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I think of my father

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From where I sat while I attended mass at home recently, I heard the priest say, “Suffering purifies the soul.” He said every successful trial provides one’s soul with meaningful progression. This struck a chord within me that had been left untouched for months, something that I have not bothered to deal with in a long time.

When I was about 5 years old, I visited the hospital quite regularly for vaccine shots. I would play around with my toys while running down the hallways and causing my parents headaches. At that age, I thought of the place as my playground.

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Eleven years later, I started my first day of senior high. I was still this boy who let his imagination run wild from time to time, but certain circumstances molded me. My first day at senior high school in June 2019 did not start with the usual drop off done by my parents on the first day of school because my dad had been confined since the end of May 2019. That was his eighth confinement due to his brain cancer which started in April 2011. On the second day of school orientation, while classes were still on-going, I was informed to leave the room and have a talk with my strand coordinator.

I could not stop fidgeting from the nervousness. The coordinator told me he had something important to say. My mom had just given him a quick call to tell him that my dad had just passed on. He allowed me to leave school immediately. Soon after, my cousin picked me up and we rushed to the hospital. While stuck in the rush hour traffic, my mind was running with so many questions, thoughts and worries. I simply could not help but think about what happened to my dad. I cried. I felt extremely helpless. I froze and nearly suffocated.

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After an hour’s wait in traffic, it felt like I could hear my heartbeat from inside my chest as I stood in front of the hospital. The building bore an unfamiliar atmosphere that felt dark. There seemed to be a deafening silence that clouded it. The very place that I would frequent before and played at was now a living nightmare. As I made my way to the room on the seventh floor, each step got heavier. My chest tightened, my lips dried up, and I had difficulty breathing. As I neared the room, I was greeted by the mournful faces of my relatives. Their cries echoed across the hallways.

As I reached the entrance, I caught a glimpse of my mother and brother by my dad’s bedside, their faces swollen from crying. My eyes next laid on the sight of the lifeless body of my dad. “He passed on at around 11 a.m.,” mom uttered. A tear suddenly broke out from my eye, but I was quick to wipe it away. I’d managed not to look so bothered, but inside, I was weeping to my wit’s end.

“If only I had left earlier! If only the traffic was not bad. If only I cherished him some more,” were the thoughts that crossed my mind. I felt numb and dizzy. But being the eldest son, I felt a responsibility to stay strong. This instant reality check shot me down. Emotions that I have never felt before surfaced. All of a sudden, the questions that constantly orbited my mind and pierced my heart gave me the answer I dreaded the most: no one is truly prepared to take in the gravity of losing someone who actively influenced one’s life.

My mom then reached out to me. She told me to hold my dad’s hand. I did as I was told. Once my hand came into contact with his, my fingertips felt how swollen, rough and dry his palms were. The feeling of touching his lifeless body sent me shivers. Only then did I realize how little I valued the sacrifices he made for us. I thought to myself, “He’s gone. I took him for granted. I wasn’t able to say sorry.” My tears poured out again as I reminisced the days when he was still with us. My dad was a loyal employee, a great husband, and above all, a loving father.

He was also all about tough love and he raised me that way. However, being the stubborn and moody child I was, feelings of frustration and irritation were developed towards him over time. At some point, I felt an invisible gap growing between us. There would be times I would get irritated by the sound of his voice, ignore his orders, and make him disappointed by fighting my brother. Looking back, I was not able to reciprocate the love he had given me. I placed so little value on the love he was concretely showing me. Now that he’s gone, I sometimes wish I could just hit a playback button and correct my actions.

Five days after his passing, he was peacefully laid to rest. A special mass was held just for him. Tears were shed by our family and friends. I thought about him, “So many people love you and came here just for you.”

Coming back to a house without him was bleak and lonely. The first few months were challenging for all of us. Each day felt incomplete. As days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, my mom made it our weekly routine to visit my dad’s grave. She kept reminding us to always seek dad’s guidance and ask him to watch over us, something that lifted our spirits. One time, as we offered our prayers to my dad, a white butterfly gracefully flew over his grave and stayed there for quite some time. Its pure white color caught our eyes. “You see this white butterfly flying over his grave? I’d like to think that your dad’s spirit took the form of this butterfly,” mom softly said. “He’s here with us. Watching over us now as our guardian angel.”

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After returning back to classes, adjusting to the atmosphere inside the classroom proved to be difficult for me. I felt disconnected from my classmates. Pair that with the overwhelming mountain of assignments. With all these things on my plate, sulking around and not doing anything is like trapping myself in a room with no entrance or exit. So I made it a point to focus my mind and body in performing better, in striving for personal growth. So despite the loss of my father, I convinced myself that no one else was there to help me but myself. I tried doing things I’ve never done before, all in pursuit of improving myself.

My two years in senior high, without my dad physically present anymore, taught me a lot. It taught me how to manage my time effectively and be a team player who’s quick to adapt. I was also able to manage my studies well. In Grade 11, I received third honors for the first time since third grade. Recently, I received my acceptance letter to the university I applied in and got the course I really wanted to pursue. He may be gone but I know in my heart that my dad was there all along to guide me through my two-year journey in senior high.

As I look back on the past years, I came to realize that we only see the true value of people once they are gone. Sadly. Also, I can say that I am not the same person I was before. I was raised to be a fighter. If I fall seven times, I’ll stand up eight. This life built me up and will not break me down.

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Quinito Joachim Villanueva Pelayo is Grade 12 student at the Ateneo De Manila Senior High School. His reflection was written as part of his grief journey towards healing. He shares this piece with others who are dealing with loss and pain, especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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TAGS: essays, fathers, fathers and sons, Grief, high school
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