The members of the Davao Writers Guild regret the passing of fellow writer Josie C. San Pedro and express herewith our condolences to her bereaved family. In her memory, I would like to publish here for the first time an essay that I asked her to write sometime in 2004 for possible inclusion in an anthology I was then editing with Agnes Prieto. The book, Fallen Cradle: Parents on the Loss of a Child, was eventually published by Anvil in 2006, but did not include her piece on her son Mandy because she was not able to return it to me on time after I gave her suggestions for its revision. It was a loss for the book. Now with her passing, she has taken with her a substantial amount of Davao history yet to be written. It will be some time before Davao will find another chronicler of its peoples and times as fervent and well-loved as Tita Josie.
Ricardo M de Ungria
All his friends were there—during the wake in the house, at the church, and at the memorial park. They had sent him off with an affectionate farewell.
When Mandy left for work on that fateful morning of April 26, 1996, it was with his usual jauntiness on board his prized motorcycle. The next time I saw him was in a corner of the emergency room of a hospital as a doctor and several nurses were to work up his heart.
He never woke up. I wonder if he had heard me imploring,” Mandy, don’t give up. Fight, Mandy, fight. Don’t leave us.” Did he hear me praying to God Almighty to give him a little more time with his children?
His life was just beginning, with a loving wife and three beautiful children—ages seven, five, and three, and with another on the way, still floating at four months in his/her mother’s womb. This one will never see the smile on his/her father’s face or feel the warmth of his loving embrace or taste the sweetness of his kisses.
My faith tells me, “God’s will be done. Accept.” I will. I do. I honestly do. But I can’t help the tears from flowing in the parched wilderness of grief, even as I recall in my mind and my heart the happy times we had together.
He was a very unique child. Of all our eight children, not only was he the youngest; he was the only one born in the hospital. The morning he was born, I remember the nurse telling me rather shakily that something was wrong with him. What? My heart was in turmoil. Was he a blue baby or was he disfigured? NO. But he had only two fingers on the left hand—the small finger and the thumb. Thank heaven. Deep in my heart I thanked God for giving me this little bundle, with its imperfection. I will help him overcome it.
Mandy grew up robust and sociable, with a quick responsiveness to people, even to strangers. He was never self-conscious about his missing fingers. And if playmates commented on them (children can be cruelly frank), he simply shrugged it off. But if it was done rather maliciously a second time, then a fight ensued. He was the handyman around the house. If anything needed repair, he was the one the hired help always turned to. And he was the most helpful with chores around the house. I knew he was the last to go to bed, when in the morning I find the kitchen sink spic and span and the living room neat and in order. The boys used to watch TV up to late nights on Fridays and Saturdays, and usually it was Mandy who cooked and prepared the midnight snack. Afterwards, all the others simply jumped into their beds. But Mandy always cleaned up before going to sleep.
When his elder brother went to kindergarten at the Ateneo, I requested the principal to allow him in as a visitor so he could adapt to a class full of children—so that when he goes to school on his own, he would have become self-confident, stronger, and capable of protecting himself in case he should meet some ribbing from his classmates. I learned later that he ended up the defender of Caloy, his brother, every time the latter was bullied by bigger boys.
He grew up loving sports—swimming, ping pong, basketball, and softball. Among our six sons, he was the only one who played with the children of the squatters living behind our house. He even taught them softball and brought his bat, ball, and a set of gloves over to them whenever he played. Why did he have a set? There’s a story behind this.
When he was in Grade Five, he qualified for the basketball team. But when a new coach saw his left hand, he was advised to drop from the team, for he might break his little finger in the rough and tumble of the game. He came home crying, and his father said, “Change your sport.” So he took up softball, where his fingers would be protected by a glove. First he was an outfielder, then he tried for pitcher, and ended up a catcher.
At the Davao City High School, he was on the softball team for four years. How he gloried in the sports and how proud he was of his team!
Of all our boys, he had the most number of girlfriends. One a time, of course. Lovely girls, and all with a talent for singing. One of them is now a well-known national singer/instrumentalist.
Mandy always put his heart in whatever endeavor he undertook. When he was at Ateneo de Davao University he was also on the softball team. Each year he had a set of uniforms, and he even shared the jogging pants and sandos with Caloy who was then at UPLB. He was a very dedicated volunteer for the Red Cross. Aside from running errands for the board and staff and helping conduct trainings for the young boys and girls, he also served as an example for them. He was a two-gallon donor of blood.
He married a former classmate in grade school and in high school. Curiously, it was only after college, when he was running a café (an enterprise with his Ateneo barkada), that they met again and became interested in each other.
Mandy was a caring husband and father. I was very glad when he joined the Bukas Loob Sa Diyos Covenant Community. He was living his Faith in relationship with others. He was well-liked among the members and they looked upon him as a son for all the respect, deference, and helpfulness he showed.
My husband and I could not believe that his life would end so soon. And the same was true with his wife, his father, his siblings, his friends. Mandy was and has always been a special gift from God to our family.
The tremendous outpouring of sympathy and support, both material and spiritual, from the people he worked for and with, at the Davao Fruits Corporation; the growers and their families, specially at P-One; those he prayed and praised with at the Bukas Loob Sa Diyos Covenant Community; his childhood, high school, and college friends; and our own friends and associates have given us much help in lifting the heavy burden of bereavement.
The wake at our home was always a pleasant gathering of people whose lives he had touched and who shared their own remembrances of how he had been with them—the pranks they enjoyed at school; his eagerness to help in chores in his friends’ homes; his eager-beaver volunteer work at the Red Cross; his helpfulness at playing traffic officer after their BLD meetings at San Pablo Church; and many other things his family didn’t know about but all which brought much joy to our hearts. Until he passed away, we never knew how many friends he had made among the plantation workers or how many baptismal godchildren he had. They came to the house, sitting quietly, some bringing flowers picked from their gardens. Some came late in the night, after their work, and left at dawn. Some of his friends were old folks who lived at the periphery of the plantation. He always had an uncanny connection with old people—shades of his loving relationship with my father who passed away on May 11, 1994, almost two years before Mandy joined him. With them all we shared our loss and expressed to them in various ways our deep and lasting gratitude for taking him into their fold.
On the second night of his wake, while his brothers and sisters were going through his Bible, they found a neatly folded letter handwritten by him on June 18, 1995, a year after he and his wife had joined the BLD.
It was a letter addressed to God, and I would like to share it here with other mothers like me who have lost a child and found so much comfort in his words.
June 18, 1995
I know that you have always been at my side, looking after me. I am aware that that there is not a single moment in my life that you are not aware of. From the moment I was still in my mother’s womb ‘til I was born, from my childhood to the present. Because I know you created me. I am your masterpiece; no other person is like me.
Knowing this, I still take you for granted at times and forget that I existed because of you. I am shameful of this and I would like to make up for my shortcomings.
Thank you for looking after me all these years, and I promise you, that my life will dedicated to serving you and you alone.
Thank you Lord for all the blessings you have given me. The BLD community has certainly brought me back closer to you. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than knowing that all the things you have given me, I can also give back to you, through your gift of praises, and I can also be of service to you my dear Creator.
Thank you Lord for all the hardships and trials in my life. I know that I will become a better person after all of these.
Forgive me if at times, I desire much more than I need. I know that true security lies not in what things one has, but in what things one can do without. Lord, I know that I can never do without you.
I am looking forward to a better relationship with you Lord, and please, as you always have been, be there to guide me.