Valentine’s Is Love and Death Together

Lover’s Bridge in Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf, New Taipei City, Taiwan opened on Feb. 14, 2003.  Photo by author, 29 January 2019.
Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 15 February 2019

 I thought last year’s Valentine’s Day was the most interesting in recent years because February 14 fell on an Ash Wednesday, a beautiful juxtaposition of the secular and the sacred that both remind us of love and death.  It happened again to me yesterday very early morning when I drove with my brother down south to visit a beloved aunt who is our late father’s favorite sister sick with Parkinson’s for the last seven years.  It was the closest experience I ever had with the realities of love and death intimately related.

 Unlike my previous visits to her in the last two years, the latest last January 03, Tita Neneng has always looked so sad and depressed with her situation, choosing to be left alone than be seen in her plight.  She used to be bursting with life, so busy with her career and family that upon retirement, she spent it going almost everywhere especially to visit her children in the US.  Yesterday, Tita Neneng was so different, almost like back to her old self as she smiled and talked a lot.  Her face was radiant, exuding with her beauty that had captivated so many men until her 50’s!  She was bubbling with joy as we reminisced the good old days when my father was still alive along with her older siblings, our many family reunions, and of course, our Lola Queta.  After anointing her with Holy Oil for the Sick and giving her the Viaticum, she told me something that made me cry so hard after:  “Father, I am ready.”

Of course, I knew what she meant but I had to lean close to her to ask her again what she just said.  “Father, handa na ako mamatay,” she told me with a smile on her lips while her eyes lovingly looked at me.  I asked her if she had told it to her husband, Tito Terry and she replied, “hindi pa.”  I told her she must tell it to Tito Terry so he would also be ready.  She then looked down, then faced me again and told me, “yung mga anak ko umaasa pa sa milagro.  Ayaw pa nila ako payagan.”  I looked at her and asked permission to inform her children in the States of her feeling ready.
She just smiled.  And I cried.  Very hard.
I had to excuse myself to run for some tissue in her bathroom as I could not contain myself crying and sobbing beside her.  Once in a while, a lesson from our pastoral psychology crossed my mind that as a pastor or minister, I should not cry in front of a patient, but, what can I do?  She’s my dearest aunt who had made me feel so loved and special even before I ever thought of becoming a priest in high school?!

Deep inside me, I also felt some joy amidst the sadness because I felt my Tita Neneng is indeed ready to go anytime soon because she was so composed without any tear in her eyes and always with that sweet smile on her lips.  Before, Tita Neneng would always cry to me, begging me to pray that God would take her as she could not endure her sufferings anymore.  That was before when she begged for death out of desperation as a way out of her pains and sickness.  But yesterday, she simply told me she was ready to die maybe because she must have found her direction in life already.

 Yesterday was actually a déjà vu for me, having experienced it before with my bestest friend from high school seminary, Gil who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in January 2013.  He would always cry to me whenever I would visit him, asking “why me” with the Big C?  Seven months after undergoing surgery and some chemo treatment, his doctors gave up.  It was time to face the inevitable as his cancer cells were so strongly active; but, surprisingly, my friend Gil accepted it gallantly, even with joy on his face!  I visited him thrice on his final week before he died.  And there I was, breaking into tears before him, crying like a child.  A reversal of roles had suddenly happened with Gil assuring me with everything, explaining things I should know more as a priest.  The most remarkable thing I have discovered with Gil as he approached death was the inner peace he head when he told me how he had forgiven his wife who had abandoned them, telling me how much he still loved her, vowing to keep his marital vows until his end!

 The beloved disciple of Christ wrote, “No one has ever seen God.  Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1Jn.4:12).

 Have you ever noticed how when our loved ones were diagnosed with serious illness, they always cried to us while we tried to assure them that everything would be fine?  Then, as our loved ones slowly embraced their mortality and faced death, we in turn cried before them who also assured us that everything would be fine?  There seems to be a reversal of roles when our loved ones embrace death because their love has been perfected that they no longer fear anything at all.  They must be so assured of where they are going to in life, unlike us who are still uncertain of what awaits us and that is why we cry when they go.  We not only cry for them but we cry more for ourselves because we have not seen the bigger picture yet that we still love imperfectly.  The great love stories of literature like Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” show us that death and love always go together not only for a beautiful story but precisely because death shows the depth of one’s love.  It is in suffering and death love is perfected.  A heart willing to suffer and die for another is the heart that truly loves.  Though love is symbolized by the heart as we have it on Valentine’s day, love is best expressed by the Cross of Jesus Christ who showed us the way of true love.  Coming to terms with life is coming to terms with death and vice versa.  So, let us have Valentine’s day every day!
From Google.

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