June 25, 2011

Never say goodbye

(Mama, Papa and my siblings strolling at the Roxas Blvd. breakwater, I think. That's me in the stroller. It's just me, Mama and Big Sister now.)

I CANNOT imagine how it is to lose a spouse. I have never been married. Although there have been a few terrible moments of grief over the ending of a relationship with a lover, I doubt if it can compare to losing someone with whom you’ve spent a whole lifetime together.

When my mother lost my father four years ago, we never really knew how much in deep pain she really was. We never actually talked about it. We just assumed that she was coping well. Mama just has this ability to bounce back from every seemingly debilitating experience that she has undergone, whether it is losing a parent, a child, or her husband. Just a few weeks after she lost Papa, she was cleaning out his closet and separating his things from those that could still be used and those that would be donated.

Of course, there were tell-tale signs that she was hurting, especially in those few months after Papa left us. I would see pieces of Kleenex crumpled beside her pillow. And she really can no longer sleep without any light on, although she says it’s because of her poor eyesight.

Mama and Papa had been together for over 50 years. From the happiest moments and through the most trying of times in their marriage, they still managed to stick together. I suppose that was what their generation had been accustomed to. No one just throws in the towel and decides to walk away from a marriage despite the complications of one’s family life. But looking back, I know they were really meant for each other—Papa was the calm and cool water to Mama’s raging fire.

Now, we bring Papa’s photo just about everywhere we go. We talk to him, or make sumbong—aloud—like he was just around. Mama has kept a few of his shirts and many of his photos from their years with each other. By her bedside is one of Papa when he was still young and handsome, wearing his graduation toga, with his dedication: “To Telé darling, I will always love you forever.” It is a promise that I suppose keeps Mama going on, even when Papa is no longer with us. In death there is no farewell, just a momentary parting of ways. ’Til we all meet again.

* * *

IN this space, I would like to share this beautiful eulogy by University of the Philippines Prof. Roland Simbulan, which he read aloud before the internment of his wife-journalist Chit Estella’s ashes on the 40th day after her death at the San Agustin Church in Intramuros on June 21. Thank you to Ellen Tordesillas of VERA Files for allowing me to share this moving piece.

Living and Loving Chit Estella*
21 June 2011
By Roland Simbulan

YOU were snatched from us “as swift as the wind” as you were on your way to meet your high-school batchmates that fateful evening of May 13, 2011. Your life and character, as eulogized by so many, personified you as “gentle as a forest, fierce as fire, firm as a mountain,” to borrow from Sun Tzu. Just the other day, I read a note from one of your journalism students who thanked you “for teaching us how to dream.” Another wrote, “You are not only our professor and adviser, but a mother to the youth who helped us strive for goals that could not be bought.” To me, you are all these, but more.

How excited you were as we read your horoscope for Leo the morning of that fateful day. It said, “Today, you are going to experience something that is not only evolutionary, but something that is very revolutionary. It will be a life-changing event.” Notwithstanding that it was Friday the 13th, I remember your eyes sparkle that morning as you remarked that, finally, this may be your lucky day for you are going to win your lotto ticket. And when I kissed you goodbye that morning to leave for a meeting, I was looking forward to be welcomed by your hug and kiss that evening, the way we usually do.

How can I not miss you when we have known each other for 34 years? Remember when we first met as undergrad students in the Philippine Collegian during martial law? And then became seatmates in the Modern Political Theory class of Dean Dodong Nemenzo? For me that was no coincidence; it was fate, as we have become inseparable since then. We have even lately been making travel plans for our coming 30th wedding anniversary this October, and I even recall you saying that we should be planning on what more socially meaningful things we can do together after our retirement.

How can I not miss a soul mate like you whose intellectual growth I have come to get used to growing up with, as my wife, my best friend, adviser, critic, fellow advocate in national and social advocacy (and), most of all, as my beloved? I will miss your reminders for me to give bigger tips to underpaid waiters or watch-your-car boys. There is so much good in you. Remember December 25, 1999, when we were jointly composing “21 Ways to Sustainable Living in the 21st Century” and you added an item on top of our list: “Always try to do a good deed for someone every day, especially those who can never pay you back.” And I remember your modesty when you embarrassingly laughed when I dedicated one of my books “To Chit, beloved inspiration.”

