After my husband Roel’s kidney transplant in 2014, I became extra mindful of the state of his emotional health as I am aware that it has a direct effect on his physical well-being. I asked our kids and my in-laws to course any problem or serious concern that they might want to bring to my husband’s attention through me. I, then, would do the necessary filtering and the difficult task of delivering it to Roel with as much tact and care, and as little adverse impact on his health, as I could possibly manage.
The worst and most devastating news that I had to relay to him was something I received recently, on the first hour of Valentine’s day.
When I received a call from Roel’s sister in the middle of the night, I knew right away that something was amiss. But when the first sounds I heard from the other end of the line were the loud sobbing, the halting, quivering voice and the near hysteria, it became apparent to me that something was terribly wrong.
From what I could piece together from her faltering words, it appeared that Tatay Bebot, my father-in-law, was chatting with a neighbor while washing his car when he suddenly dropped. He was rushed to the nearest hospital and was performed CPR on, but to no avail.
He was declared Dead On Arrival.
Upon hearing about Tatay Bebot’s sudden and unexpected demise, I too was devastated. (He was, after all, like a real father to me in the less than 22 years that I have been married to his son.) However, I couldn’t let my emotion consume me at that time. I had a much more important and pressing mission to accomplish.
I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and put on my bravest face. (By then, Roel already sensed that there was indeed a problem and was anxiously and impatiently waiting for me to talk.)
“Knee, may nangyaring masama kay Tatay.”
“Ha? Ano ‘yun?”
“Isinugod siya sa ospital.”
“Tara, puntahan natin!”
“Knee, wala na siya.”
“Ano ang ibig mong sabihin na wala na siya?!!!”
“Iniwan na tayo ni Tatay. Patay na siya.”
(“Knee, something bad happened to Tatay.”
“Huh? What is it?”
“He was rushed to the hospital.”
“C’mon, let’s go to him!”
“Knee, he’s gone.”
“What do you mean, he’s gone?!!!”
“Tatay already left us. He’s dead.”)
And, just like that, Roel was like a melting candle.
He sunk onto our bed with a heavy thud and started wailing.
Between guttural howls and whimpers were his lamentations of grief and regrets.
Knowing that he direly needed that release, I let him be for about half an hour. Then, gently yet firmly, I reminded him that we had to go to the hospital. As the eldest child, he was expected to be the family’s source of strength and direction.
Our drive to the city was the longest, most heart-wrenching drive that I have had to endure. Both held captive by our respective emotions, we were utterly quiet. The deafening silence in the car was disturbed only by the uncontrollable sobs that occasionally escaped from Roel’s throat.
Witnessing my husband in that emotional condition shattered my heart into small pieces.
When we got to the hospital and saw Tatay Bebot’s lifeless body for the first time, Roel was assailed anew by a deluge of emotions.
He only displayed a semblance of calm when he learned that Tatay did not die alone and lonely. In fact, Tatay Bebot was ecstatic because, after days of waiting, his car was finally released by the auto repair shop and he was, apparently, more than satisfied with the outcome. He wanted to bring the car to a priest the next day to have it blessed (it was recently hit by a reckless motorcycle driver from behind) which explained the late-night car-washing.
The thing with a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one is we are not spared a chance to properly say our goodbyes or anything else, for that matter, that we need to let out of our chest. That is why I decided to write this — to offer a tribute to the man who was sometimes misunderstood by the people he held closest to his heart. By writing the things that Roel, our kids and I will miss most about him, I hope to shed some light about the person he truly was and the life he lived so freely and so passionately.
Tatay Bebot loved driving (he was one badass driver!) and was proud of the dignity his work as a driver afforded him (he worked for almost four decades in Napocor as a driver for the Legal Dept.). He used to tell his children never to be ashamed of his job; it was, after all, his reliable partner in providing for and supporting them for many years.
He loved going to the market, particularly to the Balintawak and Divisoria Markets. He was very good at haggling, and he would always haggle with the vendors for the cheapest prices. When he does manage to get a good deal, he would buy in bulk (even if most of it would be left unused). Then he would brag about his haggling prowess. He was adorable like that.
He hated being idle. When he was neither driving nor marketing, he could be found tinkering with his car or messing around the kitchen or doing a million other things around the house.
