On 23 May 2021, my father passed on to Eternity in the quietest and most peaceful fashion. Without ruckus – without drama – without anything that may cause us any pain or guilt or resentment. He simply slipped away into the quiet.
Quite contrary to the last fourteen (14) years of his life where everything was characterized by an alternate cycle of peace and tumultuous, chaotic period. He was suffering from a kind of bipolar issue (which, at 65, was too late to occur that is why his neurologist debunked this earlier prognosis by his psychs and, instead, ruled that the change in his behavior was due to the strokes he suffered which greatly affected his nervous system) and later, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Fourteen long years. Those 14 years deeply defined me as an individual – and defined us as a family – as Life took us into a cycle of highs and lows. After each episode, we would find ourselves happy and full of hope looking forward to a new beginning while trying to put the past behind us – until BAM! another episode would hit us in the face and trashed us back to the earth. We would wake up torn between being compassionate and being angry and resentful because we do not deserve the headache and the trauma he was giving us all.
It was a period that I would call both a curse and a benediction – a boon and a bane, at the same time. In the initial years, we were baffled – trying to understand how he got into that stage as well as looking for something or someone to blame. After all, how can a kind and patient man be suddenly turned into somebody else we do not know? He was like a version of Jekyll and Hyde.
Hellish. That is what I would call the psychological and financial challenge that his illness brought us. The suffering we had to put up with whenever he mindlessly wasted our hard-earned money, badmouthed us and terrified my mother and the people around him every time he found the need for outburst.
I cannot remember how many times our situation nearly pushed me to the cliff of no return. I mean, if all your life you tried so hard to do the right thing – sacrificing your own happiness – despite your own limitations and yet, Life would give you something like this on a silver platter! Wouldn’t you feel resentment too? Wouldn’t you feel you do not deserve that kind of shit? Wouldn’t you feel that life is unjust because, after all, you did not ask to be born here? (Oh, of course, we do not actually know the answer to this question, right? Given that I am ignorant of its absolute truth, I learned to stop claiming it as my ticket to insist that the world owes me for being here.)
If you tried so hard giving it all – your money, your compassion, your service – and yet the other person would tell you, in your face, that somebody else does it better than you, would you not be angry? Would you not turn bitter and heartless? Would you not simply drop it all, run away and let the other person live his own cursed life to the end?
For all their limitations and shortcomings as providers, my parents achieved a feat that cannot be easily replicated by most people: THEY RAISED GOOD CHILDREN – damn good children.
People say that the goodness or badness of parents can be judged by how their children turned out to be as humans. If that is the only criteria then I would say that my folks certainly passed the test with flying colors – throw in unicorns, rainbows and butterflies as well. They successfully raised HUMANS – humans who are capable of softening their hearts when there was a choice to harden it. Therefore, they did something right or else we would not turn out well. (I believe that alone says something beautiful about the kind of people they once were.)
Instead of abandoning them (for the good Lord knows that parents and children can both abandon each other and stories about that abound), my siblings and I saw this challenge through until the end – given our best, regardless of financial consequences – regardless of the fact that our efforts were never appreciated. We stood tall and strong through it all despite the “noises.”
Those 14 years were no heaven for us. Yet, it strengthened our bond as a family. I was never left alone to face hardship. I went through hell and back but it was not a lonely journey. I always have an anchor and a rock to hold on to even as I travel through the belly of hell. For all their fallibilities (as every human is bound to make mistakes one way or another), by some stroke of good luck, my folks were able to forge a strong sense of cohesiveness among us siblings. We always have that united front. We seem to have a kind of linchpin that keeps us all together through thick and thin. And though the yoke was heavy, I was not alone. We carried it all together – we carried it well – until the end.
And when Papa finally left us, there was no resentment – there was no bitterness. All we felt was gratitude to the Almighty that we have been blessed to have each other to lean on – that we have been provided by God’s Merciful Grace to have the courage, the strength and the readiness to bear the burden.
All we remember are the good memories. His kindness as a father before his illness took over. How he took care of his sick children. How he would rock us to sleep in a hammock and sing a tune. How he cooked for us. How he (and my mother) kept himself busy preparing us for school. How he would go chasing anyone who bullied my sisters. How he would help us with the school projects whenever he could. How he would put up with my fiery temper whenever my patience is challenged. Those simple, little things are forever etched in our hearts – enough to erase the havoc of 14 years. He was a good man when he was his usual self. Even his caregivers and therapists (he was blessed with good souls at the time of his need notwithstanding the pandemic) saw that and were very much appreciative to be a temporary part of our family.
Most significant of all, we remember how his illness fortified our character – for the better. Those 14 years molded us into strong and responsible persons. It taught us all kinds of emotions – the beautiful and the ugly – but, most of all, it taught us compassion, acceptance, forgiveness and letting go. It taught us how to die (from the past) and live again. It taught us that even the bad can be good; and that even the sad can be happy. It taught us that life and living is a continuous cycle of lessons. Whether we see those lessons as sufferings or opportunities for growth (maturation) – whether we allow those lessons to make us bitter or better – is all up to us to decide. Our choice.
In the end, we understand that we are all both teacher and student to each other in this realm we call Life. They taught us. We taught them. We learned from them. They learned from us. Certainly, he was a one-of-a-kind guru – and, perhaps, we will always be grateful for the lessons that he and his illness (traumatic as it seemed) gave us. It was all worth it – worth all the pain. Because through that pain, we were able to see, feel, realize and appreciate our strong foundation as a family. A rare and precious gift to have in this ever-changing material world.
In the end, I guess, we all did the best we could at the time – we all did what we thought was best and by the way we knew best. From here on, we could all move on in life with ease and serenity knowing that there was nothing to change – for all circumstances unfolded just the way they should unfold. Perfectly. In God’s perfect timing.
And yes, we love you still Papa…so laugh with us, hold our hands, let us say goodbye to meet again soon.