Till then
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 15, 2014 - 12:00am

Dad gave us time to say goodbye.

When we first learned he had cancer in September 2009, my sisters and I flew to his side in California. My sister Mae advanced the processing of her US immigrant status. I had the cast on my fractured right foot removed two weeks ahead of schedule and hobbled on a plane for a 12-hour flight. My two other sisters Geraldine, who just had surgery, and Valerie, who was then in the process of moving houses, also flew to California to be by Dad and Mom’s side. But we put everything on hold for them.

Every time I said goodbye to Dad in the three more visits I made to California in the 10 months that followed, I left no word of love and gratitude unsaid.

This I can share with authority now because I know whereof I speak: Never postpone an expression of love, gratitude or apology. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. The less “I should have’s,” the better. Those with little feelings of regret have an easier time moving on after a loved one’s death.

Saying goodbye to Dad was never easy. In September, we learned that his cancer was inoperable. He opted for chemo, never one to shirk before a fight. But though filled with hope, I think I had begun to compose my last farewell to Dad from that moment on. Faced with my then 77-year-old father’s mortality, I had to confront one of my greatest fears: losing a parent.

I once was told that we are never going to be truly prepared for a parent’s death, no matter how old we are. It’s because the world we knew from the moment we were born had our parents in it. And when one of them goes, one corner of our world goes, too, and our world is never truly whole again.

* * *

The first goodbye was the most heart-wrenching. I remember kneeling before the armchair where Dad was sitting, watching his favorite ball game on TV. Normally, he would help me with my luggage, and tie up my balikbayan box like it had gold bars in it. But this time he was content to just enjoy the mayhem of a daughter leaving for the Philippines with Target’s best sale items in tow.

I knelt in front of him, took his hand and shed big, warm tears. I expressed my gratitude for all that I became because of him.

Huwag ka nang umiyak. I will be alright,” he replied in a soft, steady voice. I cried all the way to the airport.

My last visit to my ailing Dad was in late May 2010. My sister Geraldine, a doctor, had told us it was time to say goodbye as Dad was not getting any better. It was our tacit agreement that we should be there while he could still recognize us and be perked up by our presence. I wanted to hold Dad’s hand while he could still grip it in return.

I stayed for over a week. My dad, then confined to a hospital bed, was hanging on.

It was about a month to his birthday but I knew I could not afford to take another trans-Pacific flight to  California in a month.

“Dad, I will not be here to celebrate your birthday with you next month, but I’ll be here in December for your wedding anniversary,” I told him as I hugged him farewell in his hospital bed.

“That’s okay,” he replied, softly, steadily, clearly. “As long as your love and prayers are with me.”

“Always, Dad, always,” I promised, fighting back the tears. When I left his room, even the nurses waiting outside were in tears.

It was truly goodbye, for about a month later, on July 6, 2010, surrounded by my mom and three sisters and his own sister Maryanne Ancheta, Dad breathed his last.

* * *

During his last Father’s Day on earth, Dad was lovingly surprised by my sisters with balloons and colorful cupcakes. It was as if a birthday party was going on in his hospital room!

Three weeks after Father’s Day and a week before his 78th birthday, Dad was gone. It was as if everyone had a feeling that his next birthday was going to be celebrated in heaven so they had popped the champagne, so to speak, on Father’s Day instead.

During Dad’s 82nd birth anniversary party last Sunday in the home he built for my mother in Las Piñas, my sister Val baked cupcakes and topped them with gaily-colored icing. She had a candle, too.

My mom Sonia prepared a feast, including dad’s favorite pot roast. My dad’s sister Coney Tamayo and nieces Charmaine Tamayo, Aimee Ferrer, Ching Lugtu and Kit Ravana and their families all joined in the celebration of, as Aimee put it, “Uncle Frank’s life.”

Dad’s grandchildren and grand nephews and nieces blew the candle on Dad’s birthday cupcake as we all sang Happy Birthday. My Auntie Coney even had a margarita.

* * *

Four years ago we said goodbye amid much tears. The tears still come, and our hearts still ache, but the pain is soothed by happy memories. Mom said that she woke up on Sunday, Dad’s birthday, half expecting to hear Dad singing in the shower. And as she drifted in that place between slumber and wakefulness, she thought she might hear the lines from the Tom Jones hit, Till, “Till the moon deserts the sky, Till all the seas run dry, Till then I’ll worship you,” from the bathroom. It was one of Dad’s favorites.

“Then I woke up,” she shared, “and realized it was just a memory.”

Till then, Dad. (You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)


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