MANILA, Philippines - Of all the secular words I?ve heard or read about on life and death, the closest one in spirit to the maelstrom of feelings I?ve lived on in the past year were words written by Gilda Cordero Fernando in an essay she wrote for this section on July 27, 2008.
Writing about old age and the purpose of growing old, she shared her own learned experience on the purpose of life which had been succinctly expressed to her by a friend (Bernie Nepomuceno, whom I?ve also met), which is that God put us on earth for only one purpose?to love.
And, in essence, that each life is an individual journey and an individual responsibility; with the immortal spirit making effective use of the mortal physicality it possesses to learn and express this love throughout its life?s multivaried, ambivalent materiel.
Since the death of my husband Joey last year, I?ve survived and lived mostly on words of divine origin (at Mass, in the Bible, in the sermons of priests, at the confessional, in spiritual readings, my beloved Rosary and the 3 o?clock prayer of Divine Mercy), as well as the remaining threads of my multicolored highly detailed dreams.
The only secular words that would touch me, in some way, were a few meaningful songs I?d inadvertently hear here and there. I say, ?some way,? because my battered heart, mind and spirit were yet too fragile to sing.
Like many Filipinos who have accepted the death of their beloved (especially under mysterious or ?foul play? circumstances), I have often been asked how I could be so calm and ?strong? in the face of such personal devastation.
I don?t quite remember what I?d answer on most occasions, although it?s highly likely that I might have uttered a few heartfelt words on the inevitability of death and our hopeful return to God?s embrace. And, despite my outward demeanor, I was also operating mostly half-dazed at the time (and so unable, perhaps, to satisfy the curiosity of those who?d asked?some in an exasperated manner, as if they secretly thought it would have been more ?normal? or ?better? for me to lose my head for a time).
But, the truth of the matter is that through the dense fog of unbelievable pain shone a great love. The undeniable and strong light of God?s love for Joey and me. And how He alone knew that I would need all my wits and senses about me?in order for me to survive what I can only inadequately describe as having my heart and spirit seemingly ripped out of my body, then having it shred into ragged pieces, bleeding to death but which death would not take... and how, after a spell of pained silence catching my breath, the whole cycle would begin again as bits and pieces of the reality of my loss (and how) would once again rewind and replay.
Hope in a child
God knew what my heart/spirit needed to have, materially, in this world, in order for me to live through Joey?s insensible death. Hope. Material, physical hope. Which hope He gifted me with, in perfect form, in the little 7-week old baby whose heart beat within my womb. A child who would be the true immortality of the love that Joey and I had shared in five and a half years of marriage. My very first pregnancy, my miracle baby.
This gift, coupled with the fact that I come from pretty tough stock (having amazing parents who taught us kids by the example of their lives how to never give up, how to work/live with integrity, and how to believe and hold onto your faith no matter life?s odds), is what pulled me through my life?s darkest nights.
The ?little? candle that was lit in the ocean of darkness. Joey?s death had given me ?new? eyes with which to see the world and my life in a different way.
I?m just a small person in a world of billions, but I know that God sees me, hears me. Us all.
God even ?allowed? Joey, in death, to continue giving and earning grace and merits? as his donated corneas helped both a teenaged student and a 60+-year-old farmer see again. A perfect fit both times, the Eye Bank told me.
So many answered prayers. Flowers unexpectedly received on a poignant date here. A little insistent song on the radio there. A call from a sister or a friend when I needed it most. Honesty and generosity.
My burgeoning pregnancy seemed to epitomize my spirit?s own struggles?as I walked the tightrope between despair and happiness. For as my baby grew, so did an accompanying myoma. But the ultrasound images of my darling child eventually made the spark of life and hope I?d clutched so tightly to my heart grow into a great bonfire. My heart saw the triumph of its struggles on
Jan. 19 of this year when my darling Raphaella was born into this world. (The myoma was excised and discarded immediately after.)
Earlier this month, we commemorated Joey?s first death anniversary. It fell on a First Friday?that I understood, after some reflection, as God?s assurance for me to be at peace for He has taken Joey home to Heaven, enfolded in His Sacred Heart.
Just in case, I didn?t ?get? it, God even had another message waiting for me that day. During the special Mass, Fr. Dave Clay, MSSC, mentioned (as was his custom) the saint of the day?Saint Elizabeth of Poland. In 2006 when we?d moved to Makati, Father Dave had led our house blessing and he had mentioned then that it was the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
When I quietly mentioned this fact to Father Dave as we made our way to Joey?s crypt for the blessing after Mass, he excitedly exclaimed that both Elizabeths were related.
I would have to be really simple-minded not to ?get? it that time!
By the way, the ?souvenir? (Pinoy habits die hard!) I was inspired to prepare was a CD compilation of selected songs from Joey?s personal music collection. The music never really ends a.k.a. no one dies. Life is eternal. Love is the answer to so many questions. Let go and let God.
And, as I?ve written before in ?Little Book of Miracles & Answered Prayers?: ?This is more than the usual love story. This is part of my personal love story with God.?
And so, through death and ?new? life again, my love story continues. Love begets love.