You are currently viewing I CAN SEE THE STARS, DAD!
image from https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/540924605226354059/

Maybe grief is all about finding light again and having to will yourself to stand up again and begin your life journey anew. Maybe it is all about learning how to move on given the resources you are left with. Maybe it is that important human experience when one’s courage is tested as life changes as you know it, sometimes dramatically or even drastically. Maybe it is also about finding meaning in all that happened and finding a new meaning to life all over again.

My dearest Dad died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer. I know of people who have suffered losses greater than I have. Losing a parent is, after all, a very normal truth in our lives. Just the same, loss is different for each one of us, just as death of the same person can mean differently for each one of us. I just know that Dad’s 19-month illness and his eventual death has significantly shaped me and I can never quite move on without having to concretely put all that I have experienced into words as I am sure it can inspire Dads and daughters out there. Dad, my all-time coach and cheerleader, would have wanted me to do so.

I cannot quite put into words how painful losing him has been for me. They say the depth of the pain is commensurate to the depth of the love. That love had always been deeply immense between me and my Dad. We were such father and daughter indeed! Dad was a good man but not a very demonstrative person when it comes to affections. It was only in his latter years when he made it a habit to give Mom flowers on Valentine’s Day. I had to remind her that she might not have grand roses on occasions but she did have her daily supply of bananas which Dad made sure we got for her from the grocery. Bananas can also mean, “I love you!” I did have to make that decision as a young teenager to make an effort to get to know him more. The Lord blessed that desire as Dad and I became driving companions for almost 18 years. I was his constant passenger in the mornings and in most evenings after work as well. I was his youngest child and only daughter.

Being a child born seven months had to mean being a child who grew up sickly. That meant special attention which added to the fact that I was a girl. A Dad always had to protect his daughter! Even then, our relationship as father and daughter was not out of the ordinary back in the day. We argued and got irritated with each other on certain mornings especially if that meant I got late to work or that he got late to work himself. I am sure Dad passed on some, if not all, of his workaholic genes to me. The work ethic of the man was truly exceptional. The value he put into his work was the same value he put to his name. It would not be surprising to know how his peers in the field of construction respected him. He had worked beyond retirement, made to “unretire” due to several offers to do consultancy work even up until the time of his leave due to his illness. When I called his office to inform them of his demise, they thought I was another person looking for him to offer him a job.

I did not really know how much of my father was in my person until I took charge of a lot of things during his illness and eventual passing. The head of the family was dying. He needed someone to lean on. Not to say that he did not lean on my Mom and my brothers. It is just that a role had to be played – the role of the shock absorber, the neutralizer, the cheerleader, the prayer warrior, the financial manager, the family informant, the scheduler, and the all-around quick thinker. I never imagined that I would ever play such a role – the only girl, the youngest child and quite the spoiled one. (And at 46, I recognize that I was and am not exactly proud that I was.) So yes, it is true that my Dad has had a difficult time saying no to me on certain things while I also had to conform to his standards on a lot of things. We have a queer firm Dad – spoiled daughter kind of a relationship.

And so, I thought like my Dad. Our brains were on the same wavelength most of the time. I could understand him even without many words spoken. I eventually knew the things that needed to be done even without his prodding. The grand eagle was soaring high on his very last flight and I was a young eagle flying beneath his wings. 

The moment my Dad saw me for the first time as an infant, as my Mom’s famous tale would have it, would turn out to be a most important memory. He had taken me in his arms then in the taxicab going home. Mom faced a most difficult pregnancy then plus there was this stress on him as a young father having to make ends meet to feed three boys. It really was quite an enormous thing to take on. He, according to my Mom, unwrapped my diapers and checked if I indeed was a girl as they had prayed hard for from the Lord through a novena to St. Therese. After discovering I was, he had exclaimed, “Hay, Frans, akala ko hindi na ako matutuwa. Yun pala tuwang tuwa ako!”

When I had my 18th birthday, Dad was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia working as an overseas contract worker. (They were still called OCW’s at that time.) He had to brave through a tough decision of leaving his family for work due to a retrenchment from a government owned construction company. Back then, his snail mail letters were much waited for. I was surprised when he sent me a very beautiful greeting card to mark that important time of my life as a young lady. I did not have a grand ballroom debut because we could not afford it but that love and sacrifice that came with that card had gone a long way to making me feel grand.

