How Many Times Can You Say Goodbye?

On the last night of my Daddy’s wake, my brothers and I shared a few words with family and friends, who shared in our grief, celebrated our father’s life, and told us of the wonderful man he was to them when he was still alive.

I keep saying goodbye to Daddy. Different parts of him slowly peel away each time that I do.

In 1999, he suffered a stroke due to an aneurysm on the left side of his brain. Mommy heard a thud from their bathroom upstairs and found him sprawled in his underwear fresh from a shower. He was a big man—almost 300 lbs—and had to be dragged down the stairs and transported to the hospital. The story goes that an angel in the form of a man on a motorcycle, helped our van weave in and out of traffic to make it to St. Luke’s. They found out that his brain had already hemorrhaged and the artery had to be clipped.

The first time I saw him, lying in the ICU, all his hair had been shaved off, and multiple wires came in and out of the different holes in his body. This was not my Daddy. Not the one who tutored me in Math, not the one who played golf in Capitol, not the one I would sneakily ask permission from when Mommy would say no the first time I asked. I said goodbye to him for the first time.

In a few months, bits and pieces of my old Daddy would re-appear. In his signature quips like the famous “anak ng baka” and his hearty laugh. He still smiled that mischievous smile when he knows he’s been caught eating something he’s not supposed to.

We learned a new way of life. Learning how to maneuver him in a wheelchair, assisting his walking with a cane and a leg brace. We learned how to decipher his hand signs and guess what the words mean when they come out of his mouth. He was no longer our Daddy who talked over everyone at parties and knocked back beers with his siblings.

Two and a half years ago, I said goodbye to him a second time. My brothers and I were all about to leave for work when we saw Daddy shivering in the shower, unable to breathe. In the next twelve hours, we drove to the ER of St. Luke’s, were told that he had just had a heart attack, and he needed to undergo an angioplasty. We then transported him to Heart Center, where in just a few minutes he was wheeled into the operating room to have two stents placed in him to help his heart pump blood better.

It was another round of getting to know this new version of him. But parts of his old self would still peek through. He’d still exclaim an excited “anak ng baka” when he’s with old friends. He would still sneak in a piece of chocolate after he’s been told that he can’t have it. We had to change his diet and we had to get creative with the way we prepared his meals. His medicine had to be doubled and we had to hire a nurse to help take care of him. This was our new normal.

I spent Monday afternoon with him at the mall, accompanying him at the dentist to pick up his new dentures. When we said good night he said that he would feel better the next day. I didn’t know that on Tuesday morning, I was going to say goodbye to Daddy a third time.

Every morning since then, I wake up and I cry in bed. I wait until the tears stop flowing before I get up to come here and do everything all over again. I know I need to go through the tears and the ache in my chest will soon fade until I can forget about it a little while.

We’ll go back home after we say goodbye to him one more time tomorrow. We will trace our steps the best way we know how. We’ll learn to live a new normal and maybe we’ll see old parts of Daddy and Mommy in each other. Or at least that is my hope.

—January 11, 2019

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