My earliest memory of death and dying was when my paternal grandfather died. It was hazy at most, but I do remember some details about it. Like during the wake at Sampaloc, I know I was sick, covered by bedsheets, at the bed where my grandfather used to sleep. Then I can also remember the burial itself, where I was hoisted above the coffin (some sort of tradition, where children were hoisted above the coffin, from one side to the other – it meant angels guiding the soul of the dead to heaven, or so I was told). The rest I can now remember because of the pictures.
I had twins for cousins, though they lasted only 2 days in this world. They were born premature – their mother slipped from the stairs, and they were born a month early. The coffins were tiny; I was shocked at how small they were. They were buried at the same cemetery where my grandfather was buried, at the family plot where my grandfather’s remains were to be transferred when my grandmother passes away.
A neighbor died from emphysema years ago. It was not a sad death, for us at least. He was mean and uncouth, thinking that his affiliation with his religion would save him. One time, the brother was to open the gate for my aunt when the neighbor’s dog treacherously bit him in the leg. I had to rush the brother to San Lazaro Hospital for anti-rabies shots.
The next day, mom went to the owner of the dog to have the expenses reimbursed. The old man exploded, shouting expletives at my mom. When I was to get out for school, he also shouted at me. Did not bother looking at him. Everything went downhill from there. When we had to open the gate, we had to bring an arnis stick.
When he died, I didn’t know what to feel. Should I be relieved? Should I be saddened? We sat down in the wake, and went to the burial. I was with my father when the body was brought to the cemetery. We were walking ahead of the hearse, as if we were angels of death delivering a lost soul somewhere. If only this was true, I know where to deliver his soul.
When my paternal grandmother celebrated her last birthday, I was not able to come. I knew then that she was suffering from a debilitating disease, limiting her movement, up to a point where she was bedridden for days. So when I saw a picture of her with all of her children, I was so shocked with what I saw. She was so thin!
Then she had to be confined for diagnosis and possible treatment. I wasn’t able to talk to her doctors in deference to my uncles and aunts (and my father, of course), so I don’t know what’s ailing her. Asking relatives was futile – they don’t know, either. I remember the doctors wanted to do a biopsy, but her children refused.
So she remained there, bedridden, her left leg swollen for unknown reasons, nagpaltos. She got bedsores, she had a tube where osterized food can be delivered. Her blood sugar level fluctuated like crazy. One day the doctors had to inject her with insulin, on another they had to raise her blood sugar. They had to transfer the IV line when the arm became swollen.
She was so frustrated with everything. She couldn’t talk. She wanted to take off all those tubes and lines that we had to tie her arms up. Whenever we ask her if she wanted to go home, she always tried to get up, but she couldn’t.
Her children alternated in attending to her. Two people had to attend to her – she couldn’t be left alone, for she would take every opportunity to remove the lines and tubes. I got to get hospital duty one night, with her niece. It was not a nice experience. Whenever we doze off, she would move and attempt to remove the IV. Of course, we would wake up and stop her. You could really feel her frustration.
The months/days approaching Christmas was harrowing and scary. Stretches of time she was in intensive care. After she recovered, she was transferred to the regular ward. Then her situation would deteriorate, and back she was in ICU. Hours before Christmas eve was spent on the hospital. When we got home, we did not feel like celebrating, so we all went to sleep.
Several days later, she almost died. The doctors had revived her, but they told us that the next attack might be the final one. They asked if they wanted us to revive her when it comes. It was an excruciating decision.
The way they revived her made them decide. When it happened, they gave her lots of medicines, then they employed those electricity something. I think they had asked her about this, and understood. Even if she couldn’t talk, she nodded.
New Year’s Eve. My father went home, coming from the hospital. Her situation was grave. Even though the New Year was coming, we celebrated half-heartedly. We were looking for hope when we knew it was hopeless. The irony was not lost to us back then: when everyone was looking forward for the coming year, we were dreading its coming.
At 2AM, as we were about to call it a night, I got a text message from a cousin. Our grandmother was dead.
At the burial, I was puzzled. While everyone was crying, I wasn’t. Sure, there was sadness, but how come no tears were falling?
Then later on I realized why. The months that she was hospitalized served for me as times of gradual grieving. The inevitability of death had forced me to accept the fact. Seeing her suffer in the hospital bed with all of those IV lines and oxygen tanks and electronic monitors; seeing her trying to get up whenever we asked her if she wanted to go home; seeing her trying to remove all those contraptions; these things broke our hearts. Every day of her stay in the hospital was a day of questions, of sadness, of inevitable loss.
And now the specter of death faces our family once again, five years after my grandmother died. As I felt helpless back then, I feel helpless now. There are times you just cannot do anything; yet in the back of my mind I always ask the question: have I done everything I could?
My paternal aunt is suffering from end-stage renal failure. She needs to undergo a lifetime of dialysis; kidney transplant is out of the question for her. The family, with her consent, had decided to forego dialysis. She doesn’t want to ruin us financially.
Yes. We have condemned her to death. And it is a shame.