“Magpahinga ka na, Elmo. Nakamit mo na lahat ng mga bagay dito sa mundo. Huwag ka mag-alala sa amin. Mahal na mahal kita. Mahal na mahal ka ng mga anak at apo mo (Rest now, Elmo. You’ve achieved everything you wanted in this world. Don’t worry about us. I love you very much. Your children and grandchildren love you very much).”
Those were the exact words my grandmother Corazon whispered to Tatay in his final few seconds.
I thought it was only like that in the movies, where a monitor shows how much a struggling person loses his life slowly. I saw the jumpy and jagged lines from the monitor slowly turn into a straight and quiet one. It was in that moment that it hit me: The world had lost Ka Elmo. I had lost my grandfather.
He was diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer last November. He would brave five chemotherapy sessions. Our family knew that death is a relative of cancer, but he confronted it head-on with his grit, much like the way he faced all the hardships he had gone through in his life.
In his mind, he never really had bone cancer. He would jokingly say he was only suffering from rheumatism and he would overcome it easily. This was because he was raised through hell and back as a kid, from witnessing firsthand the events of World War II with his young eyes, to his struggles as a citizen during the Marcos regime.
The day before he died, I was the one who signed the form that permitted his transfer to the intensive care unit (ICU). Only one member of the family was allowed to accompany the patient inside. I went first. Inside, there was a deafening silence. The only thing I could hear was my Tatay’s deep gasps of air as he struggled with every breath, as if life was slowly drifting away from his already unresponsive body. The doctor arrived and told us that cancer cells had already spread in his body and that he only had less than a day to live.
At 3 p.m., I went inside the ICU. I held his hand that was full of little scars and calluses — proof of the long, hard life he lived and how he had made his own success.
I talked to him for an hour. As I held his hand, I told him
everything — how I idolized him as a writer, and as a man who always prioritized his family. Each and every scar in his hand was an attestation that all he had achieved and did in his life was the product of honest, determined toil. From the time he used to write in Liwayway magazine, to winning three Palanca awards, serving as a local correspondent for the Inquirer, and building a strong foundation for our family, he was always the fighter.
At 4:30 p.m., we were called by the nurses and told that we should accompany Tatay, for he had less than an hour to live. The end was here; we thought we were prepared for it. But the truth is, we can never really be ready for goodbyes.
This time, the nurses permitted two members of the family to go inside. Our family sent me and my grandmother.
The first thing I saw was the monitor indicating his breathing and the beat of his heart. My grandmother was already crying. She held his arm and started to pray the rosary.
I held my Tatay’s hand, for I knew that death was near and it was inevitable. I held his hand knowing I might not have the chance again. I held it the way he held mine as I grew up with his guidance and fatherly love.
I was looking at the monitor as his heart stopped beating at exactly 5 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 5:01 p.m.
But cancer could not even put him to rest. A miraculous wave of heartbeats was detected by the monitor at 5:03 p.m. He was a fighter; even cancer could not put him down that easily.
Dr. Roque was a lot of things. He was a newsman whose craft allowed him a firsthand view of critical periods in our history. He was an educator who taught generations of young minds, an agriculturist who aimed to change people’s perspectives of the carabao as not a beast of burden but a beast of fortune.
I had idolized him ever since I was a little boy. He gave me the warmth of a father’s love when no one really cared. He used to tell me that I should study and read the newspaper often, as he tried and molded me to be like him one day. His are the biggest shoes I have to fill.
He told me two weeks before he died that his final wish was to accompany me on stage during my graduation. I laughed and told him that we were going to do so much more after that. He replied, “No matter what happens, carry on.”
He was my mentor; he taught me how to write, and he showed me his passion for his craft. But in his final moments, I did not see him as a writer or an educator. I saw him as my dad, the man who shaped me into who I am today, and who I will yet be one day.
Back to that moment at the ICU, when a miracle seemingly happened and he started breathing again despite having been pronounced dead two minutes ago. He was still struggling, but my grandmother and I could not stand seeing him suffer some more.
He had fought countless battles all his life, and behind
him throughout those years was the love and support of a
woman — my grandmother. Now my grandma stopped praying the rosary and, in a broken, stuttering voice, said those unforgettable words: “Magpahinga ka na, Elmo. Nakamit mo na lahat ng mga bagay dito sa mundo. Huwag ka mag-alala sa amin. Mahal na mahal kita. Mahal na mahal ka ng mga anak at apo mo.”
And that was it.
I only hope there is sunshine wherever my Tatay is right now, the way there had been, always, when he was here. Life must continue, and I do wish to live my life the way Tatay lived his.
Because Ka Elmo always said: “Carry on.”
* * *
Christian Lee R. Roque, 19, will soon receive his degree in education from Central Luzon State University in Nueva Ecija. He is the grandson of the late Anselmo Roque, Inquirer’s longtime correspondent for Nueva Ecija.
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