It was truly difficult to see the coach of my life slowly go but how he faced the stark truth of cancer and the pain of illness was one I will truly never forget and perhaps his courage and strength was what exactly gave me courage and strength. Death will come to all of us is one truth and death coming to all of those we love is another truth – two truths we need to contend with in this life. If death showed up at my Dad’s door, he did not argue with it. Here was a man who faced cancer straight in the eye. It only had to take him around two very quiet minutes from being told he had tumor that was likely malignant to him deciding he will go through an operation. In a matter of a few days, he had everything laid out to his family – his decision and the very few but important bullet points he wanted us to take care of and be prepared for. One morning, he woke me up and told me, “Frans, ikaw ang financial manager.” And in all my groggy and depressed state, without batting an eyelash, I said, “Okay, Pa,” even as I did not know exactly how on earth I would be able to figure all that out.

Dad comes from a family with a history of cancer. Diabetes compounds this family history. Dad’s pancreatic cancer was an intersection of the two. He was a robust man at 72 when the asymptomatic nature of pancreatic cancer started to appear. Perhaps it was because he faced the death of his parents and three other siblings that Dad knew the great possibility of cancer and/or diabetes coming to him as well. How we, all those whose loved ones succumbed to the big C, can only wish and pray that a cure for cancer be known. Then again, there is no use fighting the truth of the illness at whatever stage. Acceptance is the key as well as faith.

I have not known Dad to be a deeply religious person. It would be my Mom I would remember making sure we prayed the rosary as a family at night and that we went to Mass every Sunday. She was one to read books, be involved in parish activities more and do personal novenas and even engage in discussions about the faith. Dad was the more quiet Catholic. When he passed on, Mom discovered a small book Dad apparently was intently reading – “The Imitation of Christ.” He even highlighted certain statements. Mom and I were both pleased to have discovered that.

Dad had always been blunt and straightforward even way before his illness. He was a black and white kind of a person and parent and I suppose even as a boss as well. Even as he tolerated gray some of the time, he demanded black and white more often than not. It was not surprising that he would one time ask his oncologist what stage he was in. We all had known it was already stage 4. We did not have the heart to tell him and we requested as much as we can that the doctor not tell him. He can withstand a lot of news but we knew that deep within he was also trying hard to hold on and be strong for all of us. I have seen his eyes many times with that deep sadness and the Lord knows how many times I have tried to swallow very hard and quickly change topics so we both can continue to smile again. Thankfully, I was so fast in finding a reason to step out so he wouldn’t see me bawling in tears.

I guess when you know that death is to come, you accept even this pain of loss that your loved ones will have to go through. After settling all earthly affairs as best as you can, you begin to offer everything even all the things you have not been able to do for them anymore to your Maker.

One Sunday before a major operation, I went with Dad to do his lab tests. Sandwiched in between finishing one test and claiming the result was a space of an hour. I quickly asked about Sunday Mass and we were amazingly able to catch one nearby. As the Mass was finishing up, I whispered to Dad if he wanted to have confession. He immediately said yes. A visit to Padre Pio came after. I knew someone up there was arranging all schedules and putting all our errands easy on us. At another time, after voting for the next President of the Philippines (which he made sure not to miss), I asked him if he wanted to go to the Adoration Chapel near where we voted and with cane in hand and despite slow steps, he said yes. Upon entering the small room, he took off his hat, went to the middle aisle, laid himself prostrate on the floor for what can seem like a very long time. 

My prayers for my Dad had been very immense all this time always punctuated with tears and a thousand tissues. As I walked with my Dad through his physical battles which also meant physically doing it, walking beside his stretchers and holding his hand as needed, I also walked with him through his spiritual preparation for death. However difficult that was, I also saw my own faith and prayers change. From wanting my Dad healed, I prayed for my Dad’s peaceful passing and a full acceptance of the Lord to the end. The picture of him prostrated on that floor was enough to move me to a thousand tears which needed to be wiped as instantly as he saw my gaze again. It was also enough for me to be assured that he was setting his eyes on his Maker.

God knows how big an ordeal all this was for me. The radical shift in my role in the family was not easy to take. If this was a thunderstorm of a trial, I felt like I was a tree on a mountaintop during a terrible storm only that the mountain was denuded and I was the only tree left standing. It was only by God’s grace that I was able to carry on everything and had helped everyone else most especially my dearest Dad carry on through everything. In the end, swallowing all the difficult tasks that kept pouring on my lap, sorting out all conflicts and managing all those errands compounded by that adjustment within myself that I am yes just a little Daddy’s girl trying to hold on to my Dad as much as I can, were things I endured because of one simple truth – I loved my Dad! I have been loved immensely from the very start and so could never not do anything for him.

