Very long post ahead.
I wrote this post about Papa in 2008.
On the morning of January 20th, the Lord welcomed to his side one of his favorite angels – Bonifacio Somebang, Sr. My grandfather would have turned 85 on his birthday next month (February 27).
He died of lung cancer, but the battle wasn’t long nor arduous. For that, I am still thankful.
About two to three weeks ago, he was rushed to the Emergency Room of the St. Luke’s Medical Center after complaining of difficulty in breathing. This wasn’t new. He has had persistent coughs, and looked forward to getting some oxygen help whenever he went to his regular checkups at the hospital. That day, he was supposed to see his doctor and present his Xray results. Due to a mixup with the schedules, they couldn’t get a session with the doctor. He insisted to be brought to the ER so my cousins brought him in.
He was confined that night. His lungs had built up with water, and possibly, his heart too.
The next day, we learned of the bad news. Based on symptoms and a testing on the water extracted from his lungs, he has stage 4 lung cancer. To be sure, a biopsy could be done. But my grandfather, Papa, does not like needles. Because he thought he would get better if the water from his lungs were drained, he agreed to that and to the tube and bag that became perpetually attached to his chest.
I was there when he strongly refused the biopsy. He wants no more treatment because, in his words, they couldn’t restore him back to how he was before. Maibabalik ba sa dati? My mom and her sister had to tell him his real situation that afternoon when I visited. The doctors were supposed to tell him, but they didn’t. We didn’t want to tell him, but the doctors were right, he deserved to know because he is still of right mind and very much lucid.
We had wanted to convince him to still get treatment, explained that a biopsy would just check and confirm the diagnosis and wouldn’t be painful. But he immediately said, very loudly at that – Let me go! I have served my purpose here.
His long-time friend and former colleague at the Seminary was visiting too that afternoon. He was talking him out of thinking that way, and trying to cheer him up. They reminisced of old times and I was in awe of Papa’s very sharp memory. He had asked after some other other friends who now live in the Taguig community of our church.
Because the hospital is a stone’s throw away from our homes, Papa always had company. Family friends also came to visit him. Cam whores that my nieces were, we got to taking photos too (these ones are dated January 7th):
More photos and stories after the jump.
Even before his confinement, he hasn’t been eating much. So we were more than happy that he agreed to eat some jello, and then later, even a whole piece of Peach Mango Pie (from Jollibee). (this photo is dated January 9)
We took him home after a few days. Friends lent us a hospital bed, and a wheel chair. We rented oxygen tanks too. His room is now on the first-door of the three-door apartment he has called home since he retired in 1987. His entertainment center was setup there too so he could continue watching his DVDs, as well as basketball games, boxing and UFC matches.
My cousins continued to rotate shifts as his bedside nurse. My task was to take care of his stocks (a task that, unfortunately, I didn’t complete before his death).
While still at the hospital, my grandfather called all his four children and told them what he wants done. He gave instructions for his remaining properties, and also, what is to be done when he dies. We are Igorots from Sagada and our culture calls for certain rites and rituals depending on the occasion. Having been born here in QC, I don’t even speak our language and I’m not that familiar with a lot of our customs. But I know that slaughtering pigs and chicken is part of it. Papa had asked that his ‘senga’ be done while he was still alive so we had that Monday last week, January the 16th.
While guests were having dinner, he demanded to be brought back to the hospital. He was in so much pain. The oxygen helped him breathe, but he couldn’t stand the pain. Before he was discharged from the hospital, we had already signed a waiver to refuse any treatment. At the ER, the doctors wanted to put him in the ICU for close-monitoring. But Papa wouldn’t like that. He needs to know he has company, if he were to stay at the ICU, we can’t be there for him round the clock.
So an agreement was made to put him in a private room, with a private nurse. I didn’t meet Nurse Sarah but she took care of Papa for 12 hours. My cousins say that she was a nice nurse, an angel really. She did something that really made Papa more comfortable.
At around lunch on Wednesday, the 18th, I sent a message to my cousin asking for any news on Papa. She just said to come to the hospital when I get off work. At the same time, my brother forwarded me a message from Ton saying that Papa’s eyes had been rolling and he’s really having a hard time breathing. Everyone was being asked to go to the hospital. I rushed out of the office. My mind was racing, and I cursed at the traffic along E. Rodriguez. I made it to a roomful of crying cousins.
