That was the message to me this week after the two extraordinary men passed away one after the other—Dolphy at 83, and Wawel Mercado at 44. Their extraordinariness was most manifested in the way they loved their families to the very end.
When Zsa Zsa Padilla, Dolphy’s longtime partner, delivered her eulogy and sang a few bars from “Through the Years,” there was not a dry eye in the house, and perhaps in many homes all over the country.
Her remarks were impeccable for their grace, and her brief but heartfelt performance of the song took her words to an all new level. In the context of their relationship, the song had so much more depth, so much more meaning.
The next day, a colleague at work said wistfully about the Dolphy-Za Zsa tandem: “Perhaps in that most unconventional of unions, there was so much more love, respect and forgiveness than you could probably find in most other marriages.”
And for all its faults and difficulties in the beginning, in the end, there was only love, forgiveness and acceptance.
A wise mentor once told me that not all healing that takes place is physical.
Though Dolphy may have lost the long battle, his illness and his final month in the hospital brought peace to the entire Quizon clan. In the end, it was not just the gift of laughter that the Comedy King left us all with, but also the way he lived the last chapter of his life with the woman he loved and all the children who came out of his colorful life. He redefined for us the true meaning of family, and taught all of us what love really means.
Dolphy, in the way he related with family, friends and colleagues, personified love and true artistry. In the hearts of millions, he is not only a national artist but a national treasure as well. There will be no one else like him.
Wawel Mercado’s story and the love he had for his wife Mila went beyond the word inspiring.
Mila developed severe complications during childbirth that left her wheelchair-bound and unable to speak. The brain damage that resulted caused her to lose much of her motor functions, and her mode of communication was restricted to grunting sounds.
Throughout their 15 years together, Mila had to be cared for by Wawel and a caregiver.
The other light in Wawel’s life was his daughter Therese who, in addition to Mila, became the center of his world. He lived for them and his life fully revolved around caring for them. He loved them both unconditionally.
Happiness in dire straits
In an Inquirer interview with Alex Vergara, before attempting a 10-km race where Wawel pushed the wheelchair-bound Mila with the help of some friends who also joined the race, Wawel said: “My [able-bodied] friends still manage to find reasons to complain about their marriages. I was also of the same frame of mind, until I began asking myself what I really wanted in a marriage. I realized that one could still be happy even in the direst situations.”
Sometime in 2003, my grief class at Ateneo had the privilege of listening to Wawel share his life story. All my 15 students were so inspired and impressed by the way he led his life, so much so that they could not stop talking about him for weeks after. He had impressed upon their 20-year-old minds what unconditional love was truly about.
He spoke about it in the same Inquirer article—“After all these years, I can honestly say that we have ‘endured’ nothing. I see no suffering. I see no pain. All I can see is love: The love that Mila has for me, the love I have for her, the love we have for our daughter, the love that our family and friends have for us, the love that God has for all of us.”
At dinner after our grief class, Wawel told me there were days when it was difficult, too. That in loving someone like Mila, there was a grieving he needed to live with daily, but then, he had Therese to think about and live for.
“Love helps me overcome the sadness, but it can be difficult. I’m only human, too,” he admitted.
The last time I saw Wawel was at last year’s Jollibee Family Values awards, where he and Mila’s little family were given the highest honors for their exemplary, extraordinary life together. When the AVP of their life story was shown that evening, tears flowed for this family, for the difficult but exceptional life they had.
There is a void now that no one else can fill in the lives of the Quizon and Mercado families, one they will have to come to terms with. They can find comfort in the outpouring of love and support given these last few days by family, friends and even strangers.
But there are many memories to keep and call on—countless moments blessed by the greatness of the love showered on them by these extraordinary gentlemen, whose legacy will live on long after they have gone.