Life, death, and the best of us
It seems strange to start the New Year with an article about death and grief. But when those deaths are meaningful because of the lives that were led and when the people who loved them grieved and carried their loss with such dignity and love, surely there is something to celebrate there.
Maybe there is no such thing as a happy death but a good one, attended by peace and gratitude, is certainly possible. Such deaths and the lives behind them reveal the best in us.
Three Filipinos with public lives, who left us in this last quarter of 2015, stand out: Justice Florentino Feliciano, Inquirer editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, and legal luminary Alfredo Tadiar.
Earlier this year, Senator Joker Arroyo quietly passed on while Lumad educator Emerito Samarca with Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Bello Sinzo were violently killed in Mindanao. We all remember of course how, at the beginning of the year, 44 young policemen from the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police were brutally slain in Mamasapano. Some of our Moro brothers were also killed in that incident.
There were others who went to the good night quietly, with less drama, some like some Jesuits I know who went peacefully after spending more than a lifetime in this world. Others passed on courageously fighting cancer or other illnesses while loved ones waited and accompanied them, and in their grief and coping showed us the meaning of love and family.
For the public personalities, the fruits of their work are in the institutions they built and in the human beings they enabled, by their teaching and mentoring, to be the best they can be in their professions.
I had written before about Justice Feliciano and Senator Arroyo. Many have celebrated the life of Magsanoc. Not as many have wriiten about Professor Tadiar.
Fred Tadiar was my first year law criminal professor at the University of the Philippines College of law. In senior year, he taught me again the whole year in our law practicum courses where we actually got to do real cases. As a teacher, Prof Tadiar was brilliant, both rigorous and imaginative; although he tried to be scary, he was never able to fully repress his kindheartedness.
When I joined the UP law faculty immediately after graduation, I experienced very directly the goodness of this man. Tadiar was a mentor on the ways of the academe and law practice. He never looked down on us, the younger ones in the faculty. He was gracious and supportive all the time. Even when you disagreed with him, it was never personal. I wished he were appointed to the Supreme Court but his footprint, in a good way, is all over our judiciary and legal profession.
Intellectually, Prof Tadiar was the undisputed leader in the Philippines and the region on appropriate dispute resolution while continuing to be a master of litigation. That is why he was the right person to lead the writing of the benchbook for judges, the primary reference for justices and judges. I will always be grateful that Tadiar asked me to join this continuing initiative and write with colleague Jojo Garcia the environmental chapter.
More than a year ago, Prof Tadiar asked me to collaborate with him on environmental cases he was concerned with in his home province La Union. It was such an honor to be consulted by your mentor on conflict resolution but even then, it was clear to me that Prof Tadiar was my teacher forever.
Violent, but meaningful deaths
I cannot write about deaths in 2015 without mentioning the deaths of Lumad educators and leaders. I did not know personally Samarca, Campos, and Sinco but I am intimately familiar with what they represented.
They were the hope of the indigenous peoples they led and worked with. Their deaths, while horrible, find meaning in the continuing struggle of those they left behind. I am particularly impressed by how the young of the Lumad, represented by Michelle Campos, daughter of Dionel, have taken up the struggle for their rights. Clearly, the death of their elders has not been in vain.
The deaths in Mamasapano were just as violent. The faces of the SAF 44 cannot be forgotten: so young, vibrant, the best of their generation. One hopes that they and our Moro brothers who were killed in the same incident did not die also in vain. By showing a cynical public heroic faces of our policemen, the SAF 44 has already done their institution a favor. Ultimately, a permanent peace in Mindanao would be the best guarantee that they had made a difference.
Pope Francis, on New Year’s Day, proposes what we need to do before deaths like that of the Lumad and Mamasapano: “The fullness of time seems to fade before the countless forms of injustice and violence which daily wound our human family. Sometimes we ask ourselves how it is possible that human injustice persists unabated, and that the arrogance of the powerful continues to demean the weak, relegating them to the most squalid outskirts of our world.”
Mercy and love
According to Pope Francis, this is an invitation: “All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.”
If there are people who said yes to this call to be apostles of mercy, it is the many Jesuits that left us this year to pass into eternal life. To mention a few, with whom I had personal connections: Bishop Federico Escaler (president of Xavier University during my high school days), Fr Bob Suchan (Ateneo de Manila librarian and XU theology professor), Fr Junie Jesena (a family friend), and Fr Chito Unson (my high school principal).
These Jesuit fathers served the people of God and the Church with total generosity; to the end, these Jesuits were faithful to the mission they have been called. Psalm 16 honors these men very well: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”
One does not have to be religious to die good deaths. Although social media has its excesses, one good thing it has done is to allow us to follow the lives of people and sometimes we are allowed to accompany them in moments of suffering, death, and grief.