One by one we came. We took turns at his side to say our goodbyes. He faded in and out of consciousness, but he was mostly struggling to breathe. We kept telling him that all is well, and to go to rest. But he wouldn’t. Then it seemed that he was getting better. He was hooked up to a monitor to show his heart rate and oxygen levels. It started looking better and better. So one by one we left the room. Mom and I left after midnight. Papa was asleep. He had been in a very deep sleep since around 4PM. While we watched over him, the nurse came by several times to take his blood sugar reading. He wouldn’t wake up even after a vigorous shaking. We kept telling each other that he must have really been tired from that morning. He’s just catching up on sleep and building up on energy.
Though I was already sleepy having been awake for almost 24 hours (I came from a 3am-12pm shift), I couldn’t sleep right away, not even on my own bed. I don’t remember what time I finally got to sleep, but I got up before 4AM, and read a message from my Mom – she was back in the hospital, and could I come back? I didn’t bother to take a shower, I put on pants and changed my shirt and off I went. The Valet attendant was the same one from a few hours ago.
My cousins and uncles and aunts were already back. Papa’s stats were dropping, but as if recognizing that we all were there, it was starting to stabilize again. But he still wouldn’t open his eyes. We took turns holding his hand and caressing him. Visitors came and went, many prayed and sang hymns around him. He wasn’t moving. But no one was saying that he was in a coma.
It was the 19th – my 12th anniversary with Alfred. But we couldn’t celebrate, could we? He was at the hospital too. Before dinner, we left to get some dinner, and so I could bathe. On the road to Chocolate Kiss, the rain poured really hard. Kinabahan ako. My phone was in my bag and I asked Alfred to check it. Mama’s message said: “Doctora just came. Very low na ang stats ni Papa so its near na daw.”
Dinner was good, but I couldn’t enjoy it very much. My mind and my heart were racing. Do I have time to take a bath? Siguro naman. If I don’t make it back to the hospital in time, it’s okay. I told Papa not to wait for me anyway, but that I would be back. We rushed through the food and headed home. I took one of the quickest baths I’ve ever had, cried my eyes out while praying and talking to Papa. And then we were back at the hospital. I was gone for an hour, tops.
Papa’s BP was playing around 80/50, his heart rate and oxygen levels lower than they were before I left. I called my brother. It is near.
But he pulled through yet again. We sang hymns, the priest came by again and prayed over him. We told each other stories to keep spirits up. Papa wanted to go peacefully, and it looks like he was going to have it. Cousins who were abroad called in to make their peace with Papa. Nikki was on her way home from Baguio. When she arrived before midnight we thought, surely, Papa can go now. We are all here, we have all said goodbye. But he was still fighting.
I thought maybe there’s still someone who isn’t ready to let him go. So I joked around and told my cousin Ton whose been looking after Papa since Lola and Auntie Leesah passed on, to talk to him and let him go. Only yesterday at the burial did Ton tell me that I was actually right, she was still holding on.
We stayed the night, Ton, my mom, Nikki, Che and her daughter Hannah. I got to sleep some, but always at least one of us would be staring at the monitor when it made noise. Always, someone would check if the stats were dangerously low. At sunrise, my Mom asked if I had wanted to go home. I was reluctant, but I agreed. We left with Auntie Nellie, Mama’s cousin who has a house next door. She and her husband came here for Papa’s senga. They were supposed to go back to Sagada right away but delayed their 12-hour drive home because of how things turned out. So I drove the three of us home just before 7AM.
I went up to my room to change clothes. I’d been wearing pants for the past three days and welcomed the chance to let my legs breathe. I had no intention to sleep but I dozed off, and I left my phone by the computer downstairs. I awoke to Dad’s knock on my door – Papa had flatlined. My Mom hadn’t been able to receive the dreaded call because he was in the bathroom. They’d been trying to reach us for nearly 10 minutes already. Mom and I rushed back to the hospital. Alfred too. Outside, we caught Auntie Nellie and Auntie Angela who were also rushing to the hospital. Freedah went with Andrew on a motorcycle. On the way, Mama got a call – he was really gone. We were no more than 5 minutes away. By the time I got to his room, Mama was leading the prayers. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she gave a beautiful prayer for Papa, amidst crying. Being the first-born daughter, she took it upon herself to be strong for everyone.
We stayed with Papa’s body as people came and went, doctors and nurses too. There was a matter of the time of death because Papa’s pacemaker was still ticking. The kids arrived too, from home and from school. We gave them time with Papa and time to cry.
Papa went on his own terms, peacefully, and without fuss. No dramatic last breath like in the movies. Even in death, he hadn’t wanted us to see him in pain, he hadn’t wanted to bother us.
On a very beautiful morning, Papa left us to rejoin His family in heaven.