When my ailing father was alive, I used to lie down in bed beside him like I did when I was a child. It was our father-and-son tête-à-tête that was actually more of a monologue than a conversation.
I worked in Manila and I would often visit my parents in Bulan, Sorsogon, about 600 kilometres away from the capital. My dad was afflicted with a combination of emphysema and Parkinson’s disease. The effort to speak drained the oxygen in his lungs. I spoke to him even as I knew that he could not manage a reply. He would just smile as I stroked his balding head, which was our “source of fun” when my siblings and I were growing up. As kids, we thought it amusing that our dad was ‘kalbo’.
During his wake, one of our aunts wrongly assumed that my siblings and I “didn’t love our dad very much,“ as she put it. She thought that because grief did not show on our faces and we did not cry much, we must have not cared enough about losing our father. It couldn’t be further from the truth. We loved our father dearly and we were happy that he was finally free of the corporeal suffering he had endured for many years. That to us was a reason to be joyful.
I realised that we felt that way because we knew in our hearts that we had expressed immeasurable love for him while he lived. He had experienced a good man’s reward which is the love and respect of his own family.
I am not suggesting that too much crying in a wake or funeral shows guilty feelings or an imperfect relationship with the departed. People are different. Indeed, copious weeping may be a sign of deep attachment. But I believe that regret over somebody’s death can be more painful if there was some unfinished business. If there has been unforgiveness. Or a lack of an outwardly expressed affection.
Filipino families are closely-knit but many are not touchy-feely. We are also shy to speak of love for our parents, siblings, spouse and children. Many of us plan “to show love someday” but never really get to do it until it is too late.
When my mom was going through chemotherapy in her last days, I also lay in bed beside her. I embraced her like I used to do as a child. I stroked her leg when the pain would not allow her any sleep. During the times that she was pain-free, I told her about my successes at work. That was what she always wanted to hear because she was an achiever herself.
I am glad that all my brothers and sisters are tactile like me. Our parents got more than enough dosage of loving touch while they lived.
Parents may not be perfect. But I think they deserve to hear and feel how grateful we are for all their sacrifices and sleepless nights when they took care of us.
Shortly before my wife’s mother died, my wife was on the phone to her. My mother-in-law was recuperating after a week in the hospital. Her oxygen level was low so my wife said “We should take you back to the hospital right now.“ Her mom calmly replied, “Not now. I’m feeling very sleepy. Tell everyone I love them. Let me sleep.“
“Tell everyone I love them” was her usual parting request. But this time, within an hour, she was gone.
My mother-in-law was so serene that my wife did not have an inkling it was going to be their last conversation.
But my mother-in-law did not die a lonely person. She was always surrounded with love from her loyal husband and adoring family. She was so “malambing” (warm) that’s why all the grandchildren and great grandchildren came to the funeral to show love beyond life.
We never know when that last conversation or phone call will come. So, in showing love, the best way is to seize the day.
“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.“ Exodus 20:12