On death, 3

I met him I think twice. The first time was during an art exhibit. I was invited by an artist-friend, and he was invited by another artist that is also friends with my artist-friend. After the opening, we had dinner at Chowking, then videoke at Malate. They drank the night away while I listened to their drunken singing. We went home way past midnight.

The second time was another drinking session/dinner in Makati. Over bottles of Tanduay Ice (for them) and iced tea (for me) and lechon kawali, we exchanged stories and jokes. Well, they exchanged stories and jokes, while I just listened. I was socially awkward; I still am. After the drinking session, we took a walk around Makati, passing by his house, then we had post-dinner dinner at McDonalds. That was the last time I saw him – a towering figure, laughing like a child.

Most interactions after that were online, usually on Twitter. I just read his tweets, made several replies, and that’s it. Most of his tweets were about food. I think he liked Japanese food, basing this on his tweets.

And just like meeting friends online, sometimes dropping off is inevitable without anyone noticing. I dunno what happened next – maybe it was a sign that I should have noticed. Just checked: I still follow him on Twitter, and he still follows me. But I can’t remember any single tweet of his in recent days. Must be due to bandwidth issues. I noticed that I am not getting all tweets on Tweetdeck – there were obvious gaps in conversations, etc. So I thought he got bored with Twitter and had decided to move on.

Last Saturday, I was with college friends that I haven’t seen in decades. Over lunch, I got a text message from a friend, informing me of a very sad news.

For many of us, we don’t get the point of killing oneself. Everytime we hear of news of someone taking his own life, we usually ask why. What is it that pushes some people to terminate his life? Is there a problem that can only be solved by death?

I can’t answer for others, but this I know: for a desperate person, for a person who feels that he is most alone, for someone who thinks that no one cares, for a person who thinks his interminable life is an endless stream of loneliness and despair – yes, eternal, dreamless sleep is a tantalizing option.

Have you ever felt that your life is going down the drain? Did you ever have the feeling that once people found out about your darkest secret, they’d shun you, ostracize you, avoid you like making eye contact with you means instant death? Have you felt the cold embrace of loneliness in a sea of people? Have you despaired for attention from people who you think are ignoring you? Was there a long stretch of time where you’ve felt you’ve been abandoned by family and friends?

For some people who have been under the yoke of depression, yes, death can be the only option.

Yes, because I’ve been there.

But yes, I am still alive. I dunno why. Maybe I was a coward. Maybe things got better. Maybe because I had thought about my situation, accepted my fate, and moved one. I can’t say I am out of it; no one can. Depression, like death, is treacherous. It attacks you when you least expect it. But it’s been more than a decade since what I termed the Black Years of my life. Where taking a shower, looking at the water going down the drain, was a metaphor of my life. Where seeing my brother with his friends brought crushing blows to the heart. Where walking in a sea of people brought crushing waves of utter loneliness.

Yes, I thought death was a relief. But I am still alive.

Not everyone was as lucky. Including him.

It must be a terrible blow to family and friends. The sad thing about depression and suicide is that there are no obvious signs. Most of us are not aware about it. Even if we were, detecting it would be hard. You can never tell if someone is just sad or terribly depressed. And even if we find out, we might find ourselves helpless, or worse, indifferent.

After someone made the decision to leave this life, all we have, aside from memories, is regret. Have we been so full of ourselves that we fail to notice? Have we lacked love for this person? Have we taken him for granted? All we have are questions, and we might not get the right answers, or any answer at all.

I used to read a lot about depression and suicide. I have books, pages yellowed, some passages highlighted. I have photocopies, properly filed and stored in envelops. I read about my situation back then, and resolved that never should another suffer what I had went through.

But life has a nasty habit of dumping us with experiences that we can’t even discern the essentials from the mundane. In my case, studies and later on, work. I thought I could help someone who is depressed when I find one. Now, I don’t know anymore. What I do know is that someone that I know took his own life.

That’s what family and friends have after a suicide – unanswered questions. And that’s all I have now.


Corruption and death

As of this moment some things and details are still unclear to me. But what I do know is that in death, as in life, you cannot escape corruption.

They rushed my aunt to a local, government-operated hospital on Monday. The doctors inserted a respirator tube, and asked her sister to buy medicines at the hospital pharmacy. When she got back, my aunt’s gone. She tried returning the medicines, but the pharmacy refused. She had the receipt signed by the attending physician just to prove that the medicines were unused and useless.

Then the troubles began. Both her sister and my father have memorial plans from a reputable insurance company; the deceased did not. The service provider “accredited” by the hospital approached my relatives, offering their services. Her siblings refused. So they had the remains taken by the service provider of their choice. My aunt and my father planned to assign their memorial plans to the deceased to cover for the expenses.

The service provider refused. First, they have their own memorial plans, and they only accept clients who bought their plans. Second, they don’t accept clients that hold plans from other providers. I don’t know what happened, but the relatives got a plan from someone. This plan was issued by the service provider. All’s well that ends well?

It’s the death certificate this time. We coursed the request for a death certificate through the service provider, but the hospital refused to deal with the service provider, since the provider is “not accredited.” So the relatives tried to secure the document themselves. The hospital still refused, since my aunt was “not admitted.” Later, the hospital revised its party line; this time, it claimed that my aunt was not confined for at least 24 hours.

