It’s the way everyone my age would like to transition from here to eternity: quickly and, preferably, in their sleep.
My mom herself managed it—well, close enough anyway. As far as we could make out, she awoke, walked over to her breakfast table in her anteroom, and there, seated, breathed her last. She never got to ring the bell for breakfast service, as she had almost always done. She was taken to St. Luke’s and declared dead on arrival before I got there.
Noynoy Aquino, our beloved former president, passed away under about the same circumstances. He was found seated on his chair, rushed to Capitol Medical, and, once there, declared dead. Whether he had died before he could get into bed the night before is of no consequence; he went quietly and was buried with the highest honors, befitting the great man and president he was.
Fearless and fragile
On the last day of July, a very dear friend, Rita, was found in the morning by her household help gasping for breath and rushed to St. Luke’s. Doctors found she had suffered several strokes during the night and a heart attack in the end. They could have intubated her, but you didn’t violate my delicate friend that way; her family, more than anyone else, knew that: They let her go, as they knew she would have wanted.
I myself had heard her express that wish, not morbidly but as a child might before blowing the candles on its cake. Rita was fearless in certain matters, although quite easy to shock, and her sensitivities, even easier to offend, make her, in that sense, fragile.
Her strength was built into her character by years of self-motivated discipline, a natural sense of order and an even stronger understanding of commitment. She had finished her memoir, as she said she would, and gifted every guest with a copy of it on her 80th birthday.
She could see blessings through any disguise and, in that endearing way, she made herself a happy person. She managed to never speak ill of anyone, no matter how she was baited. She was a good listener and, if she liked you, you could do nothing wrong.
That’s how I felt around her, despite my imperfections, loved and unjudged. She extended her concern for me to my husband, Vergel, and my children and grandchildren. I could tell her things I couldn’t tell anyone else, which I’m sure she took with her to her resting place.
She usually initiated calls, and we always had a grand time laughing, but also exchanging deep spiritual insights, matters we felt comfortable talking about between us without sounding nuts. I got to know her better when I joined Siddha Yoga Meditation; we left taking away, with so much gratitude, a whole new outlook on life.
No final goodbyes
We bonded even more when we joined a writing group put together by our mentor and friend, Gilda Cordero-Fernando. Without my asking, she picked me up and brought me home, a deal she offered, she said, in exchange for my traveling company, and was punctual and constant all those 10 wonderful years. Ten of us women who loved to write called ourselves First Draft. Each of us brought to every meeting an essay to read out and offer for discussion, which proved cathartic, admittedly, for all of us.
We became closer and closer friends as only women can, and carried on our friendship through lunches with all or some present, or just Rita and me. Rita was reserved and private, but always ready to listen sympathetically and gave insightful encouragement.
She was especially touched by my closeness to my cousins Ninit and Sylvia, both no strangers to her. When she learned about our environmental advocacy, she was quick to give support, not only cheering us on through our years of struggle to keep Arroceros Forest Park alive, but with an annual check made out, on my birthday, to our Winner Foundation Inc. park builder and caretaker. She even raised the amount last year.
For all three departed—Mom, Noy and Rita—the day before had been much like any other. Rita was on the phone with her daughter as they usually ended another day. So were Mom and I; I had listened to her plans for the next day, which was never to dawn for her. Noy had himself made no final goodbyes, it seems.
Much like a French movie where the curtains don’t come down conclusively, life goes on for the rest of us, but not as anything like before for those of us who knew the three the way we did: Life has been painfully diminished.