LONDON -- Just as the global pandemic is forcing a new normal in the way we work, do business, socialise and travel, so too for death and bereavement. When I started covering the pandemic, I did not envision I would be put in the same place with the people I interviewed, where I would have to say goodbye to my dearest father thru a video call.
From the onset of the pandemic lockdown in Europe, I was at the forefront of delivering stories for the ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau about the novel coronavirus disease and how it has affected the Filipino communities across Europe. As Europe became the epicentre of the pandemic, I tried to give face to the disease by interviewing families of the deceased frontliners in the UK. I often sat long hours staring at my computer redoing my work, sometimes, too despondent to continue writing after listening to raw accounts and personal, poignant stories of a frontliner’s last hours at the other end of a video call, as told by a grieving son, daughter, sibling, mother, or husband who just bade a tear-choked final goodbye. Then I’d pick up on my work again after realising I have deadlines to beat and a story to tell so we would understand the novel coronavirus better and honour those who battled bravely, while many others continue to work in the frontlines to defeat the virus. Sadly, the natural order of saying goodbye to loved ones has been overturned by the precarious conditions brought about by the pandemic. Now, I’m telling my own story, one that is no different from those I have listened to and documented.
My father, Rosauro (also known as Ros or Sauro), died on June 11 at the age of 83, after a difficult and protracted 10-year battle with prostate cancer. In the end, it was his kidneys that failed to work. He was a fighter till his last breath. Not long before his death, I came to terms that my father’s days were numbered. I had embraced the will of God. But when the time finally came, it still broke my heart to pieces.
On the last week of May, we decided as a family to bring back my octogenarian dad to the hospital. His health rapidly deteriorated during the lockdown. His wish was to go back to our home in Bicol. Was it a premonition that he had given up the fight and home was his euphemism for death? We went against his request because he was too frail to travel. It was a painstaking last journey to the Veterans Memorial Medical Center so that his doctors for many years could assess and attend to him again. Upon admission, he was immediately taken to the ICU where he was sedated. He needed blood transfusion. Thankfully, my brother was able to tap some of his former classmates in the military school and family friends who extended help. While UK was slowly moving to phased lockdown, I could not do much but pray, look at some of the old photos of my dad and find comfort in my family far afield by doing prolonged video calls.
When my mother, who was his constant rock, visited him at the ICU, she made a covenant that she would return on their wedding anniversary on June 10. My mother told him too that I had successfully booked a flight to Manila. When he heard it, still with eyes closed, he moved his lips but he was too weak to form any words at that stage.
My dad was a great father. He was a man of few words, honourable and exceptionally loyal. He was a product of his time: conservative and reasonably strict. What he failed to articulate in words, he showed in deeds. He toiled hard to send all his six children to finish their university education. In his youth, he was an athlete. He loved basketball. He was a head-turner during his university days not only because he was a local basketball star but because he was extremely handsome. His college education was cut short because he needed to help his family when his father died. He was conscripted in the navy then transferred to the air force, where he also played basketball. He felt blessed to be paid to do what he loved most while also serving the country.
Later in his life, when he read and heard about the dispute in the West Philippines Sea, he would talk about his naval days in his mid-20s, when they patrolled the seas of Palawan, Guam, Vietnam and many other areas. He had a romantic affinity with Japan. So, when I had a chance to do a documentary about Japanese-Filipino children or ‘Japinos’ for the defunct news magazine show “The Correspondents” on ABS-CBN, he was thrilled to hear that I was going to around 15 towns and cities in Japan for nearly a month.
When I came back, we compared notes on what rural and urban Japan looked like in 2001 versus the late sixties. When he traveled to the UK in 2009 to attend my civil wedding, his number one request was to bring him to a military museum. I took him to the Imperial War Museum in London where he marveled at the military might of imperial Britain. Unlike my mother, my dad was not the scholarly type. But he read the newspaper religiously and watched the news on television everyday. For him, it was a bonus to see me reporting on TV Patrol and other ABS-CBN news platforms. I frequently queried him on what my report was about. His memory had often betrayed him in the last two years and he would quip: “Ano ba yun? Never mind. Basta maganda ka at ang suot mo.” His twilight years was made more colourful with a successful interlude in local politics. He lived full circle. He loved and served his community and country and devoted his life to his family.
A day after my parents celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary, he went into a coma as if he had just waited for that important occasion, like a true faithful and devoted husband, who had given mother 53 years of love and selfless devotion. My broken heart wanted to believe he also waited for me. I was holding on and I was being selfish for my own good, asking him to wait for me to arrive in Manila so I could accompany him back to Bicol. But my older brother who talked to the doctor after my dad fell into a coma asked me not to prolong our father’s suffering and that I should bid him goodbye. He reminded me that patients in a coma can still hear. I immediately phoned his personal carer, Novie, who was allowed to be inside the ICU with my dad, reporting to us every development. She put the hearing aid into my dad’s ear and her phone closest to his ear.
The hardest thing to do is to say goodbye when you are hoping for another miracle. But I heeded my brother’s plea and I said my goodbyes, thank yous and I love yous, punctuated by sobs, to my long-suffering father. Novie asked me if I wanted to see him in a video call. She also told me his palpatory rate was dropping to 40. I did not know what that meant nor did it sink in to me that time.
Novie held my dad’s head and hugged him as she positioned the phone to give me a good view. There, I saw the face of my dad, the one that will be imprinted in my memory forever. Although he had lost a lot of weight and his lips were chafed, it was a peaceful, content, angelic face. I must have seen him smile when I said thank you again and again. I also told him I would not be upset if he didn’t wait for me and that he should visit me in my dreams. I told him he should rest. Then I heard what sounded like a tensed commotion. Novie said he had a cardiac arrest and that the doctors would perform a CPR. Every frame during the video chat was surreal, like a dream sequence, only to be reminded it wasn’t because I felt every bit of the pain emanating from my heart and flowing to my cold toes. My father joined our Creator at 11:40 pm, the day after their wedding anniversary, and while I was uttering my emotive goodbye.
This is my COVID-19 lockdown story, the one that left a hole in my heart, and the story I will not forget.