18 December 2013 - 10:00 am
You never think it’s the last time you’re going to see somebody, until it is. When my dad called me up this morning to tell me that my Wowo - his dad - had passed away, I numbly tried to recall when the last time I’d seen him was. We had Chinese for lunch, I remember, and then we spent an hour or so at their house in Riviera to laze around while my grandparents puttered about in a similar fashion. That was maybe a month (or two?) ago.
I then remembered that I hadn’t gone with my family to visit him two weekends ago. He’d called my dad up, demanding to see us, or so I was told. He told my dad that he never got to see his grandchildren anymore, and so to Cavite we were to go. Only I didn’t want to come along - it was the Second Sunday of Advent, which superceded the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in importance. I had plans of hearing mass at UA&P, of having an advanced feast day lunch with my friends, and then, ironically enough, of going to the wake of my old classmate’s father.
And now I’ve got another wake to attend - that of my own grandfather. I mentioned that I wanted to remember when the last time I saw him was - this is because he’s to be cremated today. I come home on Friday, but as I write this from my room in Subic, I know not what arrangements are being made. I don’t know where the wake will be, or where his ashes will be laid to rest. I only know that I’d seen him for the last time maybe a month or two ago, and that’s all the goodbye I’d gotten to say to his living, breathing, physical form.
I wondered to myself why it was I hadn’t cried immediately. I’m acutely emotional, and cry over everything. If I’m being honest, only now as I read messages of condolence are the tears starting to fall again. I say again because I have mourned the loss of my grandfather. It just happened long ago.
Back in 2002, I was playing with my sisters and cousins on my mom’s side when my grandma gave me the phone. It was my dad again, and for the first time in my life, he was calling to deliver some life-changing bad news to me. “It’s Wowo,” he’d said, “He’s had a stroke. He’s in the ICU. Pray hard he’ll be okay.”
I didn’t know what a stroke was. I’d never heard of an ICU. But from the tone of his voice I’d somehow understood that it was serious, and the fear crept in as I waited for news on his “brain attack”. He’d lived, of course, so I was happy to visit him in the hospital. But that visit and the time we spent at Bucal after that had instilled in me a new fear, because the man who lay before us, getting electrotherapy for his limp left side, was no longer my grandfather. No, in my head (and I maintain this until today), Wowo was alive, but his spirit died when he suffered his first stroke.
How I came to this unhappy conclusion, I’m not too sure. But after his stroke, it soon became very evident to me and my sisters that Wowo was not quite the same. From being the fun, active grandfather who played with us, who taught us how to bet and play billiards, who teased us relentlessly and spoiled us something terrible - the grandfather who’d shared with me some of the best summers of my childhood - he became confined to a wheelchair and didn’t wish to do much with us any longer. The numerous stairs at their old house were replaced with ramps: Ramps in the garden, ramps down to the courts, ramps up and to their house. I don’t recall him using many of those ramps, but we did. We played and rode our bikes up and down the ramps. I’d wished he’d roll down with us on his wheelchair, but I guess now that was a silly wish.
As the years went by, our visits got fewer, shorter, and farther in between. No longer did we spend our summers in Cavite. My grandparents had moved houses, so as to make getting around easier for them both. Wowo was really okay - he could stand, he could walk, he could carry conversation. But trips and lunches often ended upon his utterance that he was bored, and our talks would follow a familiar pattern: “How old are you now? What do you study?” Almost every time. That, or he’d comment on how we looked. I never could tell if he was being serious when he called us pretty, or if he was teasing us like he would before. I wish now it was the latter.
Maybe on a couple of occasions he’d asked us if we wanted to watch a movie. I regret to say we turned him down, because we’d already seen it, and we didn’t want him to spend his money. We were fine at home, though now I think we ought to have humored him. But we were afraid. One time it was because he’d taken the car out, quite literally single-handedly, and went missing for a few hours. On other times he’d offer me some old Reader’s Digest magazines and publications, because he knew I loved to read. It’s times like those I wanted to cry and hug him, because I knew that although this Wowo was always bored and jaded, the Wowo I grew up knowing and loving was in there somewhere.
Lord knows I’ve grieved a lot over this in the past. As much as I missed my grandfather, the man who’d played with me all through my childhood and taught me many things, it saddened me more that my younger sisters and cousins knew only the miserable man in the wheelchair, whose health deteriorated sharply over time and who occasionally sent us gifts, small tokens of money, and peculiar text messages about how the Lord loved us. It’s my only honest description, really, and if he were more than just coping on a daily basis, I wouldn’t have known. I saw far too little of him these past years, and he was certainly different from the real Wowo I had before his stroke. I’ve missed him for so long, but today I weep because I also miss the Wowo who passed away this morning. I loved him, and he loved us, too, even if I may not have done him justice just now. I realize he’s gone now, hopefully to a better place where he can tend to his beloved farms, and play golf, and drive cars, and do everything people with two functional hands could ever want to do. I think that’s all he really wanted. I may not be home to say goodbye to him just yet, but as I work I am determined to be happy. I only wish I could have held his hands, but that will have to wait until we see each other again.