Gone too soon
At my age, I have seen the deaths of people close to me and of those I have never met or even known before. And all of these deaths have touched me. As John Donne says: “Any man’s death diminishes me. For I am involved in mankind.”
But no death unsettles me more than the death of a young person, of one who has gone too soon.
I was in high school when I became aware not only of my own mortality but also of the grim reality of death that respects no age.
Cora dela Rosa was a year behind my class. She was the prettiest and the darling of her class, and she was my secret crush. At her funeral, I cried for the first time for someone who was not a member of my family.
There was also Bert Manalo, a year older than me and the most promising in his class, being its valedictorian. And then there was Ric Vergel de Dios, two years ahead of me and my sister’s classmate. He was the star player of our school’s basketball team. They all died too soon.
Naive and innocent, I thought then that it was okay for old folks to die, but not for young people. I realized that those three died in the prime of their youth. And for the first time I asked God: Why them?
As I grew older, my anguish persisted whenever a young person died.
Some 10 years ago, I posted online a letter to Carlo Cruz whose young wife Leslie had perished in the Glorietta 2 mall bombing in Makati in the afternoon of Oct. 19, 2007.
The couple, like many others in the dawn of living their dreams, had a daughter then 4 years old. I wrote the letter because I realized that Carlo could have been my son and Leslie my daughter-in-law. And on a deeper level, I wrote because I felt a kinship with Carlo as a Christian and a fellow human being.
As I write now, I remember the story of a 29-year-old mother who ironically lost her life in the process of giving life to her fourth child.
This young woman, prior to her demise, was the envy of her peers. She was married to the scion of a powerful and wealthy political family. And she was lovely and glamorous. In a sense, she was definitely living a full life and death was never on her horizon.
Just recently, I was disheartened by the senseless death of another young woman. She was only in her early 20s, a graduate of a prestigious university. And like any other young graduate, she was looking at a bright future; she was aspiring to go to law school someday.
What made her case so disturbing to me was the way she died. She was shot in the head when she refused to let go of her bag during a robbery-holdup on the eve of her birthday. She was taken to a hospital and was comatose for several months. When she woke up, her family brought her home and lovingly cared for her until her vital organs failed.
Today, I still ask the same questions: Why them, Lord? How can death be so unreasonable as to take these young people so soon?
Sometimes God reveals the answer to our questions as we go through the ordinary routine of our lives. I found an answer to my question while browsing through an online column of the eminent spiritual writer, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI.
He tells the story of a man who had just lost a young daughter, an only child, in an accident.
Someone told him how hard this must be for him, not to get to see his daughter grow up and marry, and not ever to get to hold his grandchildren.
The man replied: “I don’t think in those terms. The answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know what her life could have been. I realize today that her soul had its own journey and its own terms with life. This had nothing to do with me. But I got to participate in the journey of that soul. For that I am unspeakably grateful.”
For sure, no words can ease the grief of families and friends left behind by people who have gone too soon. A Christian, however, can take consolation from his faith that in death, “life is changed, not ended.”
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Danilo G. Mendiola, 76, is retired from corporate work. He and his wife now work as volunteer coordinators in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.
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