Preparing for Goodbye

Like most flights bound for Manila, the plane was filled with the chatter of Filipinas with their children and the banter of Filipino seamen. Their excitement to be with their families in a matter of hours was palpable throughout the 14-hour ride. I, on the other hand was preparing myself for another sad homecoming, another arrival in the NAIA—but without my husband to meet me at the airport. I told myself, though, that I was not alone. I imagine many Filipinos working abroad go through this experience of having to say a final good-bye to their loved ones. This indeed is one of the dreaded moments for us Filipinos living abroad, to get news of a family member’s death .

Like most flights bound for Manila, the plane was filled with the chatter of Filipinas with their children and the banter of Filipino seamen. Their excitement to be with their families in a matter of hours was palpable throughout the 14-hour ride. I, on the other hand was preparing myself for another sad homecoming, another arrival in the NAIA—but without my husband to meet me at the airport. I told myself, though, that I was not alone. I imagine many Filipinos working abroad go through this experience of having to say a final good-bye to their loved ones. This indeed is one of the dreaded moments for us Filipinos living abroad, to get news of a family member’s death .

In one way though, one should expect Filipino migrants to be “experts” at saying goodbye. After all, as hundreds leave our country daily, it seems that as a nation we are conditioned to be well-versed in the art of saying goodbye. Or that we are such an optimistic people that we know we will see our loved ones after the end of a contract or during happy moments of birthdays, weddings and graduations.

I thought I was prepared. Whenever I expressed anxiety over my death or his death, Lito would matter-of-factly say, “In the long run, we are all dead.” He got himself a policy plan that specified that he wanted to be cremated. He decided to avail himself of early retirement from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) last June after almost 30 years of government service because he said gasoline costs were rising so fast that it was no longer economically efficient to be commuting to and from Los Baños.

He conditioned me many times, saying he had done his share of raising our daughters and he was ready to go. When he was first diagnosed to have enlargement of the heart in April 2005, he told me the time for him to go was fast approaching. And when he was hospitalized the second and the last time during the Christmas holidays, he said he was so tired. As I saw the independent Lito slowly yield to his dependence on me during our stay in the hospital for 18 days, as I saw him in pain and irritable with all the cocktail of pills he was taking and the dozens of tests and x-rays he was subjected to, as I saw him being wheeled to the operating room for a simple colonoscopy, I prepared myself all these times to accept a final goodbye.

And when he finally died, I told myself and my children that painful as it was, it was important for us to let go and say our final goodbye, for Papa had suffered so much. It was selfish for us to cling to him knowing that he was in pain and that he himself was preparing to go. During his wake, stories of his commitment towards a better society, of his dedication to struggle against injustice, of his devotion to teaching, of his steadfastness to be a civil servant who genuinely made the people’s interests the center of his work, of his simplicity amidst his brilliance, of the many lives he touched and of his love for his daughters and me, confirmed that Lito had lived a full life. And that I should celebrate this life and say good-bye to this man who not only loved me unconditionally but who, in his own principled way, contributed to make ours a more just and sustainable society.

I kept assuring myself that Lito’s passing away was not as heavy as other Filipinos’ experience of their loved ones’ deaths. My children and I were surrounded by our families and our friends who helped cushion the pain. Lito’s foresight on the economics of dying, along with the generosity of family and friends, did not leave us bankrupt like thousands of Filipinos, who end up, after the exorbitant costs of hospitalization and dying, eating up their savings and with a highly indebted future.

Upon my return to Europe last February, I buried myself in work. I travelled to Africa thinking that the poverty in the region and the amount of work would divert my attention to the more important problems of the world. Work, after all, was not only part of my identity, it was also therapy. I was pretty certain that I had prepared myself for this goodbye and was making progress to move on.

More than a month after Lito’s passing away, I realize one is never ready for this final goodbye or perhaps, more generally, one can never really fully prepare for what life has to offer. When Lito and I met more than 30 years ago, what brought us together was our commitment  not only to the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship but also to the construction of a more just, equitable, democratic and sovereign Philippines. Later we started another life project of raising four daughters. With our daughters all grown up, what was our next project? It would have been grandchildren. But on hindsight, even as he loved children and would have been the perfect doting grandfather, we never talked about them as if he knew he would not live to see his own daughters have their own children.

On his 50th birthday in 2005, Lito cried—he was sorry and in despair that he would not be able to see the fruits of his almost 37 years of fight against injustice. The further deterioration of the economy and politics coupled with the internal divisions in the movement, were signs that he would not see the more just and equitable Philippines that he wanted, in his lifetime.

At the Frankfurt airport before boarding the plane bound for Manila, I bought the book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I was still in the mode of buying books for Lito and was sure he would have loved this book as it exposed how some economists contributed to ensuring new forms of colonialism and dependence after World War II. Brilliant as he was, Lito could easily have lived a similar life to that of the EHM. After all he was one of the first natural resource economists to be trained abroad in the early 1980s when sustainable development was just starting to be introduced in the development lexicon.

But instead Lito put himself at the service of his cause for a just and sustainable Philippines where farmers, fisherfolk and other marginalized sectors are genuinely empowered. He believed in creating a new generation of economists honed in excellence and deeply committed to transforming our country. He shunned corruption and personal aggrandizement. He prioritized instilling values of honesty and integrity in his daughters.

One cannot really be prepared to finally say goodbye to this special man, especially in these most trying times where we need paragons of uprightness in service to the Filipino people. As I lie in our bed and recall our life together, I cry and realize I am still not ready to say goodbye to Lito, who was always there for me and our daughters.

Preparing for goodbye is such a complex and painful process one is never truly equipped to finally let go.

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