Saturday, April 23, 2011

Here's to long life.

We are having pancit tonight, lovingly prepared by Mom. Funny how pancit in our family is treated like ulam with a platter of steamed white rice on the side.

It is a late dinner even by our standards (we usually eat between 8:30pm and 9:00pm), having returned from the Easter Vigil mass which ended at 10pm. There still is a bit of kare-kare and adobong pusit left over from the past few days, but we had those already for lunch. All these festive dishes remind me of Noche Buena and Christmas Day, as we celebrate the Resurrection with a special feast. However, we gather for each meal quietly, with a somber and reflective mood, as it is our first Easter without Dad.

It's times like these when I miss Dad the most. He would be second to the last to come to the table for a meal (I would be last), and everyone would hear his deliberate sigh and the heavy steps leading to the dining room. I knew I only had a few seconds left on the phone before I would hear him call me three times. "Chise, Chise, Chisey!" (he corrupted all of our nicknames to his liking.) I would then hurriedly say my whispered goodbye over the phone before he would blurt out, "Tama na yan! Oras na ng pagkain, puro telefono pa rin ang inaatupag!"

Meals were sacred at home, and everyone was expected to be at the table even if one had already eaten out. I was seated across him, and he would always scrutinise what I ate (and what I didn't). It would revolve around permutations of me eating too much rice or why I suddenly stopped eating rice, and how he loved to watch me eat. Magana raw, at nakakagana akong kumain. He always expected me to like anything he liked, and he was right most times. He would encourage me to eat the food of his days in Malabon, and I indulged him. In fact, it was an unwritten rule that any male friend or suitor who would visit the house would win his approval (to at least visit the house) if he had the appetite for an unfamiliar dish served to him -- be it eel (igat), horse (tapang kabayo) or sinigang sa dugo. He would actually feel a bit insulted if the offer to eat was declined, but it was almost always welcomed with gusto, since he also ate his meals so heartily, he could even make a man eat dirt if he wanted to.

Thus, meals at home were not just instances to feed our stomachs, they were important social events. It was at the dining table when we were at our most candid selves, and if ever there were any misunderstandings or grievances, it was always settled over a good meal. Somehow, food was usually enough to ease our misery because it just tasted so satisfyingly delicious.

When Dad started becoming very weak, I made it a point to dine with him whenever I could, be it early breakfasts and dinners during workdays, and every meal on weekends. Sometimes, when I would bring Mom to mass on Sundays, I would sneak back home and join Dad for his late breakfast, since he would just be waking up when we were already preparing for church. I wished that each time I ate with him, he would eat a bit more. His favorite was pancit, and we had it at least once a week, and, of course, with steamed rice on the side.

When I had trouble eating these past few weeks, I thought about Dad a lot. I never missed a meal while he was around (or at least I was good at hiding it), because he was always asking me to eat with him. He would even call me at work to check if I had lunch already; and if I left my lunchbox at home, he would drive to the bank to give it to me. That fateful day when I was hospitalised, I was having our favorite brunch fare of pinangat na banak, and I knew Mom ate it with me not because she liked it (she preferred it cooked paksiw-style) but because she wanted to see me eat again. Honestly, though, I felt all the more lonely because I missed Daddy.

Tonight, as I count the minutes before Easter Sunday, I look at the pancit served before us. More than the usual symbol for long life, it is an invitation for me to celebrate what my life has given me thus far. Here is Daddy, asking me to eat with him, and to let go of my loneliness. I sit beside my Mom, and get some. I make room for rice on my plate, and I imagine him laughing at my appetite for carbs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

before you go, let this moment be sweet again.

Today was a good day. We had lunch at Holy Cross by Dad's grave and had the usual picnic fare of adobo and inihaw na liempo with a siding of red egg and tomato salad, never mind if I mostly ate bananas due to my upper GI ailment. My nephews and I each had our own set of wheels to try out on the grass, and each attempt was a success (or, a success in progress).

I planned this day long before everyone else, but even if it turned out completely different, it gave me a short but significant sense of relief.


I was brought to the hospital last Monday after I vomited blood with my breakfast. Too bad; I had a really nice meal -- I hadn't eaten pinangat na banak in ages. Honestly, I hadn't been eating well lately. I guess the erratic food intake got the best of me and my gut. After about 4 hours in the ER, I was admitted to a room where I would not be able to eat until the endoscopy which was scheduled for the morning after.

Great. Now that I was craving for food I shunned for days, I couldn't eat. Then, Mom had to leave me alone for a few hours because she prepared the hospital documents and had to get my personal stuff from home. Moreso, I missed my friend who gave birth in the same hospital and was in a room directly below mine. I felt very lonely in the room, and I cried myself to sleep.

And then, one July evening, it felt like I was a child again, on my side of the bed, but this time it was Daddy who needed comforting. He had been shivering and I eased myself onto the hospital bed while I rubbed his arm for warmth. He whispered a meek "Thank you", and just when I thought he was about to sleep, he spoke to me.

"Matagal na kitang hindi nakatabi."

"Oo nga. Eh si Mommy naman ang katabi nyo mula nung lumipat kami ng kwarto diba?" He then put his arm over mine and stroked it lightly.

"Salamat, salamat. salamat sa panahong ito. At sa iyo." He rested his head on my shoulder. I held my tears as much as I could, but they wouldn't stop.

Dad and I continued to talk to each other that night, as he tried to remember every good thing that happened in our lives that he was thankful for. He asked me to take care of Mom and my siblings. I asked for his blessing to accept whoever I choose to love; he gave it on the condition that I must be truly happy and that I wouldn't forget what I was worth. Then, he said,

"Naalalala ko kung ano yung sinabi ko noong kasal ni Joy (we just watched the dvd again earlier that evening), at sana hindi kita nasaktan. Mahalaga ka sa akin. Huwag mong kakalimutan 'yon."

I kissed his forehead and I knew that even for one brief moment, I had my old Daddy back. By then, it was not I who was comforting him but rather he who was comforting me.


I opened my eyes and saw Mom was back in my hospital room, with my clothes, my laptop and her own stuff. She read that I was allowed a general liquid diet for the evening, and inspected my food tray of rice gruel, soup and jello. Then, a few visitors came -- my childhood friend, a couple of sports buddies and even my friend's husband who took time out from new daddy duties to check on me. But the best part was when my siblings, their spouses and my eldest nephew all came in to visit. D crawled into my bed and lay beside me while he changed the TV channel to Nickelodeon. It was an all-familiar scene, sans the Chinese food. I felt better already.


As I took off my gloves and packed our stuff back into the car, it occurred to me that it had been 5 months already since Dad's passing. Not a day has gone by without me missing him, and as we tread on without him, we realize that we still have a lot of things to do. Yet I believe he allowed us to enjoy this day to remember him, and to remember that each of us are loved.