A Season of Giving, of Grieving

Christmas time 2008 in Cagayan de Oro

Iligan and Cagayan de Oro – they are not unfamiliar cities to me. It’s not only because of the recent wrath of Tropical Storm Washi or Typhoon Sendong largely aimed at them but because  I have set foot several times on their streets.

I first got the chance to visit these cities in 1991 from my home city then, Cebu. I stayed for a week together with our church group for a church celebration. Six years later, I came back for a national writer’s workshop in Iligan city. Together with Cebu-based writing fellows for poetry and short story, we came by way of Cagayan de Oro. That workshop also paved the way for me to see for the first time a mysterious  but beautiful Marawi city.  Ah, Mindanao is such a vast land, full of promise, home to diverse cultures.

The year 2007 saw me pack and move to Caraga region in Mindanao. And in the last 4 years, due to work and travel opportunities, I have had more time to frequent the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. I have been able to forge friendships with their people, cutting across age, background, culture.

Although I am happy that my city was spared from the flash floods, I mourn for these cities and their people.  But thankfully, other than mourning, my eyes have been opened to opportunities towards helping them. One can send financial help, relief goods like used clothing, water and food to these cities through government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

It is my prayer that as you read this, you will remember to pray for the recovery of these cities as well as respond in concrete ways to help them.  May it be that our love during this season of the year (known as one for giving but now a time of grieving for these cities), will so leap forward in our action.

Note: As of January 2012, more than 1200 people (including children) have been found dead in the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong (Tropical Storm Washi) with many others still missing. The storm has affected 724,729 people in 13 southern and central provinces. Property damage is at P1.4 Million; more than 13,000 houses were totally destroyed. 

A Christmas Challenge

Two years ago, my father passed away. He died just a month after one of the happiest days of my life, my wedding. He also passed away 11 days before Christmas in 2009.

Papa was already diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2005. I was the only family member who was with him as the doctor told us the diagnosis; my mother having passed away in 2001. He was on the 2nd stage of the disease. Papa’s treatments took place in the next four years. Papa, who was a brilliant lawyer and who is used to be physically strong and very capable of making his own decisions, was often mad at me whenever I remind him to follow his treatments and make some changes in his diet, his lifestyle. And which father or parent, after all, finds it an easy thing to take “directions” from a child that he used to carry in his arms as a baby?

Learning early of the diagnosis of my father gave me the opportunity to make needed closure with him over unsettled issues. I consider this a blessing since it would have been a different scenario had he died of an accident or of a sudden heart attack. I remembered some of my childhood and adolescent misdeeds known only to me (and to God) which I then confessed to my father. This made my father smile. It did not matter to him anymore, he said. After all, I am all grown up. But it mattered to me to be able to tell him. It was healing for me to be able to do so.

Papa lost about half his usual weight when he passed away. He had made peace with His God and he had told us, his children, that he was ready to go. When he did that 2nd Monday in December 2009, tears came. Then there was the flow of cards, flowers, practical and financial help from friends and relatives during the wake. People who both knew Papa well and those who knew him by his work as a lawyer, as a public servant (Papa served as Provincial Board Member of Bohol for two terms; he had also served as Integrated Bar of the Philippines president) came to bid their goodbyes. We wore white during his interment, which was four days before Christmas day.

It was a good thing that one of Papa’s very close friends, a former mayor, welcomed my husband and I and the rest of my siblings to their home on Christmas day. In a very practical way, this lessened the grief we were still experiencing. It also eased somehow the reality of being an “orphan”. It was our first Christmas, after all, without both our parents.

Even if it was such a difficult Christmas season to go through, there still was the reality of God’s comfort. He was really there with us even in that very challenging time. I also came to experience once more how other people can help one heal. It is truly a wonderful thing when people reach out and show concern when one loses  a loved one. Faith in God and the comfort extended by others made grief much easier to bear that Christmas time and beyond.

Papa & me in 2007
Papa & me in 2007