s Daughter

A higher power must have discerned I have been sheltered from an inescapable reality for so long. It has decided it’s about time.

January 1, 2013; 5:48 am: a few hours after my son and I watched the fireworks from the glass windows of Philippine Heart Center,  the nurse alerted me that my father’s heartbeat had gone flat.

And I used to think I already have an idea what unspeakable sorrow feels like..

Everything started to turn more surreal.
The despair has started its task in crucifying me.

I have deeply cherished only two people in my life. One of them is gone for good. Now I keep on asking myself, “What am I without my father around?” I have gotten so used to having his presence in my life. His being there, even when he is just lying on his bed.

Will this immense pain ever let up? And is there even someone in my family who is grieving as much as I do?
But I already know the answer to that.

No one is ever at ease in dealing with the lamentable realities of life. Who wants to talk about dying? Nobody really wants to have anything to do with suffering and death. Our realm of temporal existence is exclusively for the strong, the young, the religious, and the well-resourced – none of which my father belongs to. Let’s face it. Most people are happy to connect with you only for so long as you can give them something to smile about. And I completely get it. Because I am one of those people.

All these years, I have been absorbed in my own pathetic little world that has provided me with excuses to put some distance from it all. Coping with the challenges of being a single parent, my child’s health concerns – not to mention mine (mostly imagined), even my struggle with sleeping difficulties, plus the several “distractions” – have all prevented me from doing more for the person who has done and given me the most. Besides, the fact that my father had entrusted my elder sister with the authority to make every decision for the whole family, and a caretaker gets to attend to his needs, had given me reasons to surmise my presence wasn’t that necessary. My absence wouldn’t make a huge difference anyway – especially knowing that my elder sister and his favorite granddaughter had always been foremost in his mind and heart. I guess I came up with certain alibis that I held on to so I could get on with my life, and without having to face the dysfunctional relationships, resentments, and complications within the family.

I know, too, that he loves me. My father and I simply love each other. Throughout our good and bad times, the affection has always been there. My loyalty to him remains unquestionable.  In the last years of his life, he had acknowledged me as the best among his children. I know he meant it, though I am not sure it was fitting. Hearing that never failed to make me happy. That was enough for me.

It has been a long goodbye. When he started reaching his late 80s, I began to think maybe I’d be able to accept his departure when the time comes. Such a fool of me to have thought that way. How come I am dying inside now?

I tried to reassure myself that I’d be able to deal with it when the inevitable happens. Or perhaps he could hold on a bit longer.. just like he had been able to do for the past 25 years. My father is that strong. We are the invincible type anyway. My father and I. There’s always been this noble regard for our surname akin to a most priceless jewel that must be passed on through generations. Strong, disciplined, incorruptible, always true to our words. *Oh dear father, I can never have your indomitable will and strength.*

Neither of us is willing to accept the frightening concept of death. That’s why he fought so hard not to give in to it, while I did my best to shoo it away from my mind.
Until he started getting tired of fighting. And he began drowning himself with tiny shots of alcohol – which had been excruciating for me to watch. He had started to give up and was ready to go down. For reasons I myself never understood, my visits became fewer, too.

Never having had to deal with this kind of thing before, I chose to postpone facing up to the truth that the end is getting nearer. If I dwelt on what’s happening to the person I love dearly, I’d be crawling in desperation day and night. And so I begged fate to let me stay in my pleasant state for a while longer, no matter how superficial or mythical it is. Why does this have to happen just when life seems to be getting better for me? I want to be spared still from the misery of finally letting my father go. Please don’t let me drown in sorrow yet. Let me handle the dreadful side of life a little later – when I am more prepared. I have waited so long for this much serenity to nestle beside my being. Why does it have to leave so soon?
Besides, I am darned busy.

For the main reason that I found it so hard to sort out and deal with my circumstances, I could barely spend time with my father during the last months of his life.

Yes, I’ve been a selfish bastard..

***

Lying in his hospital bed, I look at my father and realize how very handsome he is. And just how much I love him so.

My father’s condition is deteriorating fast. It’s clearer than ever. Nobody could save him anymore. There’s nothing else that could prolong his earthly existence. In recent years, he had been repeatedly expressing his exhaustion for holding on. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would agree with him or not. All I know is that the man I have always adored has been fading away fast. Time has ceased to be on our side. The cold fact there’s nothing I could do to soothe his fears and ease his suffering is devastating.

December 20, 2012: It was morning at work when I received a text message from my brother informing me my father had had his 2nd heart attack in one week. He never regained consciousness – until the time of his clinical death on the dawn of New Year’s Day.

The evening before, he smiled at me as we said “I love you” to each other. He also mumbled something like I am the child he loves the most. Then he looked at me in a somber way. I nodded at him and it was my turn to give him a smile. Little did I know it was the moment of our final goodbye.
I did my best to be with him each day in the hospital while he was still breathing – though unconscious. And I was present during the wake and burial. Two facts have resurfaced in my awareness once again. I detest hospitals and funerals. Hospitals make me uncomfortable. Funerals still scare me.

He was brought to his final resting place at Loyola Memorial Park on Monday, January 7, 2013.

***

He’s on my mind all the time these days. Certain memories pop up suddenly and they consume my thoughts and emotions from the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I close them to sleep at night. You can say I am taking it hard. No matter what I do, I am left with the misery of not having him around anymore; not to mention the guilt of not having done much for the person I owe my life to. How can I beg for his forgiveness now?

I try to go through the motions of my everyday routine, but my very essence has been sobbing in anguish. I never thought grief could become this unbearable. That guilt could be this capable of overwhelming  me so. In an emotional place where no one could reach, I am clearly deserving of every pain that’s now slaying my soul.

I am my father’s daughter. He will live on inside me and I vow to love him with everything in my heart, until the moment I, too, get to breathe my last.