The Mourning After Sonny

Cecile Guidote-Alvarez has survived many things: state harassment, a dictatorship and stage 3 breast cancer. Last year, she became a high-risk patient but recovered from the new coronavirus. Now, she faces one of her toughest battles yet: the grief of losing her husband, former Senator Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez, from the same deadly virus.

Chapter 1


Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

For almost 50 years, mornings felt like waking up to a dream.

Every day, she would stir from slumber, in bed with her husband next to her. He would reach for her hand; hold it for a few seconds, in a soft, subtle grip. Fingers intertwining momentarily before parting as he raises his head to give her a peck on the cheek.

“Hello,” he would then whisper into her ear. His tone, deep and certain, would break silence before dawn.

“Ano, kakain na ba tayo?”

This is their mornings. Or rather, was.

These days, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez would wake up in an empty bed. She would open her eyes, gaze into the ceiling, and would wait for her husband’s hand to reach for hers.

The affection never comes. No hands, no pecks on the cheek, and no hellos.

And that realization almost, always grips her with the sudden pang of sadness and longing. She would run her fingers through his favorite shirt – a weathered, white camisa de chino – that, nowadays, she would often wear to sleep.

“It’s comfortable but at the same time, I feel some— maybe it’s just my mind but I feel some closeness or connectivity. I feel there’s a sense of linkage. It may sound crazy but it does help me,” Cecile says.

She knows those mornings are now truly nothing but a dream, yet she still can’t help but wait.

“Hanggang ngayon, parang may balaraw sa puso ko. Napakasakit.”

It’s an admission that resonates more coming from someone who has lived through great pains.

Those mornings are done. Her husband is gone.

Cecile has taken on many roles in her prolific career: actress, artist, author, advocate, founder of the Philippine Educational Theatre Association, executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and youngest Filipina to receive the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award.

She is known most of all as a survivor – fighting for democracy during the turbulent Marcos regime and then later on, beating an illness just as dangerous: cancer.

Now, at 77, she takes on an unfamiliar role that many women throughout the world suddenly found themselves in because of the new coronavirus: that of a widow.

It was March last year when Cecile felt the stirring of sickness. But this wasn’t like before. Her cancer had not recurred because just a month prior, doctors sent her home with a clean bill of health after another scare.

Yet Cecile felt weak, feverish and her body was stunned by malaise. Her throat hurt. She couldn’t stop coughing. Her lungs felt like they were imploding and exploding at the same time. She thought it was just a nasty case of a run-of-the-mill flu.

Her husband, former Senator Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez, took her to the emergency room at the nearby medical center.

“Just before we entered the hospital, he told me— he was telling me not to worry. He said ‘we will grow old together. We’ll take care ofour grandchildren.”

“And we still have a wedding to go to.”

At the time, the world was just on the verge of an unprecedented lockdown because of the pandemic brought on by a new virus. The term COVID-19, now very much part of the daily lexicon, was still merely a warning in the fringes. It had not yet become the world’s axis point. So it was a seemingly distant threat and the farthest from their minds.

Their plan was simple: get a check up, a doctor’s opinion, and then go home.

But after seeing the symptoms, doctors admitted Cecile to the hospital. To their surprise, Sonny was asked to stay too for “additional tests”.

He wasn’t feeling sick or anything. At 80, he felt mostly fine, save for a sore joint or two. But with Cecile showing clear signs of infection from the new virus, the doctors wanted to make sure that he wasn’t affected by it as well.

At some point, during the shuffling of beds into the isolation wing of the hospital, Cecile lost consciousness from the severe symptoms of what would turn out to be COVID-19.

She didn’t know then. But there, in that emergency room, under the pale, frigid, fluorescent lights, was the last time she would see her husband alive.

Those mornings are done. Her husband is gone.

“Natuwa ako na sasama siya. Akala ko magsasama kami sa isang room. Sabi ng doktor, maiwan na rin si Senator. So naghihintay kami sa emergency room. Hindi ko naman alam na mayroon ‘nang kuwarto. Hiwalay pala kami.”

Chapter 2


Cecile is no stranger to the muted white lights of a hospital ceiling.

In 2002, after a stereotactic biopsy in Hong Kong, Cecile was ordered to undergo an operation immediately.

