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‘Death Be Not Proud revisited

Eric and Emelda Teng, with a photo of their late son, Patrick, on the screen behind them.

Whether we remember the phrase because of the original John Donne sonnet or the memoir written by John Gunther about the passing away of his son, Johnny, Death Be Not Proud resonates with most of us as we endeavor to find meaning in life and see our existence culminating in something more, when it’s time to “shuffle off our mortal coil.” In the natural order of things, we see ourselves as extensions of our parents, and while dreading the reality of it happening, we can imagine that moment as we lay either of them to their rest.

The kind of power these beliefs possess, contributes in some part to the degree of pomp and ceremony we attach to the deaths of the ones who were there before us. And so, inevitably, the tragedy can only be heightened when that natural order is usurped and reversed. And I can only guess at the kind of pain and turmoil that we experience as we find ourselves, as parents, mourning the loss of a child.

I never met Patrick Donald Teng, who would have turned 26 on Oct. 21, but for more than a decade now, I’ve considered his parents, Emelda and Eric, as more than mere acquaintances as we would support each other in various ways, on my part, attending the events of their apparel brands and ready to patronize the different eateries they would set up.

A third-year medical student at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, Pat was an avid dancer, president of the Ateneo Medical Dance Group. Diagnosed last February with Glioblastoma multiforme, a very aggressive brain cancer, he succumbed in May. And on the occasion of his birthday, the newly formed Patrick Donald Teng Foundation staged the concert Patak at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater at the Ateneo.

As Emelda and Eric explain, “We named it Patak as we hope it will be the first drop in a ripple that will lead to the waves of change Pat desired.” The foundation’s mission is to help children with special needs, and help better understand the fight against brain cancer via medical scholarships.  Emelda and Eric have dovetailed the kind of work and interests Pat himself possessed, while helping those who suffer from the same cancer that struck him down. In his time, Pat was tireless in using dance as a way to create joy and happiness. Contacting The Heart at Play, he proposed, mounted and taught sessions of dance movement therapy for the children with special needs who were under The Heart at Play “umbrella.”

Carrying on the kind of work Pat initiated, the foundation has reached out to The Heart at Play and Miss Possibilities, and they enlisted the different dance troupes and campus organizations that Pat had been involved in, to create the numbers that made up the “meat” of the concert. A film screening of Thor: Ragnarok at Ayala Vertis North in Quezon City was the foundation’s next project.

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In a manner, the foundation now stands as testimony to the kind of person Pat was in the brief time he was here with us — touching lives in a manner that exemplified how much he wanted to give of himself, and spread good vibes via dance.

This year’s undas will certainly be a challenge for the Tengs — if just a year ago it was Emelda and Eric with their children Pat, Mia and Greg visiting their loved ones who had departed; this year, they will be heading to Pat’s resting place and coming to grips with the loss.

People grieve in different ways and you can’t say any one way is better than the other in terms of coping. But beyond the denial, the anger, the depression, the setting up of this foundation and how its efforts have been crystallized and executed, is one way of Emelda and Eric keeping Pat’s spirit very much alive — and keeping him near them.



Of eccentricities & idiosyncrasies

The three novels today all possess quirky, memorable characters. In the case of Spoonbenders, we have a family of paranormals, while The People We Hate at the Wedding is a humorous account of a less than perfect family. Standard Deviation is a slyly funny account of an “odd” couple coping with a special needs child.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory (available at Fully Booked) Like crossbreeding a real-life kitchen-sink treatment of The Incredibles with a “Where do the likes of Uri Geller go after their 15 minutes of fame?”, this novel is a wonderful feat of speculative fiction that somehow manages to stay grounded and real. We enter the world of psychics and con men via the family of Teddy and Maureen Telemachus, and they aren’t even really Greek! Their children are all basket cases — Irene is a human lie detector, Frankie is a card shark who’s always getting into financial trouble, and Buddy who sees the future that puts him in a perpetual state of depression. When Irene’s son, Matt, discovers he can astral project, Frankie seizes it as an opportunity to break into the safe of the local crime boss. Comedic and at times, tragic, the magic here is how very real it all is!

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder (available at Fully Booked) An engaging story about a dysfunctional family on the cusp of the eldest daughter’s wedding, this novel entertains while providing light but pithy comedy. Donna is the matriarch; Eloise is her daughter from a first marriage to a rich Frenchman who betrayed her by having an affair with the au pair; while Alice and Paul come from a second marriage to a small town accountant. Alice is having an affair with her married boss, and Paul is gay, enmeshed in a relationship with Mark, an arrogant college professor who is now testing the waters of open infidelity. A trust fund baby, Eloise has had to face resentment and bitterness from her half-siblings. How we hate and hurt the ones we love the most is one major theme of this illuminating read.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (available on A shade below eccentricity, Heiny gifts us with everyday protagonists rich with quirks and idiosyncrasies that are leavened with rich humor. Beautifully pitched and marked by compassionate comedy, we meet Graham and his second wife Audra. Audra is a force of nature dealing in the currency of gossip and knowledge; ready to make foot in mouth a trait that needs no apology. When Graham’s ex-wife, Elspeth, enters the picture, and is surprisingly befriended by Audra, Graham ends up pondering the whys of being attracted to such different women. Saddled with a special needs child, there is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of what parenting consists of. The child’s obsession with origami is just one of several take-off points for pithy vignettes.

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