Even in death, Secretary Jesse Robredo continues to teach us many lessons.
His loss has affected our nation so deeply that even those who did not have the blessing of having worked with him or known him were saddened by his passing.
Perhaps that is the impact of a very good man—a bright light whose passing is mourned.
A TV reporter covering the wake told me how, the morning after Robredo was found, he woke up crying. At first he could not understand why, then he realized that he was missing his parents. He said he would take a leave to see them soon.
Friends who had lost their parents suddenly felt Robredo’s passing very much. They said that they found themselves weeping and remembering their own fathers or mothers.
Those who lost parents under similar circumstances as Robredo’s felt his passing even deeper.
My friend Paulynn Paredes Sicam, whose dad Jess Paredes was on the plane with President Magsaysay, said she was crying for days, recalling her own loss 55 years ago. Even Ces Drilon, who lost her father in a helicopter crash in 1993, took pause to remember.
I told my friend, Mary Anne Ledesma Deduque, who teaches in Naga, how incredibly sad it must be in Naga.
“Unbelievably sad,” she replied. “In the university these past days, classes would go on but just about everyone—faculty, staff and students—is frozen with grief. Teachers admit, in the privacy of faculty rooms, that they do not have it in them to teach right now. Students, in candid moments, admit that they can’t focus on anything in school—pre-final exams and the race to finish necessary content and submit requirements before them notwithstanding. We have known collective anger before, and that proved to be rather energizing. But collective sadness is really deadening.”
Much has been said about Robredo’s exemplary public service. He was the epitome of a “servant leader.” Schooled partly at the Ateneo, he lived out St. Ignatius’ prayer—he continually gave without ever counting the cost.
When lawyer Leni Robredo faced the media Thursday morning and replied to their queries, she was the epitome of courage and grace. The sadness was palpable but you could also hear the hope in her voice as she told stories about him. The act in itself, of sharing private insights into the man we all mourn, somehow helped in the healing of the nation.
Her stories about him as a husband and father tugged at the heart. I was sitting through heavy traffic with a friend listening to her interview, her anecdotes about Secretary Jesse. It was difficult for me to hold back the tears.
His humility got to me, especially when she said, “He was a regular husband, a regular father. Hindi siya secretary, hindi siya mayor ’pag nasa bahay. Gusto ko pong sabihin he wanted to feel important sa amin… ’Di ba umuuwi lang siya every weekend? ‘Yung lahat ng aayusin sa bahay, hinihintay ko siya. Ang gusto kong sabihin—busted light, plumbing, ’yung mga sirang telepono, etc. hinihintay siya nun.
“Kasi sinasabi niya, one of the reasons he wanted to come home every weekend was that he seems grounded here.”
Here was the DILG secretary, a powerful man by all accounts and he knew what mattered and made time for it, week after week.
He knew that power was fleeting and so he continued to live simply. “While it might have been unnecessary na siya pa ’yung ginugulo namin sa mga bagay na ganito,” Leni said, “it made him feel important na may ginagawa siya para sa pamilya. Parating sagot niya sa akin ’pag nag-thank you ako sa kanya sa ginawa niya, sasabihin niya sa akin, ‘The least I can do, Ma.’”
They had just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary last June 27. He came home that day to surprise her with a bunch of flowers he had asked from people along the way.
But she has accepted her loss graciously, without casting blame on anyone. Perhaps she took comfort, too, in one of the last few things he said—that he had led a full life and could not ask for anything more. “Ito ’yung itinakda.”
Even as a father, he was a role model. He was never too busy for his daughters. We saw glimpses of that when Aika Robredo spoke about her dad before the press. She had no regrets because nothing was left unsaid, she remarked.
In the Robredo home, “I love you’s” were daily fare.
It was not surprising to me that his daughters Jill and Patricia now wear his watch and necklace. In grief therapy and education, we refer to these as “linking objects.”
Linking objects are physical objects or images that connect the bereaved in a comforting way to a deceased loved one. These objects, when used constructively, can be used as tools to help those left behind move on.
In my own parental loss, I kept for many years the last jacket my dad wore in Baguio before his heart attack. Whenever I felt sad, I would take it out of my closet and hold it.
My daughter has her brother’s little bow and arrow which she keeps on her study table, and in our home, we keep a small chest of his favorite toys. Mom wore my dad’s watch for many years, and still does from time to time.
But beyond the linking objects, we hold on to memories and draw from that emotional well as we mourn our losses and rebuild our lives.
Jesse’s cup overflowed with goodness and blessings, and it is the well of memories and love that he has left from where Leni, Aika, Patricia and Jill will draw to sustain them from now on.
Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao or her blog www.storiesbykate.wordpress.com