This year, I had the privilege of following two friends and their loved ones going through these moments. With their permission, let me end this article by sharing the stories of Patty Loren and Men Sta Ana. How Patty and her mother lived in the latter’s last few months and how Men is coping with his grief in losing his wife can help all of us who are facing or could face the same situation now or in the future.
Tin Loren’s story
Patty Loren is a Harvard-educated lawyer working in New York City. Aside from her law degree, she also studied in Ateneo de Manila, University of Cambridge, and London School of Economics and Political Science.
She is one of many global Filipinos I have connected with, impressed by her world-class skills and notable achievements for someone so young. But the one thing I was impressed most about Patty is her relationship with her mother Tin.
Tin Loren was also very accomplished. Aside from obtaining a PhD in Business Economics in Harvard University, she also had degrees in the London School of Economics and the Asian Institute of Management. She taught Economics in Boston College and Harvard College as adjunct professor. She also held various positions in Cathay Pacific, Intercontinental Hotel Group, and the United Nations.
Nearly two years ago, Tin was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer despite being a vegetarian for more than a decade and even if she did not smoke and drink.
What was striking about Tin’s illness was that she did not allow what was happening to her to stop her from living her life to the fullest. Since I was also her friend on Facebook, I was able to see how she struggled with and fought the cancer that had come upon her body. In fact, in her last Facebook post, 3 days before she passed away, she declared confidently: “Yesterday I dared to struggle. Today I dare to win. I cancer-vive!”
What amazed me with mother and daughter was their decision to travel together in Europe in these last few months. One day you see them in Barcelona, the next day in Santorini in Greece, and then later in Dublin and London. One can only imagine their conversations.
Eventually, Tin had to be confined in MD Anderson Cancer Center. From there, she sent a message to Patty through Facebook: I came to arrive to this conclusion that I am ready to die anytime. This pain I've been enduring is too much to handle lately. Pain killers don't work anymore. I am happy that we made this Europe trip together and I am really proud of what you have become. It's been a trying year to our family but I wanna end this fight with gladness because I have achieved my goals in my lifetime – that is to see you succeed.”
On December 21, just a few days before Christmas, while mother and daughter were on their way back to Manila where Patty was going to celebrate her 26th birthday that same day, Tin came to peace with her battle with cancer.
Aside from Patty, she leaves behind a son and many relatives and friends. They will always remember the courage of this woman in front of a serious illness, and also the zest she lived her life. By telling her story and making it accessible to many, I hope that others in the same situation can also be encouraged.
Men and Mae
Men Sta Ana, an economist and a columnist of Business World, is one of the country’s public intellectuals. His wife, Mae Manalang-Sta Ana, passed a few months ago.
In a column, Men described the illness of Mae: “She had diabetes, a most vicious disease that progressively debilitated her vital organs. Her weakened immune system made her vulnerable to various infections. In the end, pneumonia led to cardiac arrest. Hers was a sudden but peaceful death.”
Men shared how up to the end how Mas coped with her bodily sufferings: “She was in fact radiant, smiling, forgiving. She kept singing, she attended social gatherings and reached out to people, and she frequently visited Belle, her bubbly niece who gave her much joy and inspiration. As a married couple, we had attained the state of full love. Still, I cannot vanish the thought that we could have further improved our relationship and her quality of life.”
Men himself has shown us how to grieve with dignity and hope. Those of us who are his friends have followed and cried with him in the last few months. How can one not empathize with words such as these from Men?
“One can move on by continuing to remember one’s departed love. It helps to recall the positive although reviving the memory of happy moments likewise makes one cry. Those who know Mae describe her as kind and empathetic, intelligent and articulate, friendly and chatty, beautiful and endearing. She had a natural gift for writing and singing. She was an emotive poet. She was one of the best editors and my editor.”
Small monuments of a good people
These final words of Men, from the column I have been quoting, capture what I have striven to illustrate in this article: “We will leave very few traces. Our monuments are shockingly small but all the more genuine and heartbreaking for being so. We can count ourselves lucky for living on in the hearts of a few for a half decade or so.”
Mae’s, Tin’s and the other deaths I have written about, might be “small monuments”. But certainly, they have a profound effect on those they left behind, making them live better and changing the world for the better. The best proof of this is the lives of Men, Patty, Letty Magsanoc, Michelle Campos and the other Lumad, the surviving Jesuits, the students, mentees, families and other loved one of those who passed to eternal life.
In this election season, the worst of our society is highlighted. It becomes fashionable to recycle that bad description of us having a “damaged culture”. From where I stand, with the gift of eagle eyes and a natural heart, I can only say that this is not true.
The deaths and lives I write about here may be small monuments, but the message is strong and clear: our society might have a lot of distortions, with many institutional defects, but we are a good people. Indeed, the best of us is the best in the world. – Rappler.com