𝘣𝘺 𝘗𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘰 𝘈. 𝘛𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘮𝘢𝘯
I agree. The brutal hallmark of the pandemic is the way it isolates victims in their final moments.
For close to eight months, all that one did was count the dead, extend condolences and the usual parting words: rest in peace.
I see it on FB, I see it on news video of corpses hauled off to funeral parlors and crematorium from China to Manila and Italy.
A few weeks back, I saw an FB post by a young man asking help where he could get free cremation. The family has already spent so much in hospital bills. He just wanted a loved one cremated and laid to rest even without religious rites.
The health protocol says no wake, no gathering and no proper goodbyes. Before the night was over, I saw a news item that says the government is offering free cremation for the duration of the virus crisis.
I don’t know how I will react if I find myself in that situation.
Some years back, I thought I could be headed for the departure area. Surrounded by eye drops, assorted pills for cold and fever and pain relievers, you begin to look at life as something that can be taken away from you at any time.
In my last check up, the good doctor says stage 2 hypertension may not look critical but its consequence is that it can strike in the dead of night and leave you lifeless without warning. He asked if I was taking maintenance pills regularly and I answered wryly, I stopped taking them two years ago.
“Mabuti nga buhay ka pa,” came the answer.
I stopped taking pills because they make me so uncomfortable. And so, you stop short and reflect on a 71-year old life.
One night, while trying to catch sleep, you are drawn to a TV documentary on victims of heart failure. It doesn’t choose its victims.
A taxi driver and a business executive are found dead in their work stations.
The following day, you read the news that a director-friend was found unresponsive in his home, and was pronounced dead in a hospital.
You realize with sadness that at your age, your friends and acquaintance are going fast.
When the results of the battery of medical tests get to you, you realize you have to say goodbye to many things you hold dear: a yearly island music festival, endless beer after a good concert, splurging on seafood and high-cholesterol appetizers.
The initial fear has set in, and you visit your grandchildren more often than usual. You think that every moment could be your last, and the memory of the smile of your youngest grandchild is all you want to carry to your grave.
Then you make a new resolution: You can’t watch all the concerts, you can’t be in all ballet opening nights, and you can’t be forever covering deficits for nonrevenue concerts.
Last year, I promised that a Manila concert was going to be my last.
A world-famous diva dedicated an aria to me and I gave her a hug in the middle of the concert amid a cheering audience. I thought it was a beautiful night, and I ended up breaking doctor’s orders by ordering endless rounds of beer as I listened to anecdotes on art and life from my favorite diva and a celebrated tenor.
In December last year, I said goodbye to my Nelly Garden concert series in Iloilo City.
As I figure it out now, you can’t have everything. As the song goes, good things never last. You watch a good movie by a millennial director and you get a glimpse of your own youth now gone.
Is there life after rounds of consultations with an ophthalmologist, a cardiologist and heaven knows what else if another ailment manifested itself in your 71-year-old body?
No, a Bible-quoting life is out of the question. I can quote from favorite operas but the Bible has somehow eluded me.
Since you are not a likely candidate for sainthood, you resolve to just learn to be more real, to be more accepting, to be more forgiving of yourself and to stop complaining.
You stop being sorry for yourself and you begin to be happy for others. And you see deliverance from cars and houses that will not materialize in this lifetime.
Meanwhile, you dutifully attend the weddings of close relatives and friends. You try to be around at their birthday parties.
But you stand firm on one thing: You cannot go to wakes and cannot participate in necrological services.
In a given week in my island province, a nephew is getting married, and I visit nephews and grandnieces. And before I head for the airport back to Manila, I visit my loved ones’ resting places in the cemetery.
Like it or not, it won’t be long before I join them. I can see my daughters lighting votive candles for the repose of my soul years from now.
In this world you live, in this world you perish. It is the usual cycle, retold countless times in literature and cinema.
Violetta dies in La Traviata and so does Mimi in La Boheme.
The latest death scenes I saw in opera was Lucia di Lammermoor where the Mad Scenes highlighted a life about to end.
But when Lucia’s loved one Edgardo drove a dagger into his chest, there was collective gasp from the audience as he lay dying. The tenor finished his Tomb Scene aria with aplomb.
A standing ovation followed.
To be sure, I don’t expect applause and standing ovations in my true-to-life death scene.
It is enough for me to realize that basketball icon Kobe Bryant turned to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when the going was rough in his past life.
I’ve turned to music many times to cope with my own share of life’s ironies.
And as always, I accept life and death for what they are.
Meanwhile, death comes every so often you stopped counting.
As the grim statistics rise and more dead are headed to the crematorium, you face the subject of death and try to see it in another way.
Since the quarantine started, I have not seen a funeral passing by on the street where I live. There used to be at least once or twice a day headed to the nearby church.
Should I just accept death for what it is?
Mark Twain once declared, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
If you can’t find redemption in philosophic musing, maybe I should find solace in the words of the actress — Angelina Jolie – who once said, “There is something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.”