The Something Special

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

By: Mikejuha
email: getmybox@hotmail.com
fb: getmybox@yahoo.com

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For an OFW, a homecoming is a grand opportunity for reunion, for celebration, and for making up for the lost time with loved ones. It is one of the happiest moments for the family. 

My last vacation wasn’t supposed to be that really different; except that it turned out to be a little unexpected. It was my first Christmas in six years with family since I worked overseas. Aside from that, I was looking forward to many exciting occasions. But the most sought-after celebration each member of my family eagerly looked forward was our very own reunion. Everyone was so excited. 

Two months prior to my scheduled vacation, I already got everything ready – from my schedule of activities to the presents for each member of my family. I mean, except for the present of one person: my father. I promised myself to give him something special in that homecoming. I thought it must be something useful, important, unique, and… expensive. But at that time, I couldn’t think yet of anything that would match my criteria of a “something special” for him.

The other year, I gave him a TV set. I personally chose such item because of his fondness for movies. There were two movie-related incidents which I could not forget about my father. First, when he brought me to the theater. I was only about five or six years old then. It was my baptism of fire with movies. Unfortunately, it happened to be a horror movie. I remembered how I hid frantically under the chair every time Dracula would appear on the screen, and how I pleaded with him that we go home. It was disastrous. I could not sleep the whole night after that. All I could see and hear were the face of Dracula and the loud voice of mother giving a very long “Dracula-sermon” to father. 

But it didn’t end there. The following week, father again brought me to a movie. It was not anymore Dracula but a thriller movie. I saw blood and mutilated bodies, lots of them. Again in the evening, I could not sleep because I imagined the corpses plus the loud “thriller-sermon” of mother in the middle of the night. I then developed a phobia on movies. I thought that all movies were terrifying.


The second incident was when the movie theater was bombed, literally. It was one of the two theaters in town and as the movie was starred by the legendary “Fernando Poe, Jr.”, it was full-packed. Coincidentally, the film was also about bombing. The title sounded like “Bobombahin Kita” (I will bomb You), whatever. And someone took the word for it. A grenade was hurled right in the middle of the orchestra. The incident would not have any direct impact on us had it not been for father. He was inside the theater during the bombing. I mean, “real” bombing. So we rushed to the scene a la Noli De Castro live. As corpses were piled up, we grew more and more terrified. After some time, father appeared – unscathed, except for the lost left shoe and a ripped shirt. 

“I was seated at the front-most row as all seats were taken. When the bomb exploded, I thought it was the movie so I didn’t mind until I noticed the people rushing in all directions…”, father narrated in a seemingly relaxed tone. “I just stood there, waiting for my turn to come out. I saw some people who smashed into the walls or into each other in panic. One guy even jumped off the gutter. Well, the bomb did not injure his skull but the gutter did. Then I realized I lost my shoe. It’s ok, I still have my feet”, he continued in a jest. 

Since that time, father never watched a movie. I thought his life was so monotonous with only his old radio as his loyal companion after each day’s heavy farm works. So in that homecoming, I decided to give him a TV set. How happy was he to have received such a present. 

Going back to that impending vacation, as days came nearer, an unexpected news came: father suffered a stroke. I was shocked. My mind flashed back to my previous vacation when I bade goodbye to him. He kissed my cheek and wished me a good trip. I thought that he cried too. It was kind of strange because father never kissed me, nor did I see him cry every time I go. So when I heard that news, my heart throbbed in total fright of that premonition.

Immediately, I asked permission to go on a seventy-five-day vacation, one month earlier than officially scheduled. Since my homecoming presents were prepared earlier, everything was all-set for my journey. I mean, except for that “something special”. I had forgotten all about it.

It was 1st November, All Saints Day, when I, my two-and-a-half year old daughter J-Ann, my sister Letty and her two kids Loloy and Cocoy arrived Leyte. We proceeded hurriedly to the hospital where father was confined. There, we saw him lying on the bed with tubes attached to his body. He looked so emaciated and insipid. It was extremely hard for me to imagine the pain that father underwent at that stage. Having seen him all my life to be full of vigor and strength, there he was, practically at the mercy of someone else. He could not speak, nor move his body, nor eat his foods. The doctor said that he had also kidney malfunctions, acute diabetes, lung problem, and a heart contusion. His sufferings were unimaginable. 

When father saw us standing at his bedside, his eyes were transfixed on us for a moment, probably in disbelief that we finally arrived. Then tears trickled down his face. We slumped into his bed and hugged his limp body. I felt he was very happy to have seen us all again in spite of his condition. It was like a reunion; only a sad one.

“Your father came from the market to buy the bedding you will use during your stay here in the province. When he alighted from the tricycle, the stroke occurred”, mother narrated in a shaky voice. “He worked so hard to prepare for the reunion and was very excited to see all of you on Christmas,” she added.

It was 5th of November when we decided to bring father home. Coincidentally, it was also my eldest sister’s birthday. We made that decision because we felt that father hated to be in the hospital with those tubes attached to his wrist, nose, and even to his organ. Mother had told us how father would try to remove unsuccessfully those gadgets from his body. So when we asked him if he wanted to get home, there was a sparkle in his eyes. We knew it was his wish to get home. In the evening of that day, he was with the whole family in the simple birthday celebration of his eldest daughter, Nita. It was supposed to be a happy celebration. But then again…

On the 10th of November, father finally succumbed – just ten days after my and my sister Letty’s arrival. It was a tragic moment for my family; the reality that we won’t see and talk to him anymore like we used to. It was like a big part of us had been lost, never to be found again. It was tough. But we all had conditioned ourselves to prepare for the worst. I learned to be circumspect, and to be open-minded and accepting. I realized that had father stayed in a coma-like state, it could have been far more difficult for him, and for us to watch him suffer. At least, with his passing away, there was rest… and peace. My consolation was just that if each one of us had our own time, then maybe, we could still find him somewhere beyond this world.

Father had an order not to embalm his body. So we arranged his burial immediately for the following day. It was a private funeral and all the family members joined the rites. From the house, the remains was brought to the church, and then finally, to the cemetery.

As the casket was loaded into the crypt, I murmured privately the last things I wanted to talk to him, “Thank you my father that you waited and spared me a few days more before you finally left. I surely have many things to talk and to share with you on this vacation. But your time seems to be so hurry. Never mind that our reunion did not happen in December as planned. In the hospital, in the cemetery, any time is just perfect. At least, you were there with us... I’m sure things will be different without you. But it’s ok. Don’t worry about mother. I and my brother and sisters will take care of her. We will surely miss you. You won’t see anymore how your granddaughter J-Ann will grow up. But I will tell her all about you. O yes, on our 40th day of mourning, it will be my birthday. How will I forget? And, I am sorry I forgot to bring you my homecoming present. Anyway, I guess you have no more need of it now. Goodbye, father. I might not have said this to you in person, but I have always loved you…May you rest in peace.”

It was past six in the evening when I decided to leave the cemetery. The journey back home was so lonely and empty. It was as if the world had lost its luster or that its vibrancy had faded. I noticed for the first time since I arrived, the beautifully adorned houses, the colorful twinkling lights, and children happily singing carols. “Yeah, it’s my first Christmas home in six years…” I said to myself, in all irony. 

As I plodded my way into the house, I clutched from my pocket the receipt of an item which I had bought for my father the day before. It was useful, important, unique, and expensive. 

“Twenty-five thousand...” I suddenly remembered the “something special” I could not buy in KSA as my present for him. 

Then I knew I had already bought it. His casket...

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