It is a Friday, 5 am, and Maris comes home after having pulled yet another all-nighter. She goes up to her room and sees her two children, Gabby, six, and Patrick, three, sleeping and oblivious to the creaking door as it opens. Maris enters and sits at one side of the bed watching her children. Her eyes linger on them for a moment, then fall on two travel bags that remind her of her flight to Tacloban City later that day. She glances at her watch, she realizes that she still has to go to work in three hours.
Coming home in the wee morning hours is normal for Maris — at least now it is. She works for two law firms, one in the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and another with a consultancy for a business process outsourcing company. As the law firms don’t require her to be present daily, she also handles cases in her private practice. It is not the hours that measure the work that she does, it is the load of corporate cases she handles within those hours and after hours. Draining, but Maris does not let this get to her.
But this is not how it all used to be.
Maris started Law school in 1999. She met her husband-to-be, Jude, when she was in 1st year and he in 2nd year. They were running under the same political party for the Law Student Government. Maris won as PRO, and Jude won as Treasurer. They worked together as student leaders for a year. It was only after the term when they fell in love.
Maris and Jude began a family, though unexpected, with the birth of their daughter, Gabby. Patrick followed four years later. She was blessed to have Jude as her husband and as the father of her children. Although Jude had a very demanding job, his first priority was always the children. As to her, Jude couldn’t be a more devoted and commited husband. Maris describes married