A Tale of Two Fathers

This Sunday was one of the very few moments in my life where I saw my father cry.

My father is just any ordinary guy. His emotions are quite transparent but let me qualify. He does not hold back his joy whenever his favorite sports teams win nor does he hold back anger whenever I screw up. Neither does he hold back annoyance especially when it comes to his every day exploit with the human sardine thingy popularly known as MRT.

Nonetheless, it’s different when he is melancholic. He is usually silent. In pain, too, he does not complain. He actually had allergy attack this weekend but he didn’t complain at all. It’s only then when my mother brought him to the hospital wherein he thanked her because he wasn’t feeling well anymore.

What’s up with guys and bottling up their emotions?

Nevertheless, this Thursday morning, I woke up feeling a little strange. When my brother and I went down to eat breakfast, our house helper announced that our Uncle Dodo had passed away.

Well, we showed the initial shocked. But, deep inside, I was kind of pleased when I learned that he passed away. He is now finally in the arms of the Lord without pain. He battled cancer for five years.

Jose Cesar “Dodo/Jo” Capa was a Brigadier General and a member of the Philippine Military Academy Batch 1960. He became my uncle because my father’s eldest sister, Auntie Cristing, was married to him since her early twenties and now she’s nearing seventy years old. Uncle was dependable, clever and seemingly stringent. However, he is very pleasant when it comes to children. He often makes as laugh. He could be a joker too. I recall on how poker face he was when he told me as a young girl of about five or seven years old, that he was as white as I when he was younger. However, he ate squid and he became dark-skinned afterwards. He looked serious that’s why I believed him and I never ate squid for the longest time. (Unfortunately for the squid, when I tasted it again, I was already disgusted with its taste, hence I barely eat anything squid except those occasional calamari).

He loves nature, spicy food and sleeping soundly after eating. He is so strong and tough. He is indestructible —until cancer came into him.

Five years ago, he went on a camping trip with his grandson, Meiji. He accidentally fell and his knee swelled from that trip. He ignored it but after several months it was still hurting and it seemed that it is not at all getting better. He decided to go to a doctor and he found out that the simple lump on his knee is actually malignant. Worst, the cancer cells had spread in his lungs already. The oncologist essentially declared that he has lung cancer. However, it was still a mystery on how he’d actually acquire that awful disease. He did not smoke at all. He wasn’t a drinker either and he was even very fond of sports and exercising. He is the least of all the persons in the world that I’ll ever predict on dying because of lung cancer or any cancer for that matter. Maybe, they told me, that because of his work as a soldier, he got exposed to notorious war chemicals when he was in Germany or Viet Nam. We can never know now.

However, tough guy as he is, he faced the battle of cancer head on.

I don’t think there is really someone really robust when faced with cancer. For five years, no matter how tough he is, I saw him slowly being devoured with cancer. Cancer slowed his walking but that didn’t stop him. He still went to trips and was still an excellent driver. When the typhoon Ondoy flooded their house, he strengthened himself and even drove his family to safety despite the fact that he could not barely walk upright. But after that, he rapidly weakened again. He really cannot support himself anymore so his walker and cane was replaced by a wheelchair.

But we folded that wheelchair way too early than expected. One day, he was just rushed into the hospital and my other uncle, Uncle Ding, who is a very good pulmonologist and was also one of his attending physicians, announced to us painfully that the cancer spread not only to his lungs but also towards his bones and its marrow and has affected parts of his brain. Uncle Ding told us to get ready because at any time, he might say goodbye us permanently.

From that point on, I saw Uncle Dodo like a quick-melting candle. We do not see each other much but every time I see him, something changed in him. The cancer cells on his brain really changed his lucidity. It seems like he’s a different person from time to time. Sometimes he knows me; sometimes he looks at me as if it is the first time that he ever saw me. Sometimes I could still talk to him; sometimes, he does not respond to anyone, his eyes were just staring blankly into nothingness. Sometimes he is extremely quiet; sometimes he is just wailing of the unendurable pain especially on his bones. Sometimes I am talking to an aged, wise man; sometimes I’m talking to a child.

