For some Filipinos, this weekend will be about treats and parties, chocolates and costumes, being spooky and having fun. But for most Pinoys, like our family, it will be about candles and cemeteries, flowers and tents, reunions and prayers. Because this weekend, like what we have been doing for the past 10 years or so, my family will be at Loyola Memorial Park to visit the grave of my younger brother.
My brother was at the prime of his youth, about to graduate college, taking up Engineering in the only school he has ever attended all his life. He was nerdy, quiet, seemingly unassuming but had lots of friends and knew how to have fun with them. Being the third among four siblings, he was the power broker and arbiter between me and my elder sister’s constant fights. He knew whom to take sides and when to do it so harmony would settle between us. He was the one my Mom trusted the most and he gave the least headache to my parents while growing up. He was a good boy, a good friend, a good brother and a good son.
Everything went haywire during a routine medical examination when doctors found a grape size lump on his left wrists. After some test, the doctors knew they had to do a biopsy to confirm their suspicions. So they asked permission from my parents to do a biopsy but added that should they find it to be malignant, they would have cut off the left arm just below the elbow to stop the spread of the cancer cells.
I remember how anxious we all were on the day of the operation. When word got around that he was about to be wheeled out of the operating room, we all rushed in to see how he was. We knew that the one sure sign that everything went well was if his left arm was still intact. So there we were, waiting, hoping, praying…
We saw his frail body, in a hospital gown, a blanket draped over him, with dextrose tubes around, barely conscious because of the anesthesia. I remember how the attendees, nurse and orderlies were quietly rolling him in his room, transferring him to his bed, checking the tubes attached to him. The whole family too was silently waiting, afraid to ask, probe or question. But we tried to be brave for him, or so we thought... but as soon as my Mom had the courage to come near him, caress his hair then gently, slowly, remove the blanket, we all saw what we feared the most…. his left arm was cut off.
I remember my father, me, my sister and our youngest, immediately turn our backs at him and cried….and oh, how we cried. But with all the crying I did, the wailing of my sister and the tears of my father, my Mom just stood there facing my brother, with no tears, chin held high, putting up a brave front, caressing him, whispering, showing and reassuring not only my brother but everyone around, that everything will be alright. I was stunned and I realized how brave my Mom was. I was so proud of her.
My brother was discharged from the hospital after a few weeks, and jumped in immediately to the activities he left off as if nothing happened. He went back to school, and continued with his extra curricular activities there. He went swimming, became good at ping-pong and just became more physically active. He was not conscious of his disability, faced the difficulties of having one arm as a challenge and just took everything in stride. He was doing great, he was enjoying life…... but it only lasted for about a year and a half.
Things turned around slowly at first. We started noticing he was getting tired easily, had difficulty breathing and was losing his appetite. Eventually, he went in and out of the hospital again, had chemotherapy but was still deteriorating. The whole family was there rallying for him, supporting him, praying for him. His classmates were there for him too. During one of his long hospital stay, three busloads of his schoolmates came to visit him one time. The hospital authorities were shocked at such a large contingent visiting a patient and refused to let them all in. As a compromise, only 5 students at a time were allowed to visit him in his room, so you could just imagine how long that took. With over a hundred college kids visiting him, it was a rowdy, fun, and tiring day for him. But he loved it….and the whole family loved it.
Less than two years after he was diagnosed with cancer, my brother died at our home where he wanted to. His cancer cells spread on his lungs, his stomach, and just all over his body. He was suffering and was in pain, especially in the last few days of his life, but he was still always cheerful, brave and optimistic. On his funeral, all his friends, classmates, families and loved ones were there not only to grieve but more so to celebrate his life, the way he wanted to be remembered.
So on November 1, his family, some of his friends and former classmates, will troop again to the cemetery to pay their respect to a good boy, a good friend, a good brother and a good son.
I miss you bro…..