Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Lolo Victor

This is about my grandfather.

There are no right words to properly express how I feel right now. There is a void and it's something that nothing can remedy.

I'm the eldest grandchild among 15 grandchildren, 18 if you count the great-grandchildren. A brief background about my childhood... My mom came from humble beginnings. Their livelihood was fishing and selling these fish in the wet market. My grandfather would fish and then my grandmother would sell them. Their children already finished college but they still kept working for some time. They lived in a concrete 2-storey home somewhere by the river outside the city proper which wasn’t always concrete. You would have to cross a bridge to get to their island, or I think it was. I can't count how many times we've crossed that bridge. It used to be made of wood and bamboo, but every time a storm passed it would collapse and there were times when I would need to ride a boat to get from one side to another. Now it's made of concrete and it has withstood the storms. Crossing that bridge meant I was going to see my grandparents which was a weekly tradition when I was younger. We were always excited to see them for two things: they had a small sari-sari (variety/grocery) store where they sold snacks, drinks, medicine, cigarettes, school, supplies, etc., and it was a place for the whole clan to bond. As children we always got free treats from their store and as kids we were so happy that there was this place where we could ask for whatever we want -- chips, chocolate, soft drinks, pens and papers to draw with. But as time passed and we got older, that's when we realized that we were taking their livelihood away from them. We stopped getting treats but my grandparents still generously offered some.

Looking back, I don’t remember if I slept next to my grandfather whenever we stayed over but I do remember always seeing my grandmother say a morning prayer as soon as she wakes up. Some of the memories I have of me and my grandfather in that place that stand out to me were:

· He taught me how to drink creamed coffee when he let me take a sip from his cup
· He would always make me a hula-hoop or some other type of play thing made of some type of wood (maybe from bamboo shoot?) whenever I watched him build an improvised fishing net made of the same type of wood
· I remember him laying out kamias to dry them out under the sun
· We would sift through rice to pick out the little rocks
· He would give me treats from his store
· He would make me coffee pangsabaw sa kanin
· He used pray with other Couples for Christ members in their home
· He would sit alone and wait for customers in their sari-sari store
· He would always ask me if I was on the honor roll at school
· He would tell stories… like when he was a child during the Japanese invasion and he would hide underground with his mother

But the dearest memory I have of him in that old house was a time when we were sleeping next to each other on a banig (mat) on the floor, or rather, I was just watching him sleep and I was watching him breathe. I put my hand on his big tummy and I was in awe, realizing for the first time that adults take longer breaths than kids.

How I wish to see him breathing again…

More than a decade ago there were talks about the 'island' being reclaimed by the government so my grandparents’ children decided that it was for the best that they move into the city. They built my grandparents a new, bigger home in a nice subdivision. They had to leave their sari-sari store together with their old home and put it up for rent.

The weekly tradition of visiting them moved to a new venue but years passed. I grew older, he and my grandmother grew older. Their children and grandchildren grew older, life happened. We were engrossed in growing up while they were growing old. Complete attendance during those Sundays became rare, until the tradition wasn’t weekly anymore. There were times when no one would visit them on a Sunday.

But I realized our mistake and we were all accountable for that. So as much as I could, later in his life, I wanted to see him as often as I can. I lost my paternal grandfather already and there were just so many regrets that I don’t want to happen again. I tried to make my maternal grandfather feel loved in the last years of his life. He would say he missed my kids and my sister’s son, so I tried my best to make time for us to see him. His face would always light up whenever we arrive.

How I wish to see his face light up again…

In their new home we made more memories together. One of them was when I asked him to pick up a kitten for me who was crying in the middle of the street in the rain. I don’t know why I didn’t pick it up myself, but I had to ask my grandfather to do it. He and my grandmother celebrated many birthdays in that house. We made it a happy new home for them over the years.

He was the patriarch; he was everybody’s rock. He built his legacy and our family’s legacy from the ground up. My mother would tell stories about how hard he worked at the time when he still had strength working as a fisherman.

