March 24, 2006
So when I think about his death now, I think about my grandfather's hands. I'm so sad. I've never felt this sad in my life. I finally know what it means to lose something forever. I'll never hold my grandfather's hands again.
I wasn't there when he died. I didn't even know how sick he'd gotten until my brother called me on the phone yesterday afternoon, telling me frantically that Lolo had stopped breathing and that I should come home as soon as possible. It turns out that they'd been trying to contact me since Thursday evening, only I hadn't recharged my phone battery and I didn't turn my phone on until Friday morning. Lolo had been feverish on Wednesday. By Thursday, he was having trouble breathing and his blood pressure was rising astronomically. My brother, grandmother and Uncle Choy took him to the hospital. The ER staff hooked him to an oxygen tank, stabilized his blood pressure, and, after observing him for a couple of hours, decided to discharge him. On Friday morning, my grandfather managed to rouse himself to eat breakfast at my gradmother's behest after which he fell asleep. An hour later, Glen came by to have the oxygen tank replenished. As my cousin Patrick, Kuya Mark's youngest brother, shook Lolo's shoulder to wake him for his medicine, he found to his shock that our grandfather had stopped breathing.
When I called my brother back, he was standing outside the ER and bawling hysterically. He kept repeating that Lolo wouldn't breathe. My grandmother came on the phone and asked me where I was. Her voice was weak and choked from crying, I couldn't hear her. I hung up and walked out of the building. I called my sister who was in the middle of her university final exams and hadn't been informed. She knew that Lolo had been hospitalized but thought that he was already okay. I caught her as she was stepping into the library. She told me later that after I called her, she sat down on the lobby and cried for nearly ten minutes. Kuya Mark called me as I was on my way back to the apartment to get clothes. Sounding vaguer than usual, he said that he was standing by a roadside 'somewhere' and was waiting for 'somebody' so he could go home. When I asked him if he was all right, he said that he couldn't think. We couldn't get hold of Kuya Lloyd, who'd lost his cellphone a few days ago.
I packed my things in the expectation of staying overnight in the hospital with Lolo. I guess I wasn't thinking too. On my way down the stairs, my father called me and, again, asked me where I was. I think that yesterday was the first time that I'd been asked by so many people in one day about my whereabouts. I told him that I was on my way home. Dad said, "Oh. Okay." in a rough, almost angry voice, and I think that was when I knew. I asked him if there was something else he should be telling me. Dad never said that his father was dead, only that "... your grandfather isn't here anymore." Which does make better sense semantically, I suppose. The fact of Lolo's death pales beside the knowledge that he simply is no longer 'here.'
Dad told me that they were waiting for me to tell my grandmother. I shouldn't cry, he said. He wasn't asking me to be strong, which at best was an empty euphemism given the circumstances, only to be calm. My mother was flying in from HK later that night, but he and his sister (as it happens, they were both in Malaysia on respective business trips when the news reached them) couldn't catch a flight to Manila until noon the next day. We would have to arrange the funeral arrangements ourselves. Uncle Choy, Kuya Mark's dad, had already picked a coffin but couldn't quite manage to secure a suit of clothes for Lolo to wear since he would then have to tell his mother-in-law what he needed the clothes for.
So I calmly sat on the taxi back to the province and calmly held my ninety-two year old grandmother as she wept and said that her husband had never refused to respond to her voice, until that fateful morning when he simply couldn't speak anymore. So much of their life together consisted of words; it's probably this tender, unceasing flow of conversation which is the essence of my grandmother's grief. I was not so calm when I walked into the morgue, bearing the barong my grandfather wore on Bai's debut and his nattiest pair of formal trousers, and I saw my grandfather's body, wrapped in a simple white blanket. I remember that he used to say to please spare him the indignity and expense of a bourgeois funeral and just wrap his corpse in a winding sheet and then dump it in some hole in the ground. He never did have a high opinion of himself. His hands, when I touched them, were already cold.
My father and aunt decided to hold the wake in a funeral parlor, contravening local tradition (Filipino wakes are usually held in the household of the deceased). My relatives sighed and muttered about how much easier it was for them to help out and respond to our needs if we held the wake at home. They would have to cook food, prepare drinks, run errands etc for the expected deluge of mourners, and having to go back and forth from house to funeral home might cramp their style. As it was, they'd already helped tremendously. I'd seen it in action many times before, though I've never appreciated it so much as I did yesterday--when news reached them that my grandfather had died, they rushed to the hospital, whisked my grandmother back to the house, distracted her with food and talk, cleaned the house from attic to basement, prepared merienda, and organized a car pool. Two hours later, they were ferrying dinner and snacks to the funeral home.
My cousins arrived later in the evening. Kuya Mark said that he stood for a long time on the other side of the road, paralyzed, unable to go in. Kuya Lloyd arrived around 9PM. When his father told him that there was something he must know, my cousin said that he'd arrived in our grandparents' home with the gates thrown open and people milling about and our grandfather conspicuously absent from his favorite seat by the door. He did know. My sister, when she arrived, could only cry, over and over. She had to stay in the university instead of rushing back immediately because she still had a two-hour final to take. She said that she probably failed it.
As for me... I'm really rambling here, but listing all these details down thaws my mind somewhat. I've been unable to talk to anyone or to myself continuously since last night.