[OPINION] Dignity, beauty, and humor in death: What my mom's passing taught me

Terminal illness always brings to mind utter helplessness. I was in that predicament in 2015, when the doctors informed us that my mom had stage 4 cancer. Yet, while the cancer slowly consumed my mom’s physical body, it could not do the same thing to her indomitable spirit. 

There is no other way to document her fierceness, her strength, but through the pen and by reliving those last two months. There were good days. There were bad days. During the good days, she would take all her medicines, fix what had to be fixed, and arrange what had to be arranged. On bad days, she would refuse to take any food, make unreasonable demands of nurses and doctors, especially when she was confined in the hospital, and simply gave up the fight to live. 

How could I ever forget that day when she was confined at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Philippine Heart Center? After the doctor successfully found the vein in her neck and inserted the intravenous line, she insisted that she be transferred to a regular room, as the doctor had promised her. We were finally transferred in the wee hours of the morning.

While she was being wheeled out of the ICU, she yelled out for everyone to hear, “Yey! I’m out of this hell!" I shushed her, telling her that there were very sick people in the ICU and they might be disturbed. She replied that it was really her intention to wake those in the ICU so they would leave “this hell of a place.” The nurses who wheeled her out just gave a good laugh.

As days passed, her condition worsened, and it came to the point where she became comatose. I recited all the prayers I knew, requested prayers from both family and friends, and stayed by her side, hoping for a miracle. Fortunately, after 12 hours of being non-responsive, my mom woke up. And she just didn’t wake up, she talked to me. She asked for my forgiveness. I told her that she didn’t need my forgiveness because there was nothing to be forgiven. I was the one who needed her forgiveness for all the hurt I had caused her. She gave me that blessing. 

Her recovery from her earlier unresponsive condition buoyed my hopes up that she would eventually and truly recover. However, my hopes were soon dashed when my mom woke me in the middle of the night to tell me, “Your dad’s fetching me now. I saw him. I saw him.” I struggled for words because I was overwhelmed with emotion. 

I had only two days with her since she recovered from her coma because her consciousness slowly slipped away again. Her last Saturday came and her condition was still the same. She was no longer responsive. Family friends, Connie and Rey Mendoza, came to pray for my mom. We prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet in her room. At the end of the prayer, “Jesus, King of Mercy, I trust in you,” I boldly asked my mom to say “Amen." To my astonishment and in her feeble voice, she said “Amen.” That was the last word I would ever hear her say.

Her entire clan from Arevalo, Iloilo, came over for her wake as they did when she was sick. I knew this meant so much to her, because I knew that my mom deeply loved her siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. When she was told of her prognosis, she told me that she wanted to go back to Iloilo and live there again. 

I was in a quandary a few days before my mom’s inurnment. All the priests we knew were not available to preside over the scheduled inurnment mass. My mom must have been seeing me panic, because then my cousin Kuya Boyet informed me that Father Dexter, the assistant parish priest of Arevalo, was in Manila for training. I was ecstatic! Father Dexter confirmed his availability and he presided over the mass of my mom on the 22nd of May 2015. 

I had always feared death, detested it with all my heart, loathed it for taking my dad without even giving me the opportunity to see him, serve him, take care of him, and say that I love him for the last time. But it was my mom’s passing that taught me that there is dignity, even beauty, in death, humor in dying, and great mercies dispensed when the time comes to meet one’s end. – Rappler.com

Rachelle Padre-Isip is a lawyer by profession, and a frustrated writer on the side.