It’s been months since I last stepped inside a church to say my prayers and then go home like it’s an ordinary day of the week. I was born and raised Catholic; my life was packed with lessons from the Bible, meaningful time with the parish youth ministry, and faith that God is with me no matter what.
The past year has been tough for me and my family. I remember it was January 2011 when I walked into the hospital’s intensive care unit, looking helplessly at my ailing grandmother, or Wowa, as I called her. I never thought that she would be so seriously sick. My family members are all obedient and devoted Catholics. It was hard to accept that someone so good and loving would have to face this suffering. I was so angry. But who’s to blame? None of us saw it coming.
I remember how she held my hand and told me to pray with her and to bring a Nazarene handkerchief when I returned. I hesitated at first, but then I later found myself in Quiapo Church praying hard as I held the handkerchief bearing the Nazarene’s image. It was weird of me to think that my Wowa’s life depended on this piece of cloth. But when I handed it to her at the hospital, she immediately put it on her swollen belly and offered a silent prayer. Later, I learned that she had passed gas and that her belly was beginning to return to normal.
I know it was her faith that helped her get through. She stayed for almost two months in the hospital, and we were uncertain that she would make it. It was torture for us as she went in and out of the ICU because of medical conditions we didn’t even understand. We were like hospital boarders getting used to the smell of antiseptic and seeing other patients come and go, alive or dead. All we could do was offer sympathies and prayers to families gripped in the same agony as ours.
But God is so great: Wowa was able to celebrate her 79th birthday. We were full of hope as we watched her take baby steps toward recovery. She was able to stand and eat on her own although she was bedridden most of the time. But then sickness completely overtook her. Still, we were thankful that Wowa was able to stay with us for the next 10 meaningful, wonderful months, when our faith, love and courage were sorely tested.
There were many emotional and physical challenges for our family. There were times when Wowa felt like nobody wanted her and that she was causing all the problems. I used to be the family’s crying lady, but it hurt even more to see her weep during those times that she needed to feel loved and treasured by the most important persons in her life.
I remember one day when I asked her what she wanted as pasalubong, and she said tearfully, “your love.” I was speechless, unable to find the words to make her feel better, so I teasingly replied that I would just bring her pancit palabok from Jollibee, her favorite food.
We had a certain bonding during those times when I was in charge of her care. Sometimes she would tell me about her “meetings” with our relatives who had passed on. She patiently described each person, and once I teased her, “Maybe that’s your ex, Wowa,” only to find out later that it was her father she was talking about.
She talked about seeing my grandfather (who passed on long before I was born) and children in white (I think they were angels), and a place that she referred to as heaven. You’d think all those stories were untrue and mere side effects of all the medicines she was taking. But one day, she called me to her side and told me to pray for my aunt who, she said, had been taken to hospital. We had no idea that something like that had happened, and then suddenly I received a text message from my cousin saying her mom had just been confined in a hospital.
Maybe Wowa was really “naglalakbay” (traveling), but we were not sure. Sometimes I wished she would stop telling me about those things; I was afraid that she would finally say yes to the “tagasundo” (the one coming to collect her) and I was unprepared for that. But I continued listening to her stories as she took mere spoonfuls of her meals and gave the rest to our dog.
Those memories came back to me as I read the book “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back.” I am so touched by this book; it moved me to tears, especially that part where Colton Burpo talks about meeting his miscarried sister and his Pop (great-grandfather) during his “3-minute stay” in heaven. This child describes what heaven supposedly looked like, his encounter with God and Jesus, and Jesus’ love for children. His story—that heaven is “for real”—awakens one’s childlike faith.
Wowa’s death and all the other things that struck our family made me half-believe, half-doubt God’s ways. But the book says “you might as well tell God what you think” because “He already knows it, anyway.” Sometimes when I pray, I talk to Wowa, tell her things, and ask her to whisper them to the Lord. I know He hears me, but it seems funny to think that one has a “backer” in heaven. Answers are not immediate, but with hard work and perseverance, one will realize that He has granted one’s prayers in His time, sometimes big-time.
Maybe the book came to me at the right time, when I was starting to think twice about some things. Maybe it wants me to strengthen my faith more. Maybe it wants me to really understand that God will not give one battles that one cannot win.
Maybe I am not yet over losing Wowa, but I have been sure since the start that she is in heaven, with God. Maybe one day I’ll get used to the fact that she is no longer here with us, that she’s watching us from up there. Maybe she’s proud that I’m trying my best to weather the storm. Maybe she’s even trying to tell Him to make things easier for us; knowing her, I think that’s not impossible.
To see is to believe, as I always put it. Definitely, it’s not only because of the book that I was reassured of some things in life. But it’s so refreshing that while I’m busy finishing all sorts of bestseller books, there’s this one that will touch me differently, make me smile, and be thankful about each second that I live as I get to its closing pages.
Maybe soon I will understand the force that sends millions of people to their feet and wholeheartedly offer their lives to their devotion. With Wowa, and with every single day that I open my eyes, I know He has already started to make me understand why.
Nheslaine Eval, 20, works in a broadcasting network.