the longest trip home

Mahal and the first man in her life.

Mahal and the first man in her life.

[Note :   Sadly,  Mahal  never quite made it in time to say goodbye to her Papa on his deathbed.  Fortunately for many other kabayan overseas, they make it home in time to bid fond farewells before loved ones cross the Great Beyond.  I just thought about what would’ve happened had Mahal made it home. Thanks for all the kind wishes and the condolences, and thanks for reading! ]

AMONG ALL the overseas Filipino narratives, the rush home to visit a sick or dying relative is almost certainly the most compelling.  You begin with an internal contradiction :  the Pinoy’s instinctive need to provide for his/her family, versus the fond wish to stay close with parents and extended family, who traditionally are as much a part of immediate family as anything.  You continue with the constant conflict between wanting to come home and spend more time with kinsmen, and postponing annual trips in order to send a little more hard-earned cash home to help out with the leaking ceiling, an additional carabao or dried-up fishpen.

Alas, through the years the visits grow less and less, until you wonder where all the time went.  Suddenly, siblings begin to earnestly make more requests for you to come home, and the need for speed, speed to rejoin and reconnect with the olds, acquires a new urgency.  Money and financial support, while helpful still, isn’t that essential anymore.  Tatay and Nanay just want you to come home and enjoy more time with them, not while you can, but while they can.

Still it’s hard to comply with such requests, what with the uncertainties of working overseas, your employer’s rostering planned well in advance, the difficulty of bringing all the kids home with you, and an eye trained towards career advancement that includes a hundred-and-one percent dedication, extra  hours and extra shifts, the proverbial performance beyond the call of duty thing and all that.  How could the feeble voices and grainy images of Tatay and Nanay, albeit on Skype and Face Time, compete with that?

***                              ***                              ***

…Until the shock of the news comes, it’s still beyond belief.  Words like cancer and terminal are still avoided, but the message is clear.  You had better get home as soon as you can kapatid, every day is a blessing now.  Then it’s a series of ominous don’ts.

Don’t ask to speak with him because he gets tired easily. Don’t ask for details, because we will just start crying and the keyboard is wet enough. Don’t delay.

But still you cry, because you feel so helpless, thousands and thousands of kilometers away, unable to help your elders while you are in the midst of so much affluence, technology, and the detachment of a different culture. You want to literally teleport yourself from one hemisphere to another, project yourself astrally if you had the power, but in reality you are here and your loved ones are there, and until you fly home there is nothing you can do about it.

***                              ***                              ***

Leave must be applied for, special requests granted, goodbyes rushed and suitcases packed. You do everything quietly and efficiently, but all the while you are in a daze, thinking of what to say and how to say it, and behind all that thinking the guilt of never being able to make up for lost time bears heavily on your stressed, stressed conscience.

You rush home,  take the first taxi to the bus terminal, take whatever bus is there, take the tricycle, and walk the familiar footpath up the munting dampa, up the worn steps and on the wooden slats still burnished by coconut husks. The air is thick with liniment, the bedsheets need changing, and there are enough vials and drugs to fill an aisle of Mercury Drug, but everyone is happy to see you…

Tatay, Baby is here. (You have been an adult half your life, but everyone still calls you Baby.)

The figure in bed has seen better days, and to say that he is at Death’s door wouldn’t be an exaggeration.  He has one last battle to fight, and that is the battle to die with dignity.

He can no longer speak except in whispers, but his eyes are still bright. And those eyes are trained on you.

Thank you for coming home, Baby, his eyes seem to say.

That’s all. His eyes close shortly afterward, and they never open again.

Thanks for waiting for me, Tatay.


4 thoughts on “the longest trip home

  1. ‘ just read this now – sorry for this , really sorry – Hazel, you have still one man who loves you very much, my nephew. Noel, please hug Hazel for me. huh? I’ll light a candle for him in Baclaran church.

  2. I’ve been postponing my trip home for the nth time, but this year I’ve decided that I MUST get home and spend Christmas with mom and dad. Though they’re very much healthy as a horse, thank God for that, I feel I should try and see them regularly now preferably every 2 years. No one can tell when a person must go and see his creator, so seeing and knowing that time is of the essence and they’re getting older by the day, what’s a couple of gran to spend every trip home to have that quality time with them.

    Great read, so much truth in this article.

    Sorry about “mahal” for not being able to see her tatay alive. That’s so sad. I hope I can make it on time when mom or dad is about to go…

    Please extend my condolences.

    • thanks so much for your kind words Gray, if this blog can inspire even one person to reconnect with family, than it will have been well worth the effort. Hi to your folks and more power !

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