Monday, May 25, 2015

Farewell Dear Papa Tantong

It was a beautiful Friday, that May 15! As a celebration of the feast day of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of all farmers, the sky cooperated giving us clear, even of white clouds, blue horizon.

Papa Tantong was so ecstatic that day when I got home. He even tricked me. He allowed me. based on his text message, to walk my way home from the drop off point in the highway through the dirt road, only to find out that the car is waiting for me in the corner. He doesn't want us, me and my sister, En, to walk to and from the house via the dirt road, even when it's sunny and in broad daylight.

I arrived so early than normal. That was 5 o'clock in the afternoon versus 8 or 9 every evening. Papa happily relayed his calls from my brothers in Middle East and my sister-in-law in Surigao. He said he's happy to know that Ate Mely blew a birthday party to his youngest sister, our Auntie Isidra. As it was early yet, we all sat outside the house but within the gates while waiting for my sister to arrive. He played with his youngest grand daughter, Wanwan, throwing plastic balls to her. He was amused to hear the little girl wail every time he hit her with the balls.

At little past 6 o'clock, we settled into the dining room to dine early because I still have some things to do in SM Fairview. Since I will be flying to Tacloban City that following Sunday, I needed to buy my company's plane tickets. Then Papa declared he'd go with us, that he already missed going to the mall. We have ditched the malls these past few months because he can no longer bear the crowd, it caused him mild strokes. But he insisted, he even reminded us of the closing time of SM Fairview at 9pm.

Thus we abandoned the unwashed dishes and proceeded to the mall, which is more or less 20-minute ride away from our residence. We shared the ride happily with Baby Wanwan showing off making her Lolo Tantong giggled and showered her with kisses. As we entered the mall's premise, Wanwan noticed the illuminated Commonwealth Hospital and Medical Center from a distance. She remembered her lolo being confined therein a couple of weeks ago. Papa had again suffered heart attack about 5 years since his first. He spent an overnight with the hospital's ICU. Wanwan said, "Lolo, yayay!" (Lolo was sick), pointing the hospital. When asked where is lolo's "yayay," she lovingly grabbed her lolo's left shoulder and pointed her finger to Papa Tantong's heart section. This has earned her more hugs and kisses from lolo and applause from us all.

We used to leave Papa in the car around the parking area whenever we go to the mall. So we bid him goodbyes. I asked him anything he wanted me to buy him. He answered, "none!" En asked him of anything she could get him. He said, none. Mama Dulcing handed him money bills. And he said, no need. But he mentioned he'll visit the men's room. So we all entered SM Fairview, I hastened towards the nearest travel agency without looking back to Papa. En, Jun and Mama with Baby Wanwan proceeded to the grocery store.

After a couple of minutes, I was not yet done with my business, I got a call from Papa Tantong's cellphone number. I missed the first one. Then a second call which when I took it was from a voice declaring he's a mall's security guard, that they brought Papa to Commonwealth Hospital and Medical Center, that Papa had heart attack, they're in the emergency room, and I have to hurry to run after them. I can't leave that instance, so I called En and Jun, and instructed them to head directly to the hospital. They all were rattled and looked so concerned, but I wasn't.

I never really thought it was serious. I arrived at the hospital few minutes later and found Mama teary-eyed outside the ER door. Then I peeked in the glass window 2 doctors doing CPR while En looking on, clasping her face and crying. I cannot bring myself to cry though this time I was so afraid. I thought to myself, I needed to be strong. I needed to appear strong for Mama and En, that whatever happens we can easily accept it and move on. Indeed what I feared had come true, and Papa passed away. The doctors declared him dead at 9:35pm. I wanted to cry but Mama and En overtook me, so I stayed cool and calm. All I did was reassured them of Papa Tantong passing away in peace and a happy mood.

We were all lost! Jun, En's husband, stayed quiet while cuddling Wanwan, who also seemed baffled by the commotion. I was so lost that, despite my calmness and my resolve to fully embrace Papa's death that moment, I did not know how much more to soothe Mama of her loss. I was more lost to realize that we have yet to stay in the hospital to complete and process documents, that we have still have to get the morgue fetch my papa's body, that I have to complete all necessary documentation and pay everything before flying to Tacloban, that we have to fly Papa home to Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte, that the clearance to fly a cadaver could not be done overnight but at least 2 working days, that it was weekend after Papa died.

Thankfully, my sister-in-law had a paid memorial plan with St. Peter Funeral which is transferable. Overnight we were able to process the transfer and have St. Peter tended papa's remains. We then notified all our families and relatives around the Philippine archipelago, including my bros in the Dammam. I also informed my colleagues and my present company. After a while, sympathies poured in, calls rung every now and then.

We ended sleepless that Friday night. The night of the feast day of San Isidro Labrador, patron saint of Papa Tantong who was a farmer all his life.

I can no longer postpone nor cancel my work in Tacloban. No matter what happened, the activity had to push on. I have no other time to complete it but now. So I paid all travel-related expenses for Papa Tantong and my family to reach our hometown once the documents are completely signed. So they went ahead and I reunited with them in Surigao after my job, travelling through RORO from Leyte to Surigao, on 23 May.

The story of Papa's death was relayed too many times until May 25, the day of interment. During the few nights I was with the wake, I noticed bunch of people attending: friends, families, close and distant relatives, former colleagues. All are offering sympathies and prayers, reminiscing the good old days with Papa Tantong they have shared or witnessed. Six priests had signified their intention to co-celebrate the funeral mass, though only 4 made it free of apostolic activities. Papa Tantong was indeed a superstar. And so after the 3pm holy mass and before the 5pm interment at Anao-aon Cemetery, I said a farewell message to our very dear Papa:

Where to begin?

Papa has a hard life. Thus he laboured at a young age, from farming to fishing to driving public transport to construction. And he was hard on life. We, his children seldom experienced his company. We never understood then that he was too busy earning a living to provide for the family. Back when we were little, we feared him because he was grouchy, hard to please, too preoccupied or else tired. 

Papa is a humble man, to the point of being self-pity. He taught us to live within our means, as if we have a choice. With him, we enjoyed meals with condiments as viand, such as soy sauce, seasoned coconut milk, or salt; but always with rice. We later realized that those were our versions of rice bowls or rice toppings if you like. 

Papa is a great man. We have grown knowing that he has plenty of friends. And he’s never choosy; he has clouts in the IPs, he entertains mentally challenged individuals, and he let them eat in our dining table with our plates and glasses. Our home serves as an asylum for nephews seeking for refuge, searching for good life. People knew his name, from Pili, Malimono down to City of Surigao Tantong is a household name. He also wanted his children to be great. He wanted me to be straight. He is successful in the former, not the latter, pun intended.

Despite his children’s success, he kept on working so hard. His retirement was spent in farming, while driving some extra days for Sanchez. That was his routine until father’s day, June 21, 2010 that we heard him rushed to the hospital. He had his first cardiac arrest! 

This may be a selfish claim, but only then that he was confined to staying home, that we enjoyed his company 24/7. I can say that his 5 years extension is more than a blessing. Nasulit namo si Papa!

He never change, he aged with humility and simplicity. He was even trying to cheat death cheaply. After his first heart attack, he recovered so fast from a week’s ICU. The second attack was even shorter, he just spent a night at the ICU. And when he died, he made sure it was quick and very much affordable.

This may be a very hard loss but we pride in knowing and believing that he is happy.

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