This issue bothered us for several days; we couldn’t schedule the cremation if there’s no death certificate. I don’t know what happened, but a death certificate was issued on Wednesday. Due to this delay, the cremation was scheduled on Saturday (which is today).

We chose to have the cremation done somewhere else; the plan does not cover cremation, and this service at the service provider is expensive. We found a cheaper alternative. However, you have to get the urn from the cremation service provider. It was still cheaper; the urns being offered by the memorial service provider are way to expensive, almost equivalent to the cremation itself.

And there’s the issue of the coffin. Because the coffin’s obviously empty after a cremation, so what is to be done with it? The service provider said they would “donate” it to indigents. What if we want to donate it ourself, my relatives asked. I never got their answer, but the discussion with my relatives was so heated, I decided there and then to abstain from participation in the decision making. Basically, the family wanted to desist from further discussion and let go of the issue. But an aunt from another side, charitable as she is, volunteered the coffin to a barangay in one of the big cities in Metro Manila. So it was another round of discussion (and I happily inhibited myself); in the end, after being bothered by everyone, the coffin was released to the barangay.

That is not the end of it. The cremation service provider wanted to have dibs with the coffin. But they were reasonable, and let go of the coffin as well.

Death is not unlike life. It is a business, a lucrative one. And a lucrative business means cutthroat competition. Also, some businesses take advantage of the vulnerability of the deceased’s love ones, offering overpriced services. The worst thing of all is the legalized corruption, which I won’t expound on, since it is inefficient to restate the obvious.


On death, 2

(Note: No wonder the day started badly. First, there was a notable lack of buses plying EDSA. Second, the line at the Ayala jeepney terminal was horrendous. Third, Ayala Avenue from Makati Avenue to Paseo de Roxas was closed to traffic the entire working day. Fourth, got a not-so-cheery email from client. Fifth, because of the heat, I sweated profusely, and I smelled. These were portent of the news that greeted me on my way home.)

The last time I saw my aunt was during my cousin’s wedding a month ago. I was the backup photographer, and she was one of the principal sponsors. She was added to the entourage at the insistence of her sister (my cousin’s mother), since she had never been a ninang at a wedding. Back then, we already knew her life in this world was near its end. The picture is at my hard drive; I am not sure if the family will use it as a blown up image for the wake, or use the official one, taken at the same wedding. I am looking at it now. She was gaunt and thin, the dress she was wearing was twice her size. She could not eat that much, and she slept less.

I was busy attending to some things during WordCamp 2008 when I got a text message from a cousin, a message that was devastating and at the same time uncalled for. I was so incensed by the message I called up my mother, first to relay the news, then to rant against my cousin’s tasteless remark. After the call, it was almost lunch, so I went to the designated lunch distribution area and helped out in giving out lunch. I had decided to skip the afterparty; afterall, it was a long and tiring day.

My aunt was diagnosed with stage 5 renal failure. Dialysis was required, and kidney transplant was recommended. She chose not to undergo any. She resisted the news of impending death; she said she wanted to underdo dialysis. The cost and the procedure itself made her change her mind. Right now, I am wondering if our family made the right decision; we could have overruled her and have her undergo dialysis. But it would be a stress in everyone’s finances, and we had to respect her decision. I still wonder; it is too late.

Maybe we should have paid heed to the signs. Before WordCamp, her weight loss was alarming, which she attributed to poor appetite. We should have made her undergo a checkup. As we had no idea of the signs, we just attributed it to poor appetite; she wasn’t really a big eater, preferring to help in the kitchen instead of enjoying the food.

When she was diagnosed, it was already too late. She was given six months to live. She lasted nine months.

In our family, we have our share of old bachelors and old maids. On my mother’s side, I have an old bachelor uncle and an old maid aunt. On my father’s side, I had an old maid aunt. I used to wonder how they live their life. It must be lonely, I thought. I still think it is.

My aunt was always there during time of need. When someone was confined at the hospital, she would always be one of those who’d stay for the night. When someone needed to see a doctor, she would be the one to accompany that person. She took care of her nephews and nieces when their parents were away or busy.

She had no permanent home; for most of her life, she lived with her mother. When my grandmother was alive, she was the one who took care of her (before my grandmother was confined to the hospital). When her mother passed away, she lived the life of a transient. For several months, she stayed at a relative’s house. She graced our home for several weeks. She took care of her brother’s son, she took care of her niece’s sons (her grandsons).

Right now, I feel so ungrateful. Here was a woman who devoted her life to help her relatives (including me), but what did we do? I still wonder; but it is too late.

As I left after my cousin’s wedding, I had no idea it would be the last time I’d see her alive. If I knew, I would have hugged her. If I knew, I would have talked to her more. If I knew, I would have at least made her smile. But it is too late.

Sometimes, a lingering illness can be therapeutic. The grieving was so long, it was no longer painful when the inevitable end comes. Still, you cannot help but grieve, not only about the loss, but what could have been. If there is one lesson I should have learned from my grandmother’s death (who also suffered from a lingering illness), it is to treasure every minute you have. For when a loved one passes away, you can never turn back time. You can remember, but memories bring sadness aside from happiness.

I guess I should remember that lesson.

Basilisa Salvador Bernardo
January 9, 1959- May 25, 2009
In memoriam