Through the years I have often wondered how my daughter Pia had been coping with the loss of her younger brother. We had a few difficult, early years soon after Migi’s passing, but by God’s grace, were able to navigate those tough times.
The other day, on the eve of his 13th death anniversary, I found the answer to my question when I read this post on Pia’s blog. Let me now share it with everyone who has ever lost a loved one—more so a beloved sibling who for many years took up space in a significant part of your heart.
This same time 13 years ago, my world turned upside down.
I’m not usually one to write about this side of me, the one that is fully aware of my experiences and how I’m dealing with them, but today I feel like I must. Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s because I spent a good afternoon singing along to his favorite movie—pretending just as I did when I was six years old, that I could swing my hips like a muse and had perfect curls like Megara.
Perhaps it’s the fact that I realize that a few weeks from now I will return to—or rather, begin—what I hope to be a new life, one with a little more clarity on the path (or should I say paths?) I intend to go down.
Thirteen years ago, I lost my little brother. Born with a congenital heart disease, my four-year-old brother Miguel slipped into a coma due to complications of open heart surgery and returned to run around with the dinosaurs in heaven two weeks later.
I’ve often talked about what it was like to lose him and how that changed my life. But I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about what life with him was like.
Migi loved dinosaurs. He had them all memorized by name. Our little library of children’s books had so many titles in them there were days I would wonder if Bronty Brontosaurus was related to detective dinosaur and officer pterodactyl.
Migi was just like any other little brother—sweet, but disarmingly pilyo when he had a chance to be. He loved to squish his way underneath my armpit when he was cold or was in a particularly malambing mood. Sometimes this was how we’d fall asleep at night. He snuggled up next to me, whimpering every once in awhile when his ate would toss and turn too much at night.
He loved to play golf, and once got in trouble for hitting me on the head with one of his clubs (thankfully a plastic one).
We loved to build forts out of pillows and blankets, pretending we were entering caves and swimming through oceans. Hercules was a mainstay on our VHS player, his favorite, the macho protagonist who defied the odds and went on to become a hero. Hercules could do things my little brother used to only dream of doing.
While life with him was happy, having a sibling with such a condition did mean extraordinary measures had to be taken sometimes.
I remember how I was taught early on about the proper way to do a cardiac massage—important when he would get too tired and needed one. We used to have to run to the nearest source of ventilation when he would begin to turn blue in crowds or hot areas. I used to have the task of talking him through these attacks while my mom would rock him back and forth.
On long weekends, our family would go up to Tagaytay to see all sorts of nuns (I remember them because one weekend it would be the blue sisters, the next the pink sisters, and I figured these sisters probably came in every color in the rainbow) to ask them to pray over him in the hope of finding a miracle.
Instead of looking at this as a difficulty, having Migi be the way he was made me love him even more. He taught me that I am capable of caring for someone more than I could probably ever imagine.
I used to talk about how losing Migi was what motivated me to go into medicine. I wanted to find answers to the complications in his surgery, understand the underlying genetically predisposed factors that caused his condition. But I realize now that it is not that, but the life I got to experience with him—four brief but very happy years—and the life he inspired me to live after our losing him, that defines how, where, and what I plan to do forever.
I gave myself two months to decide what to do with the rest of my life, but I see now just how silly that was. If my family were to focus on the fact that we would only have a few brief years with him, we would have missed out on the best moments, the trying ones that made us stronger people, and the things we look back on now when we miss him most.
Life is best lived not with time constraints, but day-by-day, finding purpose and direction along the way.
Make a difference
I apologize for being seemingly oversentimental tonight. I usually really do get emotional this time of the year. But unlike in the past where I would dwell on what I’ve lost and merely think how it affects me, I am able to look back and use what I’ve gone through to propel me towards the future.
If there is anything I am sure of today, it is that I want to, cliché as it may sound, make a difference. Improve the lives of other sick children who are not as fortunate as my brother was to receive proper care, to improve systems of health, to help families who experience both illness and loss.
Whether that is in the field of medicine, law, journalism, social work or public health, I know now that only time can tell.
Thirteen years later there is a sense of contentment I feel in knowing that there’s a Herculean little boy out there somewhere, with his army of friendly tyrannosaurus rexes that I know will nudge me in the right direction.
So to my dear little brother in heaven, know that when I think of you—how you taught me to love, care and try to make things better for others, I hope you know it is because of you that I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.