Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Death in the Family

For what is it to die,
But to stand in the sun and melt into the wind?
~Kahlil Gibran, from "The Prophet"

Death has never seriously bothered me, well, my own death at least. Truth be told, I never cried at any wake or funeral, nor have i placed myself in a situation where I was so depressed that I refused to get out of bed for a day or two. Until recently.

While growing up I never had the benefit of an older brother looking over my shoulder, giving me advice, or simply being there whenever I needed somebody to tell me that everything will be ok. When I was in high school, I was given the burden of being the class guidance counselor, a monkey in khakis and white polo shirt giving advice to other monkeys in the same attire if you will. It was not a fun job, knowing fully well that sure, I may be privy to their darkest secrets, and sure, I had the opportunity to fine-tune my petty god complex at that time by acting all high and mighty by dishing out unsolicited advice after advice; but after this, i knew that I was alone. Alone to sulk and to keep my problems within.

This is the reason why it always made me happy to go back to my hometown. Nevermind the four to six hour land drive over man-sized potholes, the threat of ambush, or the absence of a decent beerhouse where I can drown my sorrows away; it always felt good to come back to a place that at one time or another, I truly called "home". Nevermind all the shenanigans, for this is the place where a close relative of mine lived; a relative whom I always looked forward to seeing: My Kuya.

He was the only son of my dad's eldest brother, the latter already being deceased. Fourteen years older than me; tough, funny, kind, and religious. He was the first person I would go to upon arrival. We would talk about anything under the sun, politics, business, religion, and other topics that would come to mind. He was like a brother to me. He stood up for the family, fought for the family, and even bled for the family. He was my dad's right-hand man as I was yet too young to help out in our family business. Sadly, he also loved to binge on food and alcohol. He was already hospitalized a couple of times, diagnosed with diabetes and heart problems, yet despite these, he always remained cheerful and kind-hearted. He continued to live a normal life, until he suffered a major heart attack.

He was brought to the nearest city and was hospitalized for almost a month. The doctors found out that he had to undergo a double heart bypass operation, but that the facilities in the hospital where he was confined was not up to the job at hand. He was brought to Manila, UST hospital to be specific, where he stayed in the intensive care unit for four days. I wasn't able to visit him during the four days as the only scheduled time that visitors were allowed inside the ICU was in conflict with my class. I was suppose to visit him on the fifth day, a sunday, when he was scheduled to be transferred to a regular room. The operation was scheduled on Monday, he died Saturday night from a massive heart attack.

Fate has a cruel way of telling us how much we take things for granted. It stresses its point with much aplomb everytime it rears its ugly head. Yes I was able to make it to the hospital Saturday night; I was only minutes away from the opportunity to have talked to him one last time. Instead all I could do was weep, comfort his sister, and think about what might have been had I visited earlier.

Days passed by and I was still in shock. I refused to talk to anyone, I was too depressed to do so. It was only after a few weeks that I was able to accept what had transpired. I tried to rationalize, that if there is any justice in this world and in the next, then he should be staying in a place far better than heaven. Still, the pain lingers, though not as strong as before.

There is an old saying that he who dies never really does for his memory will live on amongst us. He was a cousin, a role model and a friend. I will always remember him for being the brother I never had, and in my deathbed, I know that I will take great comfort in the fact that we two shall meet again.


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