And ultimately, he turned into a child. The strong, feared and integral soldier had become a helpless, feeble and dependent infant. He wet his bed all the time and my auntie, who is also old and weak, would not be able to survive without his personal nurses. Somebody must always check on him not only to clean him up, but to feed him, calm him down if he breaks down and place his diapers properly. I admire my auntie for being devoted to him completely all those times of his suffering. She is also similar to his authoritarian way, barely crying as well. However, she shared to me that she cried when he told her not to fret much on him because, according to him,

 “I’m never going to be normal anymore.”

In the end, he could just be seen inside of his room sleeping with oxygen tank on. Doctors advised my auntie not to continue with his chemotherapy anymore because the cancer cells had already spread across his body and it’s only hurting him more because it severely affected his bones.  Some medications were just provided to him so that pain may be eased, but of course those medicines won’t cure him anyway.  It frightened me a lot when auntie told me,

“Pray for Uncle Dodo so that the Lord may take him peacefully, so that he won’t feel pain any longer.”

How strong my auntie was in trying to accept that she might not see him again, tomorrow or the next days or the next months ahead. What is life and death? I wonder why we, human beings, understand that sometimes death is really the best way for a loved one to escape pain and suffering yet we do anything in order for that person to survive. When is letting go proper? Why do we feel sad when somebody dies when we all know that we will all be succumbed into death someday anyway? I feel all depressed on his passing but I had no words on how to exactly build my own feeling.

May 19, 2011. Uncle Dodo breathed his last. That was about 6 in the morning. He was 74 years old. My cousin, Ate Maricris, told us that the night before was different. His jolly nurse was not himself at that night before and he revealed later that he could see my uncle’s soul roaming around the room. Whether that is truthful or not, my cousin and auntie told us that something strange occurred that week. Both of them felt or heard he was calling for him but of course he wasn’t. He was too weak that he cannot even sit. The bond of a husband to a wife or a father to his daughter is stronger than most of us assumes.

March 20, 2011. I saw uncle in a white casket. He seemed to be alive; the only difference is he is not. I love all kinds of flowers, but on his wake days, I hate seeing all of them. It gives me no comfort rather it depresses me seeing how some of them wilt. It reminded me of the brevity of life and that no matter how beautiful and vibrant a flower is now, it would also wilt.

March 21, 2011. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t able to reach his necrological service. I was dead tired of my regular nine-hour class. My account on this day was based only on their stories. One of the persons who delivered her speech there was my aunt, Auntie Lou, who is also a sister of my father. She said,

“He was more than a brother-in-law for us. To us, he is also our second father.”

Hearing those words from my mother, who was present during the necrological service, I now understood the tears of my father. I often wondered how Daddy became such an amazing father who grew up with no recall of his father except of his voice. Daddy was only three years old when his father died. My grandfather was the then mayor of our little town in Magalang, Pampanga. He was seeking to be reelected then but he never returned. It was September 16, 1953. Years later, my auntie got married to my uncle who, coincidentally, celebrates his birthday on the same day. Since then, he acted as father-figure to all of my auntie’s five younger siblings. He is commanding yet very supporting.

It’s just now that I’ve realized how important he is to me. It was because of him that I have such a great father.

March 22, 2011. Noon. We said our final goodbyes to him in Libingan ng mga Bayani. It’s quite an experience not only emotionally but culturally. It’s really quite amusing seeing someone from the military given final respects. There are bands and marching from the men in uniform. There were also some gun shots for him and his casket was brought by a carriage. The sun was brightly shining that noon—perhaps it was his way of saying that he’s in a better place and not to worry about him. When friends and family were called, I could not find my father so I went with my mother, sister and brother to look at his body for one last time–poignant moment for all of us. We were shedding tears as we walk back to our chairs and then immediate family was called to view at him one last time. My aunt, my cousins and their children walked in slowly. The sadness drawn on their faces were unbearable even if they had long readied for his passing. I only lost an uncle but I couldn’t help myself from tearing up because of anguish so I just could not presume their agony of loss in losing a husband and a father and a grandfather. I found it amazing that Daddy was with them at that time, quietly grieving as tears slide down his cheeks.

That was a tender moment about Daddy that I could not possibly forget.

We may never see uncle again but perhaps in afterlife he is pleased that he lived a full life. He was a good husband, a doting father, a loving grandfather, a loyal friend and an honorable soldier. I now give my final salute to you, Uncle. You’re now free from earthly, unendurable pain and suffering. It’s time for you to walk in the Kingdom of God happily. You deserve it because of your goodness.

Wait for us there.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." --- 2 Timothy 4:7

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