Of funerals and weddings and Alzheimer’s in between

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 13 January 2020

Photo by my high school seminary friend, Mr. Chester Ocampo, taken at the UST Senior High where he teaches art (2019).

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone..

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)

Maybe this is part of getting old, of maturing. Of learning to grapple with life’s mortal realities and still be excited with living. It is a grace that is both fulfilling but also deeply moving and often, chilling.

An uncle and a friend have commented to me in our recent chats how 2020 had come in hard and difficult with so many sickness and deaths in the family.

Some relatives have to fly to Singapore on New Year’s Day to support a cousin whose husband had an office accident that left him in comatose for five days following a brain surgery. He eventually died and had to be cremated a few days later.

December 11 I had to drive to Manila to visit and anoint the father of my best friend from high school seminary who arrived December 2 from the States, fell ill December 4, and had to spen Christmas and New year in the hospital.

Less than 24 hours after being discharged January 3, he died the following morning after talking with my friend based in Chicago, three days short before eldest daughter arrived to accompany him and wife back to New Jersey this week.

Meanwhile last January 2, I had to rush again this time to Quezon City for the wake of our high school seminary classmate Rommel who had died of multiple complications morning of December 31.

He is the third to “rest in peace” in our batch of 18 men who graduated the minor seminary in 1982. We last saw him in our reunion, September 9, 1990 (9-9-90).

Suddenly, I felt myself in some kind of a time warp when everything seemed to be not too long ago, as if we have just graduated recently, or that my dad and their dads have just passed away one after the other these past months.

Death can sometimes be magical when life is lived in love

I realized that when we have so much love for everyone like relatives and friends, including parishioners in the last eight years, time stands still after their deaths. You do not count the days and weeks and months and years you were together and when they have all gone.

They all seem to be still present because you are focused on how those departed have enriched your very life, your very person no matter how fleeting or long ago you were together.

Death can sometimes be magical, most of all grace-filled, when our lives are lived in love.

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)
Photo by author, our sacristy 2019.

Memories and knowledge fade, but love remains

Finally I had the chance to visit my mom – for Christmas! – evening of January 6. It was so good that just before leaving, a cousin arrived with his family to visit also my mother who is the younger sister of his mother, my Tita Celia.

It was only at that evening we have finally confirmed that Tita Celia has Alzheimer’s, the reason why her ways and attitudes have been noticeably erratic in 2019 as she was slowly losing grip of her senses.

And now, it is almost all gone according to my cousin whose sadness I strongly felt as he narrated to me the deterioration of his mother, of forgetting and losing so many things, of not recognizing familiar people like relatives and friends.

That same night, we also learned from him how our moms’ younger brother seem to be having signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease that are very similar with Tita Celia.

Again, I found myself in a “time warp” while they were happily conversing I was silently trying to recall the last time I have seen my mother’s siblings now afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, wondering if they will still recognize me if I visit them later.

Moreover, I also realized how afraid I am with the prospects of getting sick in old age than of dying, sooner or later!

In fact, I was so scared that I had a nightmare that same night: in my dream I found myself lost, apparently with Alzheimer’s as I was searching for my parish rectory, looking for my bedroom, asking people about my parish staff, crying like a child.

What a relief when I woke up Tuesday morning that it was just a dream, that I was in fact in my bed, inside my room, in my parish rectory, so alive and still whole!

It seems it is easier to think and accept of one’s death than of getting sick and incapacitated later in old age. It is something we have to slowly come to terms with while still younger and stronger, and perhaps wiser.

How?

As I recalled our conversations with my cousin Louie that Monday night at home, I was amazed at his great love for his mother, Tita Celia. I remembered how he would always have pasalubong for his mother even upon coming home from school!

Maybe that is why even she had forgotten most of us her relatives, she always remembers Louie her son because he is the one who has truly loved her next to the late Tito Memo, her husband. The same is true with others taking care of their old parents afflicted with Alzheimer’s: they are recognized and remembered because they love.

Our memories and knowledge may be erased but the love we have in our hearts, the love we have experienced always remain even if everything has failed in life. That is why St. Paul declared that “love is the greatest of all gifts of God”.

Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…

John Mellencamp, “Jack & Diane” (1982)
With my former students at the Cubao Cathedral after the wedding of their classmate. I felt so proud, and old, that afternoon seeing them all with their career and family, of how they have maintained their friendships all these years like brothers, of they love one another. Photo by Peter dela Cruz, one in blue.

To live is to love

December 2019 and January 2020 are perhaps my most “marrying months” in my 21 years of priesthood.

Aside from the weddings of friends and students I have officiated these past two months, three more are coming next month of February.

Again, as I saw friends and especially former students getting married, I could not believe at how fast time had passed.

Should I really be surprised when I find out my former students already in their early 30’s, some with families of their own and children whom they instruct to kiss my hand, calling me Lolo Fr. Nick?

It was a very “existential” experience that they are already old, and most of all, I am really that old after all!

Maybe that is what my married friends are telling me of the joy of fatherhood, of having your kids getting married, of having grandchildren, of the inner satisfaction that you have brought life to fruition.

That you have truly loved and now being loved.

It is perhaps the joy of getting old, of maturing, of dying or even forgetting everything when afflicted later with Alzheimer’s that you start to fade from the scene and hand over the stage to the next generation, thinking that life will still go on after us because you have loved much.

What really matters in the end is how we have lived and loved the people around us, of how we have enriched each other’s lives so that as the young ones discover life’s meaning in love, we who are older find life’s fulfillment still in the love from the relationships we keep.

Here’s a hill-billy rock music about love to drive your Monday’s blues away.

2 thoughts on “Of funerals and weddings and Alzheimer’s in between

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