Losing him 352 km away

By: Farley Bermeo Jr. - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 01,2021 - 08:00 AM

Papa was never really good at expressing love in words, but his affection for me and my siblings was deeper than any form of pronouncements.

His love came out in many ways. Sometimes, it appeared in the shape of time when he watched television late at night or until the wee hours of the morning while I studied for my exams, so I wouldn’t feel alone in the middle of the night. Other times, it was measured by the amount of money he gave so I could attend extracurricular activities in school. From time to time, he articulated love by asking me what meal I liked for lunch.

But my favorite was when he sent me to school every morning riding either the motorcycle or the automobile. I rarely had to ask him, “Pa, pahatid ako sa school.” It just simply became a routine.

I am currently studying at a university eight hours away from our home in Iriga City. During my first year in UPLB, I thought Papa’s passion for taking me to school would end, but I was wrong. When I needed to submit documents for my medical examination in my freshman year, Papa, along with Mama, endured more than eight hours of driving from home to Los Baños just so I could attend the medical exam. For a man in his 50s who suffered from diabetes and other health conditions, it was selfless of him. I thought that would be the last time, but again I was wrong. He drove thrice more, one for my enrollment, the other when they finally left me for the actual classes, and when they fetched me from the university for semestral break.

Things changed when the world stood still because of the pandemic. I spent the last semester at home for online classes, but eventually I opted to go back to UPLB. Papa could no longer drive given the restrictions in mobility due to the community quarantine, so I took the plane instead, to excuse them from all the hassles of land travel. Still, he didn’t want to miss my departure, so my entire family was there to send me off at Legazpi Airport in Albay. Last Feb. 18, 2021, Papa, together with Mama and my siblings, bid their goodbyes as I flew to Los Baños.

Never did I know that that was the last time I would ever see Papa and talk to him in person.

Just three months after my last kiss, hug, conversation with, and memory of him, he succumbed to the virus that has killed thousands in the Philippines.

I was working on a class requirement in the middle of the finals season when my siblings first delivered the news regarding Papa’s condition. It was the early evening of June 14. He was rushed to the hospital because of difficulty in breathing. The doctors put him on oxygen, but just hours later, I received the dreaded message on my phone. Papa had died while I was 352 kilometers away from him.

Mourning in this era is a series of digital conversations. Emotions are only expressed on mobile devices. Turning the camera off when you are too shy to cry. Muting yourself as you try to contain feelings. Sending photos of the candle you lit, the flowers you bought, and the visit to the church so you could pray for their soul. Vigils that made their way to conferencing applications.

Loss means the dilemma of asking when it is the right or wrong time to call. To see the remains of your loved one in ashes only on the screen of your phone is a loss that haunts you in your sleep and paralyzes you the morning after.

This pandemic has not only taken away lives but has also robbed opportunities for grief.

Traveling kilometers and spending long winding hours on the road were Papa’s way of showing love. He was old-fashioned; he liked to hold on to beliefs. Driving from home to school was a tradition he kept. But it was more than just delivering me safely to my destination. It was also looking back at how far I had grown into the child he was proud of, and how he was looking forward to the places I would go to in the future.

Now, I ask myself: Who will wait for me to go to bed late at night when I’m studying or finishing off requirements? Who will ask me what meal to cook for lunch whenever I come home from the university? Who will send me to terminals or airports when I go to various places? Who will drive to my graduation as I wear my sablay and receive my diploma? Who will hold my sister’s hand as she walks down the aisle on her wedding day?

Papa leaving means putting a void in the journey I am yet to board.

Papa may have left us without saying goodbyes, yet no word can ever express the profound love he had for me and my siblings. My last memory of him was the one thing he had always cherished: seeing me off safely. He won’t be there anymore the next time I leave home, but deep down I know he is more than proud of the places I have been and those I will still embark on.

* * *

Farley Bermeo Jr., 22, is a communication arts student at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. On a typical day, he reads a book while drinking coffee.

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TAGS: COVID-19, father, Iriga, pandemic, Papa

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