The doctors told Cecile that she had Stage 3 breast cancer and she only had three years to live. The prognosis hit her hard. The doctor’s words felt like a jab in the gut. His every turn of phrase emptying her of life’s chances.

She was in shock. Sonny told her to fight on.

“Venceremos”, he would say.

It was his go-to mantra: to overcome, to win against all odds, to persist.

Cecile had a mastectomy done. Thirteen lymph nodes were excised. But it was in the following series of chemotherapy that her hope was slowly irradiated.

She lost her hair; her nails turned into all shades of aubergine, and she could barely stand up. The sessions had to be stopped because it proved too toxic for her health. If the cancer wouldn’t kill her, the sessions certainly would.

Optimism dwindled but Sonny told her to fight on.

“Venceremos”, he would say.

Cecile says the unwavering support from her husband – and their two children – allowed her to endure and to soldier on and to not stop until she survived.

She fought and she did.

Cecile jokingly told Sonny later on that she probably got the cancer from all the stress she went through with him during the Martial Law years. They both laughed.

Her cancer experience came to mind when she found herself back in a hospital bed, 18 years later, because of the coronavirus. Same feeling of helplessness. Same tune.

This time around however, the song played differently. Sonny wasn’t by her side. COVID-19 protocols dictated that patients be in isolation – far from loved ones, away from any physical and present support system.

“Parang nagising ako na parang paralyzed ako. So you get horrified dahil hindi mo magalaw kamay mo, ni hindi ako makapagsign of the cross. Parang may martilyong hawak na napakabigat,. ‘Yong paa mo, hindi mo magalaw. Nandoon ka lang, nakahiga. You have the shock and the horror na ano ba itong nangyari sa akin.”

The shock of a return trip to the hospital and a then-mysterious new illness put Cecile in a state of catatonia. There, but not really. Alive, but not.

“I went into some kind of an unconscious state. Sabi nila, di ako makausap.”

For days, doctors and nurses tried to talk to Cecile but she couldn’t snap out of the stupor. But then one of the health workers brought a phone to her room, placed it next to her bed, and turned on the loudspeaker. Cecile heard a familiar battlecry.

Sonny’s words from all those years ago echoed in the small, white room: fight on.

Only those words came from a different voice: their daughter.

“Nag-hi-hysteria na ‘yung anak ko dahil akala nila baka I had a stroke dahil hindi ako magising. Sa awa ng Diyos, biglang narinig ko yung hagulgol, umiiyak siya. Sabi niya na, ‘Mom, Mom, Mom, please fight. Fight. Sigaw ng sigaw ng walang tigil. Narinig ko ‘yon. Talagang natauhan ako. Diyos ko, sabi ko, give me strength. Please let me fight.”

Cecile’s health however kept deteriorating. She couldn’t breathe on her own so she was intubated.

“I thought I was going to die with a tube in me. I was half-conscious. Sabi ng doctor, kailangan po namin kayo na i-intubate. Nakapagsalita pa ako na ‘Ingatan ninyo ang voice box ko.’ Natawa na lang lahat.”

Cecile closed her eyes, prayed for divine intervention, and just like before, she heeded Sonny’s advice.


Days passed and Cecile’s condition improved.

When she woke up and the tube was removed, her first words were “Kumusta si Sonny?”

Chapter 3

“Don’t Cry”

In 1967, Cecile and Sonny went on their first “official” date.

At that point, they had been friends for about five years. They were both into the arts. She was a young theater actress and he was an advocate. They would play chaperone to friends who went on dates -- a dinner here and there, a few parties and some “disco”. They would also often watch movies like “Rebel Without a Cause”, fawning over American actor James Dean’s on-screen bravura.

“I became very close with him. We were talking about mga young problems and better causes and changes we wanted at the time.”

Cecile and Sonny collaborated too on programs that advocated for education funding for the underprivileged. They also dreamt of launching a theater platform that would literally pave the stage for more meaningful plays and musicals in the country.

It’s in that close proximity, working together day in and out, that Sonny made his romantic interest more pronounced.

“We were already...parang hindi lang friends. Parang may mutual understanding na.”

But before that eventual “official” date, came many protestations.

Cecile’s mother warned her, saying that she should be careful because of what she had heard about Sonny.

“Some other cousins of mine who also went to the same school as him na UP...warned my mom na “ladies man” daw. ‘Tas naku, ‘Be careful daw’ sabi niya.”