I loved my Dad and I told him that every single day to the point that he even complained already saying, “Alam ko na yun! May gagawin ka pa!” There was a time after his first surgery that he was able to go back to work and even drive again. One night that we had car trouble, his arm got hurt as he held on to the car door with a frantic look at me because the car was being driven by a stranger who had offered to help us on the road. At another time, after I arrived on his bedside and having talked to my Mom, and hearing all my happy chatter about the food I just got for everyone, he pulled me to himself and hugged me tight saying to my ears, “Lord, I love my daughter. I want you to take care of my daughter.” I can sense his voice breaking and I just fought hard not to cry in front of both my parents. 

Maybe his oncologist also saw that I, among us who were frequently in the hospital, was that person who can take on anything. The matters he and I discussed in private were actually so difficult to handle. There was more bad news than there was good. The gentle but firm doctor was probably along Dad’s age as well. I see it a miracle that we were able to have him, one of the finest in the country, at such short notice. Dad’s courage and steel determination to get better was complemented by the doctor’s strong support. Dad anchored himself on the thought of wellness and of living each day well. If he ever did experience pain, he had little to say about it often telling me he was just fine. He did not show any fear in his eyes and if there ever was immense pain, he bore it in silence and with grace most of the time. Dad never once cornered me about his condition even as he knew, the intelligent man that he was, that I knew things that I could not bear to tell him. 

One of the last words of Dad’s oncologist was, “You know very well, Therese, that your Dad is dying, right?” The same words kept repeating in my head as we walked out the hospital for the last time. Fellow patients and their families who were there kept a moment of silence seeing us go. It had been a men’s ward and meeting the silent gaze of everyone was enough for me to feel the silent respect they had for my Dad even as they could just vicariously see the man my father was seeing him struggle through the pain. That night we brought him home, I kept him company by talking to him and holding his hand. I can feel his end was near. There was still a return of my grasp at that time. Still holding on to faith, I whispered prayers of surrendering to the Lord to him even finding songs in Youtube along these lines. A day before that when he was still conscious, I told him, “Pa, pray ka lang. Pray ka lang, Pa. If masyado nang masakit at mahirap na magdasal, isipin mo na lang si Sacred Heart.” His speech was already slurred then and so it took me a time to figure out what he was mumbling. He had replied, “Pik-chur!” Amazingly, Mom had one. And so when his time came, I knew with conviction that he had prepared himself very well. I may remember seeing quiet tears on his cheeks but I remember more the quiet peace.

Dad would have wanted me to read this piece I am writing about him aloud I bet like all the other articles I have written especially the ones that saw print. He would usually request that and would even close his eyes as he listens to my every word. My published works and achievements were things he had always been very proud of. 

The coach of my life was always one to defend me and to mentor me on my life decisions. He was that one person who believed in me unwaveringly. I write this piece about him not to relive the pain and the difficulties of letting him go and seeing him suffer but to thank him for all the love a daughter could ever ask from her dearest Dad. Maybe the Lord also sent me to him so his tenderness as a Dad could shine because I know very well that even as my Mom and I have a dear tender relationship which I have written about time and again, it is this relationship with my Dad that has made the strong, courageous, faithful and hopeful person that I am today. 

One time at the Chinese General Hospital where he was confined, I saw Dad was in one of his finest moments. He was recuperating from a second major surgery which he amazingly endured. It was perhaps around 6 PM and he had been reading his favorite newspaper. When he saw me arrive at his bedside with everyone’s dinner, he put aside his newspaper and closed his eyes. He asked me with a smile that was from ear to ear, “Where are the stars, Therese? Can you see the stars?” His head was against the window. I really couldn’t see the stars myself as the window’s glass was opaque. Then again, I whispered back to him what I was sure to see beyond the window, “Yes, Dad, I can see the stars!”

With a daughter’s heart full of love and gratefulness, I can tell you Dad that despite whatever darkness this life has, be it grief, illness, death, suffering or pain, I can see the stars more clearly now because you have helped me see them by the way you lived. You are forever in my heart as I have always known I am forever in yours.

And because I can see the stars, Dad, I know now how to begin life again.

Share your vote!

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

Leave a Reply

Please share this