In the three years that my dad spent in bed, partly paralyzed from a stroke, we got into the practice of talking and praying together before he went to sleep at night. My mom took care of him most of the day while my brother and I, who both lived in the house, worked.
When I would get home from work, sometimes quite late, often my dad would still be up. Like a child waiting for his bedtime reading. To talk and to read to him his evening prayer. “Usap tayo. (Let’s talk)” He would say in almost a sing-song, all smiles. Or “Dasal na tayo? (Let’s pray?)” He would ask earnestly. While he always knew how to make us laugh when we were growing up, he was never one to show affection or ask for it. That changed after the stroke. He became sweet and affectionate, sensitive and prone to tears. He depended on my mom and on us even for the simplest things–eating, standing up, going to the bathroom. I wish I could say I happily obliged all the time he asked that I sit beside him to chat or pray. There were nights when upon coming home I would go straight to my room, mumbling to my mom how I needed to sleep or to finish some work.
Growing up, I think like most other kids, I was not aware, or just not concerned about the mortality of my parents. They were always there to pick me up from school, make dinner, help me with my homework. Sometimes to make myself cry (I was a child prone to the dramatic), I used to imagine what it would be like if one of them were gone. I would feel bad for myself and the tears would come. It was and it felt like an act. I was in high school when I remember staring at my dad who was reading his newspaper out in the garden and only then did I realize that he was, it seemed all of a sudden, ‘older.’ He wasn’t always going to be there. That became more real when he suffered a stroke more than a decade later. And that thought (when I wasn’t pushing it out of my mind) always made me sit beside him, for our evening prayer and conversation.
He talked about his childhood. How he only had slippers when he went to public school. He talked about a boy who constantly bullied him and how one early morning while the boy was in the school’s toilet (“I heard they didn’t have their own bathroom at home,” he would always inject in his narrative), he got the boys pants, opened the door of the bathroom stall, and threw a stone at the bully, who couldn’t chase after him because my dad had his pants. He always told this story with so much glee. Like, finally he got his vengeance.
He also talked about his first crush–a pretty Chinese girl who went to school with him and whom he always wanted to walk home with, but since the girl’s parents were strict, he would ask her if he could at least walk on the other side of the street. “Parang magkasabay na kami. (It would be like we were walking beside each other.)” And at night, at their old home in Tondo, he would look out the window at the one of the big Chinese houses and imagine her living in one of them and looking out the window herself. I would remark, “How cinematic!” or “Very Romeo & Juliet, Daddy!” He would look at me like I was an idiot and say, “Bata pa ko nun! (I was still a kid!)”
He talked about a young teacher when he was in high school who would always ask him to help her carry her books. How one time when they got to her house, she started undressing in the room across from where he stood with the door wide open. “Dad, what happened?” I would ask, holding my breath. He would give me that look again, “Wala! Umalis ako. Bata pa ako nun! (Nothing! I left. I was still a kid!)”
Then he would talk about my mom. How he thought she had such a fantastic body when they first met at work. “Those hips.” He would say unabashedly. I would call out to my mom and tell her that he was talking about her. He would smile like he was suddenly embarrassed. He talked about how she knew what she wanted and since she had other suitors and knew he had another girlfriend (tsk, tsk) told him directly that if he didn’t have any plans of marrying her then he should stop going to the house. He promptly asked her to marry him. Ha!
He also told me a story of running into this old lady, whom he used to run errands for when he was a kid. When they saw each other in the middle of a busy marketplace she asked him to chat for awhile. So they went inside a restaurant. She talked about her life, that she never got married, that she was living alone. But mostly, she just kept asking about his life–his job, how married life was, about having kids. It seemed she badly needed to talk to someone, he observed. “Parang sabik siya sa kwento. Nalungkot ako. (It was like she was hungry for stories. I felt sad.)” When I asked whether she ever came to the house, whether she became a sort of aunt, my dad shook his head. He never saw her again after that.
He talked about his parents, especially his father. And when he did, he would always cry. I would tell him, it’s okay.
I would read to him several prayers and he would slowly repeat them after me. One of the prayers we read together was St. Therese’s Prayer for a Happy Death.
Thank you for the gift of life…
Thank you for the gift of sight…
Thank you for all the things and especially my heart…
I know you hold me forever in the palm of your hand and shield me with Your Holy face.
Yet as years go by, Lord, I fear the yoke of sickness and pain and worry how my life will end.
And so I humbly come to ask You, Lord, that when my time comes to leave here below, do not call me by sudden death, not by accident that tears the body apart, not by illness that leaves the mind confused or the senses impaired; not with a heart filled with hate or a body racked with pain; not abandoned, lonely, without love or care, not by my own hand in a moment of despair.
Jesus, let death come as a gentle friend to sit and linger with me until You call my name.
Then let me enter Your Heavenly Home to receive Your final gift of grace to be near You forever and look upon the divine countenance of Your Holy Face.
Dad died after three years. He slipped away on a Monday afternoon, while he was sitting on his bed.
Last week, I got to watch the Japanese film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It’s a story based on an anime series about a high school girl who could travel through time. The movie version has a pharmaceutical researcher Kazuko developing a formula for time travel. When she figures in a car accident, she asks her daughter Akari to go back in time to find someone. Akari goes back the wrong year and sees her mother as a high school student and in the process also meets her dad, whom she’s never met in the present time. I found myself crying during that scene where she sees them walking together. I thought of my dad and my mom. How were they when we weren’t around yet?
When a close friend’s father died a few months ago, she was of course devastated and wondered how she was going to cope. I told her that it gets easier, that eventually it’s not the first thing you think about the moment you wake up and right before your sleep. But every single day, I think about him. Whether it’s because I would pass by his favorite restaurant or it’s because of some random Japanese movie that has nothing to do with him. I know I have my share of regrets, but I’m glad I also have his stories.