“Ang mommy ko, sasabihin na ‘O, nandito na naman 'yang si ano ah? Si Alvarez? Baka akala niya isa ka sa mga ladies.’”

Sonny was determined. He courted the mother too, hoping to win her over to his side. Love from the belly is always a guaranteed recipe to woo.

“Marunong siyang makisama talaga 'eh. Ilokana ang nanay ko. Sinasabihan siya ni Sonny parati na magaling siyang magluto ng Pakbet. Alam mo na.”

But it’s Cecile’s father figure who had the most to say.

Her biological father, a guerilla captain, died before she was born.

It was in theater, as a teenager, when she met who she considers to be her second father. His designation even has the title already attached to it: Father James Reuter. He was a Jesuit priest who staged plays and trained young actors like Cecile.

Reuter saw talent in Cecile, encouraged her, and wanted her to study the craft more. For summer theater programs, he volunteered to drive her to school and home, every day, just so she wouldn’t have to commute.

“Ang sabi ni Father, ‘I am told’ sabi niya, ‘that this guy that is courting you is a pink-o.’ Ang ibig sabihin parang sosyalista or on the left, 'di ba? Pink-o hindi naman niya sinabing red, hindi red-tagging.”

“Alam mo naman si Father. Dramatic at komedyante.”

But then the inevitable invitation for the date came.

Sonny had just helped Cecile finish the first successful meeting for what would later turn out to be the start of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). They wanted to celebrate.

"I'll just drive you to the UP. Para makita mo naman ang UP. "So he took her to dinner and then for a drive around his alma mater, the University of the Philippines. In courtship speak: he took her to where he had home court advantage.

“He took me on a ride. Ipinakita niya iyong campus. Kasi kilala siya na, very UP ‘yan eh. Sikat siya doon kasi member pa ng frat. Masyado siyang Alpha Phi Beta. He was a vanguard, a debater.”

They were enjoying the night, the view and the conversations.

Then, all of a sudden, without warning, Sonny kissed Cecile.

“Ninakawan ako ng halik.”

Cecile who has never gone on a date. Cecile who grew up in a conservative household. Cecile who considers herself as someone who was “practically raised by priests and nuns at St. Paul”.

Cecile, naturally, cried.

“He stole a kiss. Umiyak ako. Na-shock siya kasi siguro akala niya, I would be open. Sabi niya Don’t cry I will be kissing you for the rest of my life.”

Sonny, surprised by her reaction, hugged her and stroked her hair.

“Don’t cry, I will be kissing you for the rest of my life,” he said.

“That is a promise, Mrs. Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez. Yes, for the rest of my life, I will be kissing you.”

Chapter 4

“Nasaan si Sonny?”

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

After a few weeks of touch-and-go moments because of COVID-19, Cecile was finally on her way to recovery.

Cecile had many questions. But nobody wanted to tell her anything. She kept asking and asking as to where her husband was but only got the vaguest of answers.

“How’s my husband?”

“Okay po, okay lang,” they said.

“Nasaan si Sonny?”

Cecile was just told that he was in another room and that he was worried about her. That he was asking everyone to “pray for Cecile.”

They told her that Sonny was adamant and that he would often say that he wanted to leave the hospital and go home.

“’Aalis na ako rito,’ sabi niya tapos umaangal nga raw siya sa pagkain. Di daw niya matitiis iyong pagkain sa ospital.”

To ease his worry, she would send Sonny text messages to tell her that she’s okay and that she was praying and fighting. No replies came.

Her confusion with what was happening was only heightened more by the isolation.

“Yon ang nakakasakit ng loob. Noong nagka-cancer ako, all the time, kasama ko ang aking husband. Hawak hawak niya ako. Kasama ko ang mga anak ko. Ito, solo flight ka. Hindi mo alam mangyayari.”

The medical team, who took care of her, instead became the surrogate. A sort of connection to the outside world beyond the blankness of a dry wall.

The team would often encourage Cecile to get better.

“From changing diapers to spongebath. Gagalawin ka, itatagilid ka dahil nasusugatan na likod mo. it’s a terrible situation but they were there for me.”

