Grieving without goodbyes: Families turn to faith to mourn loved ones who died during Luzon lockdown

Thea Alberto-Masakayan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2020 04:01 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2020 05:18 PM

Grieving without goodbyes: Families turn to faith to mourn loved ones who died during Luzon lockdown 1
Funeral home workers carry a coffin to their vehicle after delivering a cadaver that is reportedly a COVID-19 case to Baesa Crematorium in Quezon City on April 2, 2020. The crematorium recently opened to take in deceased amid the enhanced community quarantine, as potential and confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Two fathers did not die of the dreaded coronavirus disease (COVID-19) but their passing was doubly painful for the family left behind -- with no proper goodbyes, no usual rites, and no friends in time of grief. 

"Nobody was allowed to accompany the cadaver and nobody was allowed to be there for the cremation. [It's] sad that we couldn’t be there for dad during those moments," said Mike Constantino, whose father Reynaldo Constantino succumbed to cancer on March 27. 

It was equally heartbreaking for Maricar Bautista, whose dad Eleuterio Bautista, Jr. died of a heart illness while at the hospital. 

"Not being able to embrace, kiss and even talk to our Dad, it makes it all the more difficult for the family," said Bautista.

"His passing has completely left his family and relatives devastated and utterly heartbroken. But we take comfort knowing that Daddy is in a much better place now reunited with our Creator, our Lord God Almighty," said Bautista. 

Grieving without goodbyes: Families turn to faith to mourn loved ones who died during Luzon lockdown 2
The Bautista family at the patriarch's 80th birthday. Photo from Maricar Bautista

Public gatherings, including wakes, are banned as authorities placed the entire Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine in a bid to arrest the spread of COVID-19. 

This lack of ritual and loss of physical contact from friends will make the moving on process harder, said Dr. Ruby Lee-Cheng, a psychiatrist at the Manila Doctors Hospital.

"They won't be able to go through it properly, it's not the usual situation. They would feel lonelier because they don't have access to physical contact and support that we need in times of loss," Lee-Cheng said. 

Even members of the Catholic church find the new norm hard to accept, said Rev. Fr. Aris Sison, parish priest of St. John Paul II Parish in Eastwood City and former rector of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Cubao, Quezon City.

"It was very difficult for us priests, very, very difficult. In fact most of us ended up in tears. It is very difficult for us not to be allowed to celebrate mass in public," he told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview. 

Then there is discrimination, Constantino said, as the crematorium was also "very concerned and had lots of questions" about their father's death.

"Once confirmed, they headed right for my parents’ place to pick up the body. Nobody was allowed to go with them and no wake was allowed per Department of Health policy," Constantino said.

"They just texted me the next day that the urn was ready for pick up so I picked it up then brought dad home," he added. 

Tapping technology and finding faith​

Bereft of a ritual that could give them closure, Constantino and his siblings turned to Facebook for their eulogies, and posted their tributes simultaneously. 

"Aside from teaching me how to be a man, a dad, an eldest son and kuya, Reycons introduced me to and indulged my love for music," Constantino, a musician, said in his post, accompanied by old photos of him and his dad. 

Grieving without goodbyes: Families turn to faith to mourn loved ones who died during Luzon lockdown 3
Three generations: Mike Constantino and his son Pablo with the late Rey Constantino. From Mike Constantino's Facebook page

"Please say a prayer for my dad (and my mom Vicky, his wife of 46 years) who gave me the biggest blessing just last week: he gave his life to Jesus and walked with him till the very end," wrote Constantino.

Bautista and her family meanwhile set up an online memorial, where relatives and friends can sign an online guestbook and share their fond memories with her father.

Bautista said she was also grateful to priest Fr. Francis Lucas, who offered an online funeral mass for her father.

"It really helped a lot knowing that my Dad was blessed spiritually," Bautista said.

Grieving without goodbyes: Families turn to faith to mourn loved ones who died during Luzon lockdown 4
Eleuterio Bautista Jr. during his 80th birthday. From Maricar Bautista's Facebook page

The bodies of Reynaldo and Eleuterio were both cremated, based on DOH policy on handling the bodies of the deceased. Cremation is accepted in the Catholic faith, said Sison. 

Sison added that even if priests could not physically bless the remains, "God continues to work."

Lee-Cheng said it is important for the grieving family to also "recognize what they are feeling."

"If they are sad, they have to know they are sad, and not deny it. Try to understand where it is coming from," she said, adding that one must face sorrow one day at a time. She also advised people to reach out to family and health experts, if needed. 

"Never isolate yourself. Technology would be helpful... call your loved ones, get good social support, or help someone going through the loss. Check on them, and if needed, seek professional help and therapists," she said. 

While the pain will linger, families can always hold on to memories, and be grateful that their loved ones had lives well-lived. 

"My dad told us he didn’t want a wake nor an obituary. So he got his wish in the end," said Constantino. 

- With reports from Erik Tenedero, ABS-CBN News