Dearly Departed

I was standing in a small countryside cemetery. With me were seven other people, and we were hovering around a newly covered grave. It did not even have a tombstone or a headstone yet, just a temporary marker placed on its foot end.

It was a beautiful, warm summer day. Nice day to be out, though I’m not sure if there’s really a good day to visit a grave site. Near the cemetery was a small country church. Surrounding the graveyard which was on top of a small hill were endless fields of corn whose stalks were swaying gently with the breeze. Once in a while a car or a truck would whiz by the country road where the cemetery was located.

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Buried in the grave we were visiting was a work partner of mine. He was a little past the traditional retirement age but chose to continue working, although in a slower pace. Yes, he was working until the time of his sudden death.

Due to this age of COVID pandemic and physical distancing, we were not able to attend his wake nor his funeral, as his funeral was a family-only affair. Visiting his grave was the closest way to say goodbye to him formally.

I know he chose this small country cemetery which was off the beaten path because not too far from here was a farm that he bought. But instead of making it into an agricultural farm he planted trees and turned it into a little forest. He even had his colonies of honey bees in that patch of land. This is were he escaped to, which was about 45 minutes drive from the city, when he was not doing doctor duties.

He had a brilliant mind, and he delved into different interests. Besides being an arboculturist (forestry expert) and a bee keeper, he was also a certified scuba diver. These were among other endeavors that he had dabbled into. But most of all, he was a diligent and dedicated physician. His patients vouched for his passionate work and many of them claimed that they were literally “saved” by him when their lives were on the line. He was a great teacher too. He encouraged me to pursue my certification in Sleep Medicine.

He and I were the only Board-certified sleep experts in our group of 10 Pulmonary and Critical Care doctors. Perhaps we just love to sleep so we were both fascinated with the science of it. Now I am left to carry on.

We are missing him not just because we have become more busy and we’re down one body. It does not help that this COVID-19 is still running amok. In fact a week ago we were in the news as Iowa was the number one hotspot in the whole USA with the highest infection rate. We are missing him for his wisdom and advices from years of experience which we could use in this difficult time.

As I stood in that cemetery, I was thinking of my own mortality. What do I want to be remembered when I am gone? A bungling pianist? A slow but persistent runner? An amateurish writer? Or an OK (just OK) physician? Maybe a good father, I hope? Or a loving husband? Or a trust-worthy friend? How much time do I have to direct this narrative?

When I moved to Iowa and joined this group 16 years ago, I remember my first day at work. I was in the office and I finished early as I don’t have any established patients yet to see. I hang around in the clinic as in the last group I was a part of in Florida, they frown upon and make you feel guilty if you leave early, especially if the senior partner still have patients to see. So most of the time I would not go home until after 6 PM or even later.

But it was different in this new group that I joined. It was only about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but I have nothing else to do on my first day. That’s when this partner found me still hanging around. He asked me if there’s any other patients I need to see. When I said no, he told me to go home and rest, and that I should spend time with my family.

My departed partner, it is my turn now to tell you that you can go home. Rest, and have a peaceful long night sleep.

(*photo is of a nearby cemetery where I live, not the site where my departed partner was buried)

Huling Paalam

Paalam na sa mga kamay na nag-ugoy sa ‘king duyan,

Nag-aruga, kumupkop, humaplos at nagpatahan,

Mga kamay na gumabay sa aking mga unang hakbang,

Hanggang sa lumaki’t naging responsableng mamamayan.

 

Paalam na sa mga paang walang pagod sa pagsunod,

Humahabol sa akin para ‘di mahulog at matalisod,

Hanggang sa ako’y makatayong matatag at matayog,

Mga paang wala rin sawang ako’y iniluluhod.

 

Paalam na sa mga matang laging mapagmasid,

Mula sa aking kamusmusan, ako’y inilayo sa panganib,

Mga matang dumanas din ng luha at pasakit,

Ngunit ngayo’y nagpahinga na at tahimik nang pumikit.

 

Paalam na sa mga labi na sa aki’y humalik,

Humimok, pumuri, at sa aki’y tumangkilik,

Mga labing ‘di rin nagkulang sa bigay na pangaral,

At lagi akong sambit sa kanyang mga dasal.

 

Paalam na sa mga tengang sa akin ay duminig,

Mula sa sangol kong iyak, hanggang sa lumaking tinig,

Nakinig sa aking mga talumpati, awit, hikbi, at hinaing,

Ang tulang handog na ito, sana ay iyong marinig.

 

Paalam na sa pusong labis na nagmahal,

Sa akin at pati na rin sa aking mga minamahal,

Ang pusong ito, ngayon ay tuluyan nang namayapa,

Ngunit pag-ibig na dulot ay hindi maluluma.

 

Paalam na, paalam na, o aking ina,

Alam kong hindi na tayo muling magkikita,

Kundi doon na sa pinagpalang bagong umaga,

Doon kayo, pati na ni ama’y, muling makakasama.

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(*this poem was written and read for my mother’s eulogy)

Goodbye Big Brother

It was his last day with us. After spending several years with our family, that feels like a lifetime, we had to say goodbye to him. As we were driving him to his destination, my son, who actually grew up with him, lovingly said, “Goodbye big brother.”

But before you feel terribly sad, I am just talking about our car.

