My brother Rene passed away on July 13 while I was returning to Manila. I had been with him since early June in our hometown in Tabaco City, about 800 kilometers south of Manila after I heard he had been taken to the hospital. That Friday the 13th, Rene knew I had to come back to the city to help decorate the side altar in Don Bosco
Parish Church in Makati, a suburb in Manila, where the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was to be set up for veneration. Two days away from Rene was a small gift to Our Lady of Mount Carmel whose feast was on July 16. The Saint Edith Stein
Community, of which I am a member, was celebrating with a Holy Eucharist, blessing, and investiture of the scapular, feeding of some families, on the 14th in this parish our community belongs to. Leaving, I noticed Rene's eyes — they seemed sad and dazed. I returned, gave him a gentle kiss on his forehead and whispered, "I love you." The sad far away look changed into a smile and he waved me away whispering, "take care." I learned that he had gone the next morning upon arriving in our home in Manila. My other brothers tried to call me but mysteriously my phone went dead, thus none of the calls got through.
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When my father died in 1977 from a massive heart attack, the news arrived when I was at school. I worked as a teacher in a public school in a city far from our province. I was the last to know that he had died. My mother passed away surrounded by my brothers, my sister in law and my cousin saying the rosary and singing to her. I was not there. And when my husband, Joe, succumbed to a lingering illness in hospital, I was at a chapel for Sunday Mass with my daughter, Peachy. Joe was in the ICU comatose. For 11 months, I stayed by my husband's side, personally attending to all his needs. I leave him for a few minutes, and he decides to "go." Could be, in God's mercy, He spared me the anguish of seeing my precious gems "depart." Could be, my heart wouldn't be able to take it and He knew. Experiencing various kinds of grief — the loss of a father, a mother, a brother, a husband — leaves a vacuum that is indescribable. Not to mention the bottomless abyss of unknowing about a missing son whose fate I still do not know. Back in the city, grief had to take a back seat. Gone for two months, there was so much catching up to do. Then cleaning a shelf today, not long after Rene was laid to rest, I found a old pamphlet of love poems by my husband, a gift on my birthday, the first I celebrated with him as my husband. The pamphlet "When the Rose is Red: Love Sighs for Edita" was drawn and executed by Rene. There was no stopping the tears. Memories of Rene — entrusting secrets, giving me cards with his signature doodles, providing a male presence when Joe was out of town, twinkling eyes when he saw bacon for breakfast, his trademark greeting of putting his arms around my shoulders — rushed by. Rene and I shared a special bond. Yes as most brothers and sisters are guilty of, there were skirmishes over insignificant matters, but always, he would be the first to say "sorry." If there was one virtue that Rene was blessed with, it was forgiveness. Each one of us grieve in his/her own way. When we lose someone, sometimes the grief is extreme, we are in pain, distracted and haunted. Sometimes it is subtle that we are not even aware that we are grieving. We throw ourselves into major frenzied activities to disguise the anguish. Weeks after my husband died, I would clean up our garden with so much vigor, I didn't notice my hands were already bruised until I saw the blood. But after sometime, the grief takes on a different form. The one who left slowly comes back. My mother and father are now more present to us, especially when siblings are together. We would recall (this time, with affection) how they were so different, that often, they would disagree over trivial matters. Their presence is now more tender and nourishing and in a special sense, more caring. Now with an appreciation from having mellowed, I recognize how my parent's differences would be apparent in my brothers' behavior minus the tension. The "presence" slowly fills up the vacuum and this time devoid of frustrations and angst. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning
wrote, "even mortal grief shall prove the immortality of love and lead us nearer heaven." Hopefully, the deaths of those who went ahead of us would help bring us nearer to our true home. Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.