He loved kaning tutong so much that he refused to let Nanay Leni use a rice cooker. Ever. He preferred his rice cooked the old-fashioned way.
He was a devotee of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast coincides with his birthday. Every year, he would hear mass in her shrine in Retiro before the family heads to a restaurant for his birthday dinner.
From the ’80s until each of his kids got married, all of them would always receive a 1,000-peso cash gift from Tatay for Christmas Day. That tradition persisted with his grandchildren, each of whom would receive the same amount during Christmas and their birthdays. Really, somebody should have taught Tatay Bebot the concept of inflation!
He was a voracious eater —this despite him being diabetic and hypertensive. He especially loved sweets. In fact, he always had a pile of chocolates stashed in their fridge.
He loved doting on his grandchildren. I remember when our kids were younger, he learned that they had taken a liking to kambing dishes. Tatay Bebot bought a whole goat and had someone cook adobong kambing, kalderetang kambing, papaitang kambing, sinampalukang kambing, kinilaw na kambing —every kambing dish imaginable — for his beloved grandchildren. He also wanted to be part of all their milestones. Once, he even traveled all the way to Cabanatuan City (where we used to live) just to attend his apos’ preschool moving-up day.
He had this funny mannerism of furiously scratching the back of his ear when he was exasperated or annoyed. It was kind of his trademark (something that Roel inherited from him). And, oh yes, how could I forget his phenomenal cussing! When provoked, he could beat Duterte in a cussing match. Hands down.
Another one of his enduring traditions was that of making rounds to distribute leche flan/ubeng haliya/bibingka to his old work colleagues every New Year’s Eve. I bet that they, too, will miss Tatay if only for that.
He was a practical joker. One of his old colleagues from Napocor shared to us during Tatay’s wake this particular anecdote. They once had an officemate whom they all suspected was a closet queen. To solve what they considered then the world’s greatest mystery, Tatay took matters into his own hands. He found the perfect opportunity when he chanced upon the co-worker one day, standing at the side of a road while waiting for his ride. Tatay, driving an unmarked vehicle with heavily-tinted windows, sharply turned the wheel to where his officemate was standing. In surprise, the clueless victim shrieked and jumped, his arms flailing wildly —while my father-in-law laughed himself crazy at his own antic. He was very proud of himself and is, up to now, widely known among his officemates for being the one responsible in unveiling the mystery surrounding the sexuality of their colleague.
He was a diligent employee. In his 39 years in service, he only had 4 absences, all of which he accrued when his mother, followed by his father, died. He consistently bagged the tardiness award, though.
He was known among family and friends to be frugal. He would always find ways to get the best possible deal. But, he also knew how to effectively manage his finances. He invested in real estates and in old cars that he would refurbish before selling, and he put his remaining money in an investment vehicle that would yield high returns — all because he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. He didn’t spend much on himself when he was still alive (even for hospitalizations) so he could leave enough for his loved ones.
He was street-wise and cynical, but he could also be compassionate. Under any other circumstance, Tatay Bebot would file a formal complaint against the motorcycle driver who recently bumped into the back of his car. But when he saw that the motorcycle was irreparably wrecked and that the driver was shamelessly nagged by his wife despite him being injured, Tatay took pity on the poor driver. Instead of obliging the driver to shoulder all the repair expenses on his car, he let the guy walk away free of any obligation to him. He even gave him some money to have himself checked at the nearest ER.
He never failed to buy lotto tickets, hoping that he would be the country’s next multi-millionaire. His ultimate dream was to build a big house with 4 floors, with each floor allotted to the family of each of his children. He wanted all of us to live together under one roof.
He was sweet. According to his niece, they were surprised to see Tatay Bebot in the audience during her graduation day. They did not tell him about it but, apparently, he found a way to know the details so that he could witness one of the momentous events in his beloved niece’s life.
Finally, Tatay Bebot was a living proof that life can be short, precarious and fragile. I can’t emphasize that fact enough, friends. We don’t truly own our lives; all of us are living only on borrowed time. Today, we might be inadvertently neglecting our loved ones. Tomorrow, they might be gone forever — leaving us with nothing but a void so great and a long list of i-should-haves, what-ifs, guilt and regrets that no amount of tears and self-reproach can ever ease or even diminish.