When Death Comes

She died 2 weeks after I passed the board exams.

She waited for me.

My Lola waited for me to come home before she let go.

The news of her collapsing on the floor and a gradual decrease in sensorium was something I didn’t expect to hear exactly 1 week before my board exams. I put down my phone, stared blankly at the microbiology reviewer in front of me and  was unmoved by  Boston’s quizzical gaze. I managed a deep breath. I looked at Sheena’s empty bunk—- she went home barely a month ago when news of her father’s stroke shook us all.She never returned and decided on taking the exams on August instead. With Sheena gone, Boston and I have divided the room into her study area and mine–we  go on for hours without talking, forgetting each other even existed, because every minute is selfishly for our medical books. Then this happened—we talked and she told me to cry if I wanted to. I did not weep until the next day when my Dad told me that a craniotomy was being considered if the bleeding in her brain does not stop. It stopped on the 2nd day and she was saved from a procedure that might increase her morbidity. She woke up from her coma but had gaps in memory and had behavioral changes. She became whiny and irritable.

She was discharged from the ICU after 5 days and was recovering in her room on the week of my board exams. It unburdened my heart a bit. I somehow blame myself for the stress that led to her stroke. My dad told me that weeks before she collapsed, my Lola has been going to church everyday, offering mass for me and even had a hard time sleeping as the days of my board exams approached. Worried and occupied, she would wake up at 3 am and prayed.

As I took my exam, I kept thinking of her. This exam was for her.

When the results came out, I called my mom and I was weeping on the phone—happy yet sad because one of my friends who worked so hard did not make the list—I wept for her. She told my Lola and she said “we should be thankful”.

I went home after 2 days, went straight to the hospital from the airport. I literally lived in her room for a week. I thought she was going to be well, but she could not swallow. Her food was delivered through a nasogastric  tube that she kept pulling. It was not easy on my heart to see her that way—she cried and wailed at night. She was disoriented, kept calling her dead sisters’s names and sometimes I’d like to believe that she was hallucinating or my Lolo’s ghost was fetching her. She had this habit of pointing at a nothingness beside the refrigerator of the hospital room—she would point at the exact same spot everyday.

My parents, my brothers and I took turns holding her hands while she slept because sleep does not come easy when there is no one beside her.  She would seek us at night, call our names—she called my Dad most of the time—afraid of being alone even if we were sleeping around her in our folding beds.

Disoriented most of the time, she never forgot me. She knew me by name. She was sad though and I could feel the profound suffering within the pink walls of the hospital room. I told one of my friends that I would give up my license anytime just to have my Lola back. The last time I talked to her was January 4, 2010 when I went back to Manila for my board review. I never imagined it this way. She was asleep most of the time,  almost aphasic, somewhat depressed. The gravity of her condition displaced all the joy I felt. This license is nothing compared to my Lola’s life.

She died on a Tuesday.

She left a white box under her bed in at home. I knew it existed but I only saw it when we came home to prepare her wake.This was inscribed on the cover: “In case of death please open this box” . It was not a last will and testament.It contained all the clothes that she wanted to wear when she died—her dress, stockings, gloves, a towel and a rosary. An envelope contained passages that  she wanted written on her coffin. The date on the box was March 2004. I knew she was not afraid to die, she had everything prepared 6 years ago.

Days before she died, I watched her on her hospital bed, as she raised her hands and said “Lord, where are you?I need you. Take me Lord”. That was her prayer.

Whenever i write my license number, I think of her. My license is sacred, as sacred as my memory of her.

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