Death and COVID-19

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2020 - 12:00am

Everyday we get data of COVID-19 related sicknesses and deaths not only in our country, but around the world.  From the time the coronavirus started attacking the human population, we have already reached more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines and 919,715 deaths worldwide.

When the number of deaths related to COVID-19 started rising since March, I consciously blocked all the negativity it brought along with it. The first news that hit close to home was the death of my very dear friend Baby Herrera (former executive secretary of Vice President Salvador Laurel). The next news that broke my heart were the deaths of Ito Curata and his partner Bob Miller, leaving their son orphaned. I would remind myself that death is inevitable; nature is cleansing the human population; sick people are bound to go and that God has relieved them of pain, suffering and misery.

Within seven months from March to September, I would continuously hear of friends, acquaintances and neighbors dying week after week. As the pandemic extended itself, the days became longer and people have grown weary. The temporary thrills of the lockdown, that of staying home, cooking and the entertainment would distract me for a while but not enough to think about the reality out there. The pandemic has truly begun and it has started to creep into the depths of our soul. As we think about our life today, we cannot remove the idea that death is waiting somewhere around the corner. It can happen to me, or to you, to someone you haven’t met or someone you love so dearly.

I would receive a monthly dose of sadness about close friends who have passed away. But those monthly pronouncements have suddenly turned into a weekly occurrence of not just friends and acquaintances but now of family. The saying that “death comes like a thief in the night” has become real to me.

The myth about the month of August being a “ghost” month has also brought chills through my spine. This year ghost month started on Aug. 19 and will end on Sept. 16.  Coincidentally, the month of August and the ghost month have been the worst so far for me.  From the beginning of August I already received news that my cousin-in-law Anthony, who lives in New Jersey, passed away. On the second week, my brother-in-law Eric, who lives in Texas, passed away. On the third week, my aunt Marilou, who lives here in Manila, passed away. On the fourth week, God gave me a break but only a semi-break because my son had to undergo an appendectomy. With all the stress and anxiety in my heart and mind, I thought what else could be worse. This is probably the end of the game for me. But on the first Sunday of September, right after my dad’s birth anniversary, when our clan was about to listen to a virtual mass, my cousins broke the saddest news – that my Tita Ethel Soliven Timbol had gone knocking on heaven’s gate.

Ever since the pandemic hit us, we would gather together every Sunday for a virtual mass celebrated by my eldest cousin Fr. Louie Soliven David, SJ for our Soliven clan. I would always look for Tita Ethel and my Uncle Willie – the remaining siblings of my dad. I cannot forget those last few Sundays I would catch myself looking at Tita Ethel, wondering if she would survive this pandemic. I cherished every moment she and Uncle Willie would make a gesture or speak. I felt I was hanging on to a generation I never wanted to end. There was even an inside joke among us, with their consent of course, on who would remain the last man standing between the two. So, now we know it’s Uncle Willie. 

He comes in second to my dad. They were ten siblings all together – my dad born in 1929, Willie (1931) who worked in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Regie (1932) who worked in Proctor and Gamble, Manny (1933) who worked for the Philippine National Bank, Mercy (1934) who was an English speech consultant, Tessa (1935) who lived in Iowa, Augie (1936) who joined the Philippine Office Machines Distribution Association or POMDA, Vic (1938) who founded the V.V. Soliven Group of Companies-Real Estate, and Ethel (1940) who became a journalist and Benito Jr. (1941) who died a few months after he was born.

In my grandmother’s book entitled, Pelagia Soliven, A Woman So Valiant, she wrote: Ethelinda, the youngest of my children, was through with high school by the time she got to be sixteen. Following the first two years of college at St. Theresa’s College, she received a grant to go to the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, New York, USA majoring in English and Child Psychology. Upon graduating from college in 1960, she joined The Manila Bulletin, taking charge of the youth section called “The Page for the Young at Heart.” She later covered the beat of the Department of Education, Trade and Industry Department and the Commission on Elections, often meriting front page headline stories in the tumultuous 1970’s and 1980’s. In 1976, she became editor of The Manila Bulletin’s society section, called “Life & Leisure,” as well as “Sunday Leisure.” She received a special citation in 1990 from the Manila Rotary Club for her consumer advocacy work. Twice a week she writes “Pacesetters,” a column which chronicles society and cultural events in Metro Manila.  With her late husband Sixto Knapp Timbol, she has four children – Elizabeth, Alex, Peter and Dabbie.

Tita Ethel was ten years younger than my dad. Both of them became journalists in their own right. She was the pioneer of the lifestyle pages in the country. She was very sharp, meticulous and outspoken. While everyone listened to my dad, she would often contradict him. I felt it was always deliberate on her part to provoke him and to assert her independence. Not to mention, to get his attention. We will truly miss you, Tita Ethel, but I am sure you are now in a happier place, free from suffering and in the bosom of your loving family up there. ‘Til we meet again, Tita. Dios Ti Agngina!

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When will this pandemic ever end? What will happen tomorrow? How will our Christmas be spent? Who will be the next victim? These are lingering questions in our minds and hearts. And as we reflect on our own life, we must also think of our worth as a person, our worthiness as a mother, a friend, a worker, a boss and a leader, especially during this crisis. Have all our actions and decisions been worthy at all? Is this the right time to create pain? suffering? hatred? misery?

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