- Posted September 18, 2013 by
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The written word: Your personal essays
Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
A year ago, only six months after my mother’s death, my father died. The circumstances surrounding his death were similar to that of my mother, albeit less sudden. But still they passed like a shadow, once again too fast for us to comprehend were we to take this event out of the context of story and of faith.
With pain in his chest, my father went to the hospital. The symptoms pointed to a mild heart attack. What was thought to be innocuous turned out to be serious. He spent six days in the hospital and then rested on the seventh day of his agony. It was likewise our agony as his sons and daughters: we felt the events of those days hitting us like they did our father. Also in the chest, for our hearts were beating in anxiety, feeling so much the fragility of life, of our father’s life in particular. We felt helpless -- especially we who were abroad who due to the distance could only ask for more details and pray for what was best.
That helplessness we continued to feel even when he no longer suffered. For death affirms the words of the playwright William Shakespeare: “Life is a passing shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hours upon the stage -- and then is heard no more” and even more, that of the psalmist: “Our life is over like a sigh: our span is seventy years, eighty for those who are strong.” Incidentally these last words I wrote on my Facebook timeline to honor my father on his 80th birthday the year before he died.
Yes, my father was strong. Despite his suffering from diabetes the doctor described his heart as healthy, much better that the heart of many of his 30 year old patients. My father had to be strong: he was the family’s support, as how fathers are described in our culture. His leadership was priceless. He led us. He guided us. He was our strength.
My father was a model of hard work, perhaps inheriting this trait from my grandfather who was a blacksmith. He was an engineer. From his childhood he was fond of tinkering with machines, repairing them on his own. He was a craftsman who was theoretically sharp and practically sound. He had a lot of tools and when we were young he would teach us these manual skills. The days after my mother’s death, my father and I were moving some of the shelves in the house and he was his usual self -- fixing the plumb lines, hammering and drilling here and there. At the time of my father’s death, there was a ladder on top of the dining table -- a work in progress: he was putting up the chandelier which my sister had sent from the U.S..
If I were to pinpoint one shortcoming of my father, I would say that it was rage. He was a strict disciplinarian. But even this in itself was not actually a defect -- it indicated that he was a passionate man, relishing what was true, good and beautiful, and these he sought to proclaim with ardor. I will never forget the smile on his face when he told stories.
This is the running theme in my father’s life. He loved us and had the passion -- the words and the deeds -- to back this up. Before he died I was able to talk to him on the phone. He was in high spirits. He told me stories and I had the impression that he was not sick anymore. He did not complain about the pain he was experiencing. He was worried more for his children. Yes, he loved us with passion.
When I presided as priest at my father’s funeral I told family and friends that I have always dreamed of reciting some of the poem Dylan Thomas offered to his dying father:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I said to those who were present that it was only in recent memory that I was also presiding over the mass in my mother’s funeral. I recalled to them the circumstances of my mother’s death, of the last time that Peping (my father) and Alice (my mother) were together:
“March 6 was a normal day for Peping and Alice. They went to mass together and prayed for their son Edwin who was celebrating his birthday. Then Peping went out to pay some bills. For some unexplainable reason, he lost his way and the usual twenty-minute walk lasted more than an hour. He reached home exhausted and went to the bedroom to rest. Alice was lying down solving a crossword puzzle. She invited him to take some snacks and he said ‘I’ll go later. I am very tired and I need to rest.’ Alice went to the kitchen to make turon [sweet banana rolls]. Peping closed his eyes and had a dream: he saw many priests and among them was his son. He saw himself dead and he kept asking if this was real. He told himself: ‘If I were dead, where is my wife? Who will now take care of her?’ And in the dream, he searched for her. He suddenly awoke and at the first instance, he went to the kitchen and there he saw his wife, gasping for breath. Her last action was for him; her last breath, in his arms.”
Then in last year’s mass, over the coffin of my father I said “Daddy, your dream was prophetic. That funeral you saw was yours. Here are the many priests and here is your son. And you rightfully ask: ‘If I were dead, where is my wife? Who will now take care of her?’ Daddy you know the answer. Go, look for Mommy now. You will take care of each other forever.”
1) picture of my father and me taken in August 2011
2) a portrait of my father in January 2011 (by Fr. Lan Guiao, SDB)
3) family picture when I was a new priest in 2002 with my left hand resting on my father's shoulder.