“Nakikita ko, nagugulat ako – ‘O, iyong nurse kahapon, nandoon pa rin sa hatinggabi.’ Nakikita ko talaga iyong hirap nila and – my God — they’re really the army fighting this war against COVID. They’re really heroic. I felt very deeply for them and how their families, all families would be feeling.”

Days turned into nights, and then, into weeks. Her breathing turned normal and measured, but her thoughts raced the opposite direction.

Cecile had no contact whatsoever with Sonny. She would get updates from their children -- but the details that were given to her were more for reassurance rather than actual information.

“They were so afraid that I was still weak and very emotional. That I might go berserk or something. Na lalong sasama ang katayuan ko. Ang sabi lang nila, nailipat na si Sonny sa Intensive Care Unit. Lalo ako ninerbyos noong sinabi na ICU. Dasal ako ng dasal.”

She waited for Sonny.

But then came news that she wasn’t quite ready for: it was time to go home.

“Mom,” sabi sa akin ng anak ko, ‘The good news is dahil natanggal ang intubation mo kaya natuto ka nang kaunting gumalaw. Pauuwiin ka kasi natatakot sila na magkaroon ka ng… ma-infect ka pa rito.’”

“So paano ang daddy mo?”

“No, he’s being taken care of there. Pero ikaw uuwi na, para hindi ka madagdagan ng infection, kasi okay ka na.”

As Cecile was wheeled out of her room, the medical team waited for her in the hallway. Her surrogates. All lined up, in formation, in their scrubs and uniforms. Then they began clapping.

She beat cancer. Now, she beat COVID-19.

At home, she kept waiting for Sonny. She was frail and could barely walk but she practiced. She wanted to get better before her husband came home.

“I was still learning to walk. I was walking like a duck, Hindi ko talaga kayang maglakad. Nagwi-wheelchair pa ako. But I tried hard.”

Everywhere she looked, Sonny was there. Images of him flashed as some sort of encouragement. Each memory, cheering her on.

It had been their house for over three decades. Each column, crevice and corner represented a life lived together, and of expected familiarity. She thought of the many conversations they had by the living room. Her dreams. His reflections.

She imagined their grandchildren playing with him, and yelling their nickname for him: “Pason” short for “Papa Sonny”. She thought of how he badly cooked eggs for breakfast in their kitchen. And his triumphant way of cooking his favorite chicken estofado, a recipe from his mother, during the holidays.

“Tinutukso nga siya ng mga anak niya palagi kapag pasko or whatever, ‘Hay nako, may chicken estofado na naman?”

A few days passed. Cecile waited and waited for Sonny.

She wondered about the wedding they had planned on going to before they found themselves in the hospital.

Then finally, a call.

At home, in the same bed of their good mornings, Cecile received news of her worst.

Chapter 5

“Matatagalan ako, Hon”

Nothing puts a damper on a relationship quite like a ruthless dictator.

In 1972, a few years after that stolen kiss from that fateful first date, Cecile and Sonny were practically engaged in anything but name. They were in love and supported each other in the pursuit of their own respective causes.

“We were planning already to have a wedding back then. Ganitong simbahan ‘tas ‘yung white dress.”

Cecile had founded PETA by then and was busy directing its productions that pushed for more Filipino-centered stories. Sonny meanwhile moved into politics, and became a Constitutional Convention delegate, at a time when political unrest over the president’s hold on power was reaching fever pitch.

But things were benign until they weren’t.

September 21 was marked on their calendars as date night. Cecile and Sonny had plans to meet that day for dinner before heading home. At the time, they lived close to each other in Quezon City.

Sonny spent his day at his alma mater, UP, in a forum where he discussed Oplan Sagittarius -- the just-uncovered plot to declare martial law in the country -- with opposition leader and then Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino. Both Sonny and Ninoy were vocal critics of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

After the event, Sonny and Ninoy both headed for Manila. The senator had another event to attend to at the old Manila Hilton hotel in Isaac Peral Street (now United Nations Avenue). Sonny meanwhile was on his way to PETA’s theater in Fort Santiago to pick up Cecile for their dinner.

Cecile, however, called for a rain check. She was conducting a director’s laboratory session on the production of “Itay, Kain Na tayo” and ran into some trouble with the latest production. She told Sonny not to wait for her.

“Go home,” she told him.

“Matatagalan ako, Son. Mauna ka na lang baka hatinggabi pa kami matapos.”