I will miss having breakfast with you every morning and enjoying the aroma of our brewed coffee with freshly crushed beans that perfumed our morning air. I will miss having your favorite Razon’s halo-halo with you. I will miss our long walks together while discussing anything under the sun and under the moon: at the UP Diliman oval every Sunday, and what we both in jest call our “Kennedy walks” at the undisturbed beaches of Masinloc Bay in Zambales. I shall sorely miss your frequent and very sweet texting any time of the day even just to ask how I was or what I had for lunch. And I will really miss, after long hours of work, our occasional foot spas together to relax even as you endured my snoring.

(Simbulan and Estella on their wedding day. Photo from the Justice for Chit Estella-Simbulan Facebook page.)

I will miss the favorite dishes you liked to especially cook for me during weekends like my favorite pasta, chicken rosemarie, beef or lamb caldereta, and your vegetable salads with fruits and nuts. I will miss our dinners, coffee, lunches out just us together, or with long-time friends or relatives who happen to be visiting Manila.

I will miss giving you flowers even when it is not your birthday, or even when it is not Valentine’s Day. I will miss announcing on our white board in our Tandang Sora house that waking up every morning and every day with you is like heaven on earth. Yes, I will miss courting you everyday.

In my private moments of grief, I listen and reflect on the lyrics of your favorite Filipino singer Noel Cabangon, “Ang buhay nga naman hindi mo maintindihan, hindi mo alam ang hanganan...hindi ka malilimutan...ikaw ay pag-uusapan sa iyong paglisan.... O kay ganda ang mag-alay sa iyo.” And yes, I will be strong, keep healthy and will take good care of myself for you so that I can continue what we dreamt together for our nation and people. Thank you for sharing so much of you with me—the love, the laughter, the heartaches, even the disappointments.

It was just like the other day, you were with us so full of life and energy, then left us “swift and sure and sharp as grace,” as Katherine Mosby in the Book of Uncommon Prayers wrote. A friend whispered to me during the celebration of your life, “Hindi mawawala sa aming puso at isip ang mga kabutihan ni Chit sa kanyang mga kaibigan at ang dedikasyon niya para sa bayan [Chit’s kindness to friends and dedication to the people will remain in our hearts and minds].” Oh, how we all miss your smile, your voice, your very presence. Chit, you are alive in all of us whom you have touched with your example, your nerves of steel even under fire, and your acts of kindness.

But, I will see you in every courageous reporter or editor whose mission and zeal is to write and print the TRUTH, no matter what powerful forces are offended. I will see you in every student and journalist you have taught to be upright and honest, and who knows the meaning of what you call “the right thing to do,” Mahal, I will see you in others who will continue what you stand for. I will see you in every Filipino who fights for sovereignty, good government and the welfare of this country which you love and served so well. I know that they will fight harder to honor your memory.

Many say that even if your life was cut short by this tragedy, “you lived life to the fullest” with the power of your pen and the genuine respect that you have gained from your peers and students. As journalist, editor, teacher and friend, you touched so many lives, who showed and expressed their outpouring of love, gratefulness and respect for you and our family these past few days. Your life is emulated by so many who strive to live by your ideals and example.

I will see you—a beautiful human being whom I will always love, respect and adore—in every brave Filipino who, like your favorite Prometheus, takes fire and knowledge from the gods to share it with the common people so that the latter can be empowered. You live in the hearts of those you touched—the hoi polloi and oppressed especially.

Beloved, I will not really say goodbye.

*Vera Files trustee Lourdes Chit Estella-Simbulan died on May 13 and was cremated on May 17. We pray for the eternal repose of her soul, and for the family she has left behind. In her honor, the Simbulan family through Vera Files has launched the “Chit Estella Awards for Journalism” which intends to honor the best journalistic report and photo essay in print and online for the year, with the award to be handed out every August, Estella’s birth month. If you care about road safety, pls sign up at Justice for Chit Estella Simbulan on Facebook.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on June 24, 2011. Photo copyright owned by Stella Arnaldo.)

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