But as he got old he has lost his strength because his lungs have gone bad in the later years of his life. He used to be a chain smoker and it took a toll on his body in his old age. He has been in and out of the hospital since I can’t even remember when, and on July 3rd, past 1am, he breathed his last breath.

Before that unfortunate day, every time my grandfather was taken to the hospital because of his breathing problems (he has COPD) he would eventually recover one way or another. He would regain his strength and come back fighting. He would be back to normal like nothing happened. We would again visit him at home on weekends, I would see him watch movies on TV, play with my daughter, we would eat merienda, etc. But the next time we visit his home he would no longer be there and this is one of the hardest realities that’s hitting me hard.

My grandfather was admitted in the ICU of a local hospital in June and it was only last week that they took him home like he and my grandmother wanted. But on the night of July 2nd we were all in a panic because my grandfather was having so much difficulty breathing that we had no choice but to send him to the hospital again. The only difference is, this time, he was going to be taken to a regular room, as the family’s decided to no longer have him intubated.

With that in mind, I knew that the inevitable would happen soon. Things like a wake, a funeral… These thoughts came to mind but I tried to dismiss them. I was in denial but there was no denying that my beloved grandfather was already suffering so much that no medical intervention could save him.

Timing… Two priests who were friends of ours came over to our house that night, and I kindly asked that they come with me to the hospital to bless my grandfather. I am so relieved that we made it in time, and my grandfather was anointed with Oil and blessed.

I held his hand and I cried and cried. He had gotten so thin and frail, his skin was in bruises from all the needles, he was a picture of suffering and exhaustion.

His doctor came and laid out the facts, he could give antibiotics but without a tube the effects were going to be futile. At this point my sister had to ask him if we were just going to be waiting then… Waiting for what, I already knew. But we were still hoping so desperately that we even talked about his condition when he comes home, that he might not be able to walk anymore, and that we would still ask the doctor to start the antibiotics.

His stats kept on dropping lower, his breaths irregular, and I knew from his blood pressure that it won’t be long. But I still hesitated to think he would leave us. Most of our family who surrounded him that night were crying with me, and they were saying thank you to my grandfather as if he was really going soon. But I couldn’t say thank you because it would mean it’s really the end… I didn’t want my grandfather to think that or hear that, at least not from me. I don’t know how conscious he was, how much of it all he heard, how much pain he felt from gasping for air… He looked like he was drowning outside water… Until sometime later he would stop breathing for more than 10 seconds… Then he would gasp again for air, cough, and he would stop again… Every time he stopped I would panic and call out to him… I didn’t want him to go…

My sister would whisper in his ear that we were going to be okay… We’ll take care of our grandmother and his worries on earth…

Timing… My grandmother and cousin arrived. My lovely grandmother was heartbroken as she didn’t expect to see him suffering like this, and she was still unaware of what was about to happen. But soon she understood and cried. My grandfather wasn’t responding to us, gasping for breaths, not breathing, not opening his eyes… My grandmother leaned over to hug him and speak in his right ear, and when she did, my grandfather’s oxygen saturation and pulse shot up to 100 for several seconds. All of us in the room looked at each other in amazement. Even for a very short while, there was a glimmer of hope.

But then the stats disappeared, as if the machine couldn’t detect anything. We thought maybe the pulse oximeter wasn’t properly in place, we thought this, that… But it was already the end.

Medical staff rushed in and took his blood pressure, we tried to look for a pulse, they tried to use an ECG to check his heart… These attempts were nothing. There was nothing.