Cecile’s day finished past midnight. It had been a long day and she was fixated on fixing the production snafus that everything that happened during the day seemed inconsequential.

Until she got home where dozens of urgent messages were waiting for her. Her mother told her that Ninoy’s sister, Lupita, had been calling.

“Cecile, hinuli na si Ninoy. Baka si Sonny nahuli na rin.”

The messages hit Cecile like a swerving semi on a highway crashing into a wall: seemingly slow motion but slamming instantaneously.

Marcos declared Martial Law. Ninoy was arrested. Opposition members were being put in jail.

“Oh my God! He just left Fort Santiago around 7PM. They would surely arrest him in his house.”

Cecile tried to reach Sonny. But he wasn’t home. A temporary, fleeting sigh of relief.

Sonny was still in his office. Cecile was able to talk to him and warn him about what was happening.

Date night was a bust that day.

Unfortunate since it would have been the last one for a while. Because like many who posed a threat to the government and feared an arrest, Sonny planned on going underground to hide.

In that phone call, Sonny warned Cecile that she will be followed and questioned as to his whereabouts. That she too was in danger. That she needed to be careful. That her movement would now have to be calculated and all association with him would have to be severed.

When Cecile hung off the phone that night, she knew immediately what Sonny meant: as far as the world is concerned, she and Sonny were no longer together.

“Siyempre masakit sa loob ko, pero I have to do it.”

Chapter 6

A Bride in Blue

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

In her long theater career, spanning over six decades, Cecile played many difficult roles. She was once the Miracle Worker and then Lady Macbeth. For PETA, she played many Filipina characters who fought for what they wanted and deserved.

But when asked what the most challenging role she had to play was one that wasn’t even on stage: an amateur courier on covert operations.

After martial law was declared and arrests were being made on Marcos’ critics, Sonny went into hiding. He moved from one friend’s house to another, later staying at the local YMCA, hoping to escape authorities that wanted them silenced.

“Mag-iingat ka kasi siguradong susundan ka.”

Cecile, who publicly declared she and Sonny had broken up, acted as a messenger. She wanted to see Sonny and there were documents from political allies that needed to be delivered.

Sonny warned her but she insisted.

The messages, on brand with Cecile’s own upbringing, were coded in novenas, prayers and other religious writings. She couldn’t call him unless a number was left for a “Sister Carolina”. She could only reach him if she was looking for a “Father Joseph”.

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News
“That’s why I started having wigs. Mayroon ako bag na may isang shirt, isang dress. Papasok ako ng isang lugar. Lalalabas ako, iba na hitsura ko.”

There was that one time where she went into a bathroom in Cartimar Market. She went in as Cecile, and came out looking like a character she had played on stage. She took a different exit as a different person, riding a different car.

“It was hide and seek. Nakakaloka. You’re really in a state of nervousness, concern, fear. I had to avoid detection. I had to be particularly careful not to endanger the friend who was Sonny’s host and was preventing him from being captured.”

It was dangerous and the repercussions were real. Unlike theater, there were no rehearsals. No misses nor second takes or else their show ends in a sudden curtain call.

No matter what, Cecile was committed to her role to protect Sonny.

Then martial law administrator Juan Ponce Enrile confronted Cecile about Sonny during the Ramon Magsaysay awarding.

“You better tell Alvarez to surrender or he will be shot on sight.”

“Tinanong ako ni Enrile sabi ko, "You know, what can I do? I should have been married to him. You ruined the possibility of my marriage. I don't know where he is.”For months, Cecile and Sonny lived in paranoia.

Until one day in November, Father Reuter and Cecile went on a drive under the pretense of going into a theater workshop.

It wasn’t unlike the rides she had with her surrogate father when she was young. During those summers when Fr. Reuter would take her to summer school and then back home.Except this time, Cecile was firmly in the wheel.

Cecile wore a simple, blue dress. So ordinary that it spoke nothing of what the drive’s true destination would be.

Sonny had a small window to leave the country, escape and live in exile. He would be fleeing to Hong Kong in three days. She wanted to marry the love of her life before time was up.

So the same man who once warned her about getting involved with Sonny, told her three words that would forever change her life: Matrimonio de Conciencia.

