The year 2022 was a very bad one for me. I would concede I have rather shortsighted reasons: The issues involved my health. For having survived some, not to mention being the better for the discovery of others, I should be grateful for the rest of my residual life.
I had two COVID episodes, apart from COVID-like reactions to all the vaccines I got, including the two boosters. I had a stent planted in each of two blocked passages to my heart, which cost a fortune—another shortsighted reason, I know.
All this coming around the time of COVID, I blamed it for my getting easily tired, to the point of catching my breath on short walks. I had not suspected a heart problem until it showed on my ECG, incidentally—providentially, yes, yes, I know. I had to take the test for a clearance for cataract surgery.
Everything went well. It’s the recovery that’s taking time. I lost weight, and my heart doctor prescribed Ensure, which I had always thought to be emergency nourishment for the toothless old.
I fought back; I did my hospital rehab, returned to my aqua exercises, and did some gym. In October, Vergel and I took a cruise we thought we deserved—we had booked it on a huge discount pre-COVID and got further discount for, I guess, bravery before COVID was completely out. Three days after our return, I got COVID again. I recovered after five days of home isolation and finally became eligible for my cataract surgery on one eye, my left, just last Nov. 18. I’m still thinking when to have my other one done—I don’t want to go through the delicate process of recovery, which has kept me—and Vergel, too, who has kept time, awake every two hours, then every four, then six for my eye drops. Not during the holidays!
And then my heart came under yet another form of attack—deaths in the family, one cousin after another. I thought cousin Jun Antonio’s death last Nov. 22 would be the last for the year. But his passing was closely followed by my ex-consuegro, Carlos Rodriguez, on Dec. 1.
Carlos and his wife, Peachy, are ex-relatives by affinity—a son of mine had been married to a daughter of theirs but divorced, and married other partners. But we have kept a close, warm relationship. After all, we shared a first grandchild, Carlo, named after his lolo (“wo-wo” by a babyish pronunciation that has carried on to his adulthood).
Carlos and Peachy and Vergel and I attended Carlo’s graduations and other milestone occasions together, some of these sited in Hawaii, where Carlo and his mom have settled. Peachy refers to me as her balaeng hilaw. When she met Vergel they hit it off particularly well right away. Though a mere step-relation to Carlo, Vergel had been himself witness to, and part of, Carlo’s growing up,
I thought these last two deaths—Jun’s and Carlos’—would only add to my sorrows. Instead, these allowed me to see something beautiful in death, beyond the irremediable pain of permanent loss. In both families, the patriarch had fallen ill beyond recovery and gone ahead of their partners. Through the sadness of it all, I saw what each of the two men had left—a close and loving family, and I’m sure they both had everything to do with that. I have no doubt the children will always be there to take care of each other, but especially their widowed mother. That to me is the two men’s crowning achievements.
The Antonio and the Rodriguez children came together as a team and stepped up to take care of everything that was needed on the occasion of such deaths, sparing the newly widowed those burdens.
The Antonio children took turns being with Remy, the way they had taken turns keeping their dad company in hospital, two at a time. For some time, the daughters slept with their mom, which I’m sure meant a lot to Remy especially, whose world revolved around her husband. The closeness of the Antonios goes back, I think, to Pablo Sr. and Marina Antonio’s parenting. Both parents had been orphaned early themselves, and it seemed most important for them to give their children all the love and care and a solid home life. By their example, the children became as hardworking, productive, successful and most importantly, loving toward one another.
The Rodriguezes were about as closely knit. The common denominator, I would think, was the family’s spiritual life, which was as vibrant as their life of fun, food and travel. Close ties do not happen overnight; they are built and strengthened from generation to generation.
The Rodriguezes had only daughters, four of them—the Antonios had five daughters and two sons. I don’t mean to put the males down, but in delicate and sensitive matters, the girls seem better able to function where emotions have to be compartmentalized. Males have their own strengths, of course, as Jun and Carlos themselves have shown.
Amor con amor se paga (Love is paid back by love). The four Rodriguez girls, two living abroad, gave their their dad a surprise lift some time in October, when he seemed headed for the worst. They spent two weeks with him in their home in Subic. They played cards, Scrabble and mahjong with him. They hired a band and sang and danced with him. They rented a boat and took him around the bay. They feasted. They gave him their precious time and company when he needed them most. They left him happy and looking good, as everyone wants to remember him.
Not everybody, of course, is blessed with a closely knit family as the Barretto-Rodriguezes and the Vergel de Dios-Antonios; mine, in fact, is not one of them. But God, in His great love for all of us, has provided alternatives through relatives and friends.
My daughter told me her high school group, now senior citizens all, have already delegated duties among themselves for that special time to make sure all goes beautifully well. They are collecting their photos for the occasion. I, of course, have my own group—three cousins and a friend who might as well be a cousin herself. Imitating Gilda Cordero Fernando, who held her own wake before her time, I, on my 80th, over a celebratory lunch, listened to my loved ones eulogize me in the presence of the audience I expect to be present as well when my turn comes.
How could I look at any year as an annus horribilis when I’m still here, and still being given every chance, as surely divinely intended, to see the beautiful side to everything before I go?