In December last year, I wrote about the 82 Days of Christmas project that the Assumption College High School Class of ’82 class launched for their beloved batchmate, Pilar Bustamante Estrella. At the time, Pilar had been battling cancer for 10 years.
It was only last month, on June 6, that I finally met Pilar for the first and last time in her hospital room at St. Luke’s. We had been corresponding on Facebook Messenger since 2013, but it was a dear friend and classmate of hers, Christine Blando, whom I reconnected with in December last year, who made the visit possible.
In Pilar’s presence, weak though she was, you could feel her goodness and love. She was very affirming, always thinking of other people before herself. Before I left her room, I asked what she wanted us to pray for specifically, and she said, “Can we pray that we be friends forever?”
Perhaps she knew then that she did not have very long. I was scheduled to see her again last Monday, but in the early hours of that day, she quietly took her last breath and left.
The response to Pilar’s passing has been nothing short of amazing. Tributes and messages poured in, and the huge chapel where she lay was packed night after night. I asked myself, what did it take to be loved that way and mourned so deeply? What lessons did Pilar leave to those who knew her best?
I turned to her high school classmates once more to find the answers.
Pilar never complained, and despite her illness, was always a hundred percent there for whoever needed her.
“One of the things I admired most about Pilar was the way she was able to take what most people would view as a terrible situation, and make it into something beautiful. Her devotion to her family and friends never wavered, but instead grew stronger.”—Rica Concepcion Araneta
“She always listened intently and with a genuine concern. Despite everything that was going on in her life, she always made you feel that you were just as important. She never failed to ask, ‘What can I do for you?’ I am not surprised that there were so many people at her wake. She truly loved to immerse herself in the lives of as many people as possible.”—Christine Blando
Pilar was genuinely concerned about her friends, no matter the time or distance between them.
“The times we communicated with each other through the years were few and far between, but Pilar made an impact on me as a loving person. She was also very prayerful and assured us of her prayers. I came across my birthday greeting to her last year and was truly moved by her reply: ‘Mavie, God is my Savior. That’s all I can say. I thank Him for this bonus, another year in this world.’”—Mavie Abad Casas
Pilar was human and vulnerable. But despite her own pain, she always put the needs and prayer requests of others above hers.
“Though she was usually in good spirits, one time I caught her at a low time. Her husband Ting was away on a trip, and she was very worried about her upcoming blood test results. Another friend of ours had confided to Pilar that her cancer was back.
“She felt bad that she didn’t have the strength to comfort our friend when she was struggling with her own fears. A few days later, she sent me good news about our friend’s good results. I noticed that she prayed for our friend first.”—Leah Zamora Banaag
Pilar was blessed with the love of a good man and family who were instrumental in helping her sail through the last 11 years.
“Pilar totally surrendered her life to God. In doing so, she became an anchor for all of us. I had a chance to see Pilar one more time; I brought another group who sang her requested love songs. She would tell Ting, ‘This song is for you.’ Ting and everyone closest to her were hurting and going through their own challenges for 11 years.”—Pin Cojuangco Guingona
Pilar was filled with so much love and affection for everyone.
“With Pilar, the world felt safe. She was always comforting to be around. She comforted the weak even when she was weak. Toward the end of her life, she never looked back except to recall great memories. She was a fighter. She embraced her situation and made the most of it. And always with so much love.”—Chiqui SyQuia Mabanta
“I will never forget that one reunion when she asked me to stay behind, sit next to her and she just held my hand. I felt her love and sincerity. She showed us strength, courage, faith and hope.”—Vivette Pacla
“She’d always look me in the eye and be totally focused on anything I say. She was never embarrassed to show affection, so it makes others, like me, comfortable to be demonstrative and show affection, as well.”—Tinette Nisce
No task was ever too small for Pilar. She reminded everyone to do everything with great love.
“She taught me to value our lives, even the littlest things that we take for granted. Pilar taught me to love what I do every day, and showed me how important it is to do all this work for my family, and to be thankful that I am able to do all these.”—Ging Nepomuceno Salapantan
“She sent me an SMS saying ‘At our age now, we are beginning to declutter and start giving away things—things that would be of better use to others. Better to let go and give away. When you do, and you see the joy in the recipient’s face.’ In the end she would always say, ‘I want to go still standing, not feeling knocked out.’ And she did emerge victorious, full of love, still thinking of others before herself.”—Techoy Lintag Tabujara
Rest now, dearest Pilar; though I knew you so briefly, you are, and will always be, my forever friend.
Email the author at at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow @cathybabao on Instagram.