In church canon law, it meant a marriage in secret. No announcements, no invitations, no receptions, nothing public. Marriage certificate locked in a church vault. No copies were made. Nobody could know. Except for Fr. Reuter who would lead the sacrament and few witnesses to the vows.

When they arrived in a church in Imus, Cavite a little past nine in the morning, Sonny was there waiting for Cecile.

The sun was on full-dial.

He wore a checkered shirt. She walked down the aisle, a bride in blue.

Chapter 7


The wedding was brief. The honeymoon was just as truncated.

After the vows were made, Cecile and Sonny were brought to the Hilton hotel in Manila. They entered through the maze-like basement and were booked in a room under different aliases. More a spy game than post-matrimonial bliss.

They were given two nights before Sonny had to escape for Hong Kong -- his only chance of skirting through detection from the government.

“We stayed in the room and food was just being delivered. We never left until it was time for him to leave. We had three days, two nights before he had to disappear and that was it.”

They weren’t even separated yet but the days were mostly spent on plans on how to reunite. They had to. Plans were the only things they could hold onto in a marriage that seemingly had an expiration date.

“We were planning how to... to work it out. He said that, ‘You be careful...mag-iingat ka’ and then sabi niya, ‘We will still see each other we will work it out. He was really hoping we could have a family. He didn't really know what was going to happen.”

Hours before they had to leave, they were in bed.

Sonny reached for her hand and held it tight. Like holding on to sand, emptying out of his palms.

It wasn’t enough time but at least, there was a chance to bid goodbye, to say what needed to be said and for promises of finding their way back to each other.

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News
“We were just together relishing the moment and then he told me na "Remember..." sabi niya, "I told you during our first date that I will love you for the rest of our lives, Mrs. Alvarez.”

“I will still do that. I don't think that this is the end of it.”

All they could do was cry and watch the clock as the minutes went by. That morning, Sonny stowed away in a ship bound for Hong Kong.

Chapter 8

“Dad Is Gone”

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

Cecile and Sonny went to the hospital together.

She came home. He didn’t.

“Dad is gone.”

When their daughter called Cecile to tell her the news that Sonny had passed, she was gutted. In her mind, she prepared for this moment many times before. She was ready yet it was still sudden.

In between her daughter’s cries over the phone, Cecille looked at the bed she and Sonny shared together all those years. She clutched the sheets and gazed into the empty space.

“I think I have never been so shocked in my entire life. I don’t know. Hindi ko talaga akalain. Imagine, pumanaw siya, no farewell, no hug. No one’s there to say ‘I love you forever’.”

But it’s not just grief that took over Cecile. There was another distinct feeling that crept slowly: guilt.

While there are many different facets of the coronavirus, a glaring commonality in almost all stories is the torment of knowing a loved one died alone, with no one at their bedside. With strangers and tubes and machines and the walls whitened with emptiness. No one there to wave back, return a hug, or affirm a farewell.

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News
“As an artist, I’m melodramatic. Dapat siguro nagwala ako sa ospital. Dapat hindi ako pumayag na umuwi. Why didn’t I insist when they kept on telling me. “How’s my husband?” “Okay po, okay lang.” He was not okay. I should have insisted that I have to see him. I should’ve raised hell so I could be with him.”

“May balaraw sa puso ko. Napakasakit. Hindi kami nakapagusap. Ako, siniisi ko sarili ko pinaalis ako sana nagwala muna ako. I am filled with guilt na buhay ako at siya pumanaw. I feel so bad. That’s the truth. Nagkulang ba ako sa dasal? Ano ba ang nangyari? Bakit siya ang nawala?”

Death would be putting it kindly. Death means closure. Death is the end of a process. With COVID, there’s none of that. Those suddenly left behind aren’t allowed to even have a final goodbye.

“‘Yung mga anak ko, nakita nila ang tatay nila na may sakit. Pagkatapos, bigla na lang nasa loob ng sako. Inilagay sa crematorioums. Paglabas, abo na.”

No funeral, no wake, no burial. No ceremonies to bring condolences.

“Iyon ang pinakamasakit talaga. Iba ‘yung madadala mo ‘yung katawan niya at makikita ng mga kaibigan. The relatives would’ve come. He would’ve felt comforted.”

“Hindi mo makakamtam ang anumang huling pagpapaalam.”

