I did not have the heart to tell my old man that Tita Rosa, one of their friends and distant neighbors at Ponciano from the old days had just recently passed away. She and her husband Ador, papa’s “kinakapatid” (meaning his parents were my parents’ major sponsors at their wedding) had been regular faces at the social gatherings which papa and my late mother attended during our grader years. Being both doctors, we the children, had always been a little afraid of them lest we became their little patients.
College sweethearts since their Diliman days, they looked every inch the handsome couple (which they truly were) and one memory I had was seeing them at sunday service, resplendent in white clothes while they chatted with my parents after church. Back then, I had also admired their old car, the type of model which my friends and I in college later nicknamed The Godfather, because it looked just like the ones in that hit movie of the same title.
Much later, when I was already working, I again caught up with Doc Ador, but this time, we had progressed to become tennis buddies. We belonged to the same club, played everyday, and often shared grownup jokes together. From someone you looked up to as a child, he had become a friend, a peer and almost like a father, all in one, and at the same time. Sadly, when the downtown courts were eventually demolished to make space for a local government building and a public school, all the members went our separate ways and many among us transferred to the different tennis courts in the suburbs. I never saw him again. Until I heard the sad news and visited Tita “Doc”‘ Rosa’s wake.
It had been more than twenty years, and from time to time, I would hear tidbits from friends that he had been traveling, then retired, and lastly, had been sick. Still, his sharp wit and Tagalog Pangasinense slang imprinted clearly whenever he came to mind.
Finally, at the wake, I saw him at last, sitting alone at the back, passive and impervious to the hushed people milling about the room. With eyes fixed ahead, his body was bent forward, hands leaning on a cane, as though ready to lunge towards the direction of the large portrait of his beautiful wife beside her open casket. When he finally saw me, he straightened a bit and we embraced. I offered my condolences and added that it was all going to be alright. With a resigned look, he had plainly muttered, “What can we do, she is gone.”
While it is true that no amount of eloquence can ease the pain and grief of losing someone you love, it is worse when you blurt out the most foolish things while attempting to be so.
My only recourse was silence, and I stood beside him with a hand to his shoulder, while visitors began approaching us to console him. Between pauses, we slowly filled them with recollections of the old days, and even laughed a bit at some old jokes. I stayed for a whole afternoon until the hour came when I had to bid him goodbye. Corny thoughts like ‘in every cloud is a silver lining’ might have again come to mind, but that time, I shut them down for good.
In a Zen mantra, peel an onion a layer at a time until you reach the core to find it is empty. It maintains that all of us are broken inside and eternally mending while we trudge along our separate paths. Just like the onion, when we are totally peeled of all our layers and pains, we are empty and finally pure. I can only wish for him that fate and may the rest of us attain it too.
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