Still dazed from my own loss because of a recent death in my family, I had the privilege of meeting a person who changed the way I looked at death, misfortunes, hurts and pains in this life.
Losing a family member, a loved one, is just about one of the most painful experiences that we all have to go through at certain points in our lives. Whether their death was caused by an affliction, an accident or a mysterious cause, the bottom line is that they are gone and will never be with us again in this lifetime.
I lost my own mother at age three -- at an age when I barely understood what a mother is. I grew up hearing other people talk about how unfortunate and sad it was for me and my baby brother to have been orphaned by our mother at such a tender age. They openly expressed how unfortunate it was for my other older siblings to have been orphaned and left in the care of our widowed father. But back then, I never felt the blow like it would take the life out of me. At age three, I had no idea at all what my mother's death meant to us. I didn't know what it was to miss someone.
As a small girl, I never felt a "longing" for my mother that is stronger than the longing I felt for my paternal grandmother whenever she had to leave me under the care of my mother's parents so she could do her daily marketing. I would kick and scream and cry relentlessly until my lola came back from the market.
Growing older and having faced being left by relatives who had passed on, I looked at people's death as something inevitable but that which would hurt us who are left behind, and which we shall all heal from, eventually.
But what if your losses and misfortunes come in pairs? or in multiples? Do you ever cope? Do you ever heal? Do you ever get over the haunting images of your relatives' suffering? Do you ever see a point in your life where it would cease to bring back the memories of the pain? Do you ever take a rest from crying?
Dr. Owen is made of tough material. Some people are made of tough material to withstand all this. They may not be born that way but they grow stronger hearts to take in all the blow. They grow an extra layer of protection to shield themselves from the battery of losing family members one after the other. They spin a cocoon around themselves to cushion the thud. They grow a protective outer shell to be able to take in stride the impending danger of losing other family members to dreaded diseases that could eventually cause their death.
I wonder. What was it like to lose a brother who was so close to your heart to a barely explainable kind of disease that took his life away? And what was it like to lose another brother to a similarly cruel affliction that took him away within a few months of the other brother's death? What was it like to have your mother undergo an 18-hour operation in the States while back home, a brother's body laid in state while another brother is undergoing an operation? What was it like to be driving to Manila and back to Lucena within the same day to drive back to Manila the following day? Sleepless, restless, worried, shattered.
As if these were not enough, there was also the task of trying to keep secret from the surviving brother the news of the other's death. How do you put up a happy face to encourage the sick when deep inside, your heart cries mourning the death of a sibling? How do you lend your own encouraging words to a seriously sick brother when deep inside, you are shattered yourself? How do you comfort your other siblings from their pain when deep inside you are devastated?
Amidst all this, producing the substantial amount of money to cover all the necessary expenses was another bugging thought. Two surgeries -- one happening abroad, one local, holding vigil for a brother's wake after his long bout in the hospital and eventually succumbing to death, the considerable amount of money spent shuttling back and forth, making overseas and long distance phone calls, the frantic effort to seek the best doctors in the land ---all proved too much for a human being's mortal heart.
Dr. Owen survived all this. Not with a smiling face but with the look of relief that the worst was over. Not to say that the loss of two family members consecutively was something that anyone can successfully go through any day but with the strength of heart that helped him keep his sanity.
The battle was won. It is not through counting the number of bodies felled by death that would say it was a battle lost. It is not the millions of pesos spent yet did not save his family members' lives that would say it was a lost cause. The battle was won because here he is now, with a heart made stronger by the blows, with a heart made more compassionate and understanding; with a heart beating with more love for the rest of the family members and for other people as well.
The threat of the big C still lurks around. Dr. Owen's sister has been recently treated for a similar C case, but which the family was able to fight against and win over. I can imagine the harrowing fear they all had to go through as they faced re-living the experience of the previous battles -- especially Dr. Owen being the one who had to take charge.
Looking at him now, his big frame symbolic of his big heart, a heart made big by his enormous love for family members, I see a cloud of sadness pass over his face. For how can one discount the nightmarish episode in this life that he had gone through? He talks about feeling the nostalgic remembrance of the pain when it comes the time of the year that the tragic experience happened but the sense of relief that it was all over is felt in the air. One understands that after the battle comes the acceptance of the ugly picture it left behind.
Through the passing of the years and the seasons, the memory of the tragedy will eventually fade but will never go away. Yet, Dr. Owen takes everything in stride now. With a refreshed look on his face, with a shadow of sadness in his eyes, he talks animatedly about how his father gives him and other family members a hard time dealing with his typical antics brought by old age. He shrugs it off, laughs heartily and shares a confident thought that love within the family shines through-- that they have enough love within the family to put up with the hardships.
My own struggle with the recent death in my family now fades in comparison with what Dr. Owen had gone through. I feel better not because I know that someone else had experienced a bigger pain than I did but because I learned a lesson in coping with losing family members to the claws of death. Losing them is not something you get used to but you just teach yourself the acceptance of things in this life that we don’t have control over. I feel better that my pain now looks smaller and surmountable when days ago, I felt helpless and hopeless.
The heaviness in my chest is gone now. I just had a whiff of fresh air.