Chapter 9

A Bride in White

Cecile would often flashback to the moment she last talked to Sonny, right outside of the hospital.

He reminded her that they were going to attend a wedding.

Their wedding.

November would have been their 50th wedding anniversary and for years, they both planned on throwing a huge celebration. Far from the wedding they had in Cavite under a veil of secrecy, danger and urgency.

They planned on having a “do-over” so many times but they just never got around to it.

“You know, he always said, “I want you to have the moment of marching down the aisle. It never happened. Palaging sinasabi niya, “O, 25th natin.” Something would always happen, hindi natutuloy. He has this big conference, he has to prepare for it, I have to help. Hindi natutuloy. Busy, may production ako. So sabi niya, “Ito ha, this November.”

2020 was supposed to be it. They would have a wedding then a Carribean cruise. Then afterwards, they would visit their grandchildren in the States.

“He wanted me to prepare, prepare talaga. He wanted me to be healthy and strong. Sabi niya, “Look, don’t worry, we will grow old together. We’ll take care of our grandchildren. We will have all the things that you want to do.”

“Nawala naman siya.”

It was supposed to be a dream realized: their marriage in the light of day, their love pronounced and shared with friends and family.

With Cecile, finally, walking in the aisle as a bride in white.

Chapter 10

“What’s Keeping Me Alive”

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News

In the year since Sonny’s death, Cecile learned how to use Facebook.

She had no interest in learning how to do social media before. But with her husband’s passing, the memorials and tributes that friends and family posted provided some comfort to her. Even words from strangers.

“Na-touch ako, iyong sumulpot lang sa Facebook. It was a frontliner. I didn’t get her name. Nag-comment siya, sabi niya, “The senator was such a gentleman and caring,” sabi niya. “Kahit anong serbisyong ibigay namin, palagi niyang nagte-thank you. Palagi siyang most appreciative,” sabi niya. I was so touched by that post. Kasi that’s what he is. He’s so thoughtful and kind.”

With the latest surge of COVID-19 in Manila, learning to cope with technology has also helped Cecile cope with loneliness during the lockdown.

“Hindi ako techie. Walang ka-techie-techie sa katawan ko. Kung hindi dahil sa lockdown, I wouldn’t learn Facebook and connect. Marunong na rin ako mag-Zoom also. Nakakausap ko mga anak ko at siyempre mga kaibigan. So nawawala na rin ng kaunti iyong isolation.”

Despite her children telling her to stay with them, Cecile prefers to stay in the home she shared with Sonny.

She would often imagine them in the living room, having conversations they would have had if he was still alive.

“Ako, tuwang tuwa talaga eh and I’m sure he’s so happy that Biden won and he’s re-entering into the Paris accord. Iyong mga ganoon ba iyong nagpapagaan ng loob. I was really cheering, iyong mga ganoon na lang ba.”

She missed him most during Christmas. But even then, everyday feels like Christmas without Sonny.

For Cecile, you don’t lose someone all at once with death. It’s a decidedly slow process and each day means having to fight and cling onto the memories left behind.

“I haven’t left kasi this place kasi the images come. Bumabalik. Parang naririnig ko pa nga ‘yung footsteps niya na parating. Nararamdaman ko sa mga libro na iniwan niya. Lahat nandito. Our lives were so integrated. It was fused together by this home.”

“I just feel the connectivity. You feel parang mas maluwag ang loob mo. You have all of the pictures. Sometimes, I can just look at them. What’s important is the memory.”

Nowadays, she also keeps Sonny’s memory alive by continuing the causes he left behind.

Photo by Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News
“I’m carrying on when he would be doing because I know his dreams. That’s what’s keeping me, I guess, alive or focused. Just thinking na he’s cheering on what I’m trying to do now to keep his legacy alive. I get strength by thinking that I am doing what he wants to be done and he’s somehow, somewhere cheering.”

In grief, Cecile can unlearn a routine, slowly let go of loss. She’ll get used to waking up alone in an empty bed with nothing but his shirt. She’ll eventually cope without his hands, pecks and good mornings.

But to forget is an all together different matter. Grief is the fight to make what is temporary, more lasting. It’s a fight that she will keep on fighting.

And even when the memories fade and she’s pressed to remember, Cecile will always have Sonny reminding her to forge bravely on.


Photos courtesy of Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, unless credited.
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