At that point, it was already the reality. We all cried and cried, and didn’t care how loud we were. We were, and we still are, in pain. We knew they would take him away and we wouldn’t be able to touch him, hug him, kiss him anymore. We couldn’t do anything else but cry, express our gratitude for all that he’s done, kiss him, and cry some more. But the most memorable words I heard from my grandmother as she was crying were, “Hindi ko na mayayakap (I wouldn’t be able to hug him anymore)” and “Aalagaan mo si utoy ha (please take care of our son).” referring to youngest child who passed away when he was only 5 years old. My grandmother kissed and kissed my grandfather’s face, arms, hands, caressed him like there was no tomorrow, because there wasn’t indeed no more tomorrow for them. No longer would my grandfather be able to come home to their house to share meals, to sleep next to each other, to live together.

They asked for a blanket… A blanket to warp him around so they could take him to the morgue. We were sent out of the room so they could clean him up, take out all the tubes, etc.

Family started to call other family to tell them the sad news.

At one point I went back inside the room because the staff had left and there was no one with my grandfather, and I was in disbelief seeing him in a new state. He was wrapped up in blankets; a sight I only saw in movies or TV shows. It was awfully quiet. Only minutes ago I could hear his breaths, as difficult as they may have sounded, but now the silence was deafening.

I didn’t imagine my day to start out like that. I just sat there, looking at his body, talking to him, saying thank you, I love you. It was an image that I didn’t know I would see yesterday, the week before, the months before this. I didn’t know it was going to be his last birthday last April. I didn’t know that last year was our last Christmas together, that last January was his last New Year’s. I didn’t know that his last father’s day would be weeks ago. We all didn’t know.

I’ve been trying to visit his wake every day since Sunday. He’s wearing a navy blue coat and striped tie, and he still looks so dashingly handsome even after life. I keep telling people he gave me these high cheekbones.

More and more flowers arrive each day and people keep coming to see him. The family has already decided to have the interment on Sunday, what we should all wear, where the mass will be held, etc. So, I went to the mall yesterday looking for something to wear on the most devastating day of my life this year, and I was thinking about how to commute from the mall to the hospital… But realized, oh wait, it’s not the hospital anymore.

I compiled his pictures and currently I have 421 of them, 421 moments frozen in time, playing over and over on the flat screen at the wake so that everyone could see moments of his full life. These are times when he was smiling, frowning, eating, walking, hugging, kissing, laughing. Times when he was full of life and love. And we are all wishing to see him do all these things again.

I am grieving from losing my dear grandfather. We all are and it’s difficult for everyone, but I don’t know how many people know or understand my special connection with him and these memories I shared with you, or if other people see it at all. But of course I’m sure we all do, because my grandfather has touched the lives of people in so many wonderful ways.

I have mostly accepted that fact he has gone to be with the Lord, but sometimes I would think back and remember and cry.

I used to pray for him, that he be healed from his illness and live a normal life again and in the prayer it also has a part that says:
However, if his (my) healing is not part of Your will for his life and if his suffering will help in glorifying Your name further for the salvation of the world, then help him offer it to You wholeheartedly. Please grant him the grace to have the courage and the faith transcend this human predicament which both you and Padre Pio fulfilled. Please stay by his side, Jesus. Let Your love console his heart and make his mind realize the meaning behind his suffering so that It could be a source of inspiration to souls who are searching for Your wisdom and love.

So I keep thinking that when his stats shot up to 100, maybe he went without pain. If it was adrenaline rush from hearing my grandmother’s voice, I don’t know, but maybe the Lord finally took the pain away in the last moments.

I remember my grandfather telling us that he saw Jesus at a time when he was in critical condition in the hospital. And right now that’s all I want to happen, that he would stay in the loving arms of Jesus and God our Father in all eternity.

I’m sharing all this with the world because I want his memory to last forever and that I’m so proud to have had a truly awesome grandfather like him. It will be painful to no longer see you sitting outside your house just looking around, but your memory and legacy will live on.

Thank you to everyone who took care of him.. My sister, my cousin, my mom, everyone who made sure he was well taken care of, thank you.

We love you so much, Lolo. We all miss you, so, so much. Until we meet again.

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