Our family car, a Honda SUV, was getting old. We bought it 11 years ago, and took it home a few days before my son was born. In fact it was brand new when my newborn son rode home in it from the hospital. We were still living in Florida at that time. We rode in it when we moved to Iowa, and kept it all these years.

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In this day and age that many people change cars as often as they change their clothes, it is hard to get attached to a car. But I guess we are different. Though I read a recent article that due to slower US economy, many Americans are keeping their cars longer.

My father, when we were in the Philippines, kept our family car, a Ford Cortina, for more than 20 years. We drove it until it cannot run anymore (see previous post here). Come to think of it, we got it when I was 2 years old, and I even used it to take my girlfriend, my eventual wife, on a date. Too bad my son will not have the chance to take his “big brother” dating.

Back to our Honda, we drove it to parks, markets, church, school, office, hospital, gym, concerts. music practice, birthday parties, weddings, and funerals.  We have taken it on vacations, camping, hiking, and long road trips. From the urban jungle of New York City to the wilderness of Wyoming. From sunny roads of Florida to the snowy highways of Minnesota, and many other states in between. We even drove it out of the US to Canada, from Niagara Falls to Quebec.

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It did not just carry us to places and destinations, but it also carried our stuff, like our luggage, tents, bikes, and other equipments. It even carried our Christmas trees every year from the tree farm to our home. Yes, it carried a ton load of memories.

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But after 11 years of faithful service and with almost 170,000 miles, one day a warning indicator light went off. We brought it to the local car dealer, and after doing diagnostics, they told us that it needed a new transmission and some other parts that need to be replaced. And how much would that cost us? $7000 in total. Ouch!

Then we asked the dealer how much can we trade it in for? We were told that it was valued at about $3000. And the value will not increase even if we have it repaired. Are you kidding me? It would be more expensive to repair it than to trade it in! Where’s the logic in that?

That’s when we decided that it is time to let it go. “Let it go, let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore…(ala Disney’s Frozen)…..Let it go, let it go, you’ll never see me cry.” Sorry I got carried away.

It was cold and blustery that night. We parked it in the dealer’s parking lot. I took a final photo of it with my kids. After doing our final silent “ceremony” with it, we said goodbye to our car.

As we were driving away, I looked at the rear view mirror and took a last glance of it as we left it there in the cold. I felt a certain sadness. I swear, I thought it waved goodbye back.

But the sadness was mixed with excitement, as I hear the roar of the engine of our new playmate. Vroooom!

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Hello there!

 

 

Farewells and Chickadees

“Five little chickadees resting at the door, one flew away and then there were four.” (Nursery song)

If there is one party that I am not fond of, it is farewell parties. Yet we attend them, for it is part of the fabric of our lives. Nothing last forever, and nothing is unaffected by change. Good times end, people move on, friends relocate to ‘far away” places. Being left behind is such a fact of life, that even our nursery rhymes sing about it.

Last weekend, we hosted a farewell party to a family in our church who will be moving to Washington State. It was for a “dream job,” was their reason for moving. This family of four, came to Iowa a couple of years or so, after we moved here. Our families became close and we became good friends. The mother, became my daughter’s first piano teacher, and she formally introduced her to the wonderful world of music. Over the years we shared a lot of common bond, interests, activities, and time together.

“Chickadee, chickadee, happy all day. Chickadee, chickadee fly away.”

Many farewell parties (or what we Filipinos call Despedida) that I have attended before, it was me or my family that were leaving. My friends gave me a simple Despedida party when I left the Philippines. Same thing happened when we move from New Jersey, from New York, and from Florida. I sorely miss all of those friends.

When you are the one leaving, the emotions are mixed. You are sad to leave a place that became your home and friends that your life have been entwined with, and yet also happy and excited to move to a new place, meet new people, and meet new challenges that awaits you.

When you are the one being left behind, the emotion is pure sadness. No happiness. No excitement. Just real unadulterated sadness.

So this is how it feels to be left behind.

A couple of years ago, one Filipino here in Iowa that we became friends with, moved away to another place. Even though we have only a few Filipino families here, we have a close-knit bond. Of course we hosted a Despedida party for her when she left. During the party, we sang Raymond Lauchengco’s “Farewell,” a song popularized in our younger “Baget’s” days. Boy, that song brought a lot of memories. It also brought tears to our eyes when we sang it, for many other reasons. Singing it out of tune is not one of them.

Who like farewells anyway? But we have our own lives, our own happiness, and our own dreams that we pursue. And in our pursuit of those dreams, it is unavoidable to leave our known homes, known friends and families. The good thing about this is that we can maintain those ties even though we are hundreds of miles apart. And farewells give us a chance to form new ties whenever and wherever we are, in this ever-changing world.

In a few weeks, another family in our church will be moving yet to another state. It is also because of a “dream job.” This family have been here in Iowa when we moved here. Our kids played and grew up together.We spent a lot of good times and memories with them. Now, two of their three kids will be in college, and their family is moving on to a new stage in life.

“Four little chickadees sitting in a tree, one flew away and then there were three.”

three black-capped chickadees feeding in our front tree

In a few years from now, my kids will be in college too and will be moving away. I don’t even want to know how it will feel like.

“Chickadee, chickadee happy all day. Chickadee, chickadee fly away.”

With all these farewells, it is really hard to be happy all day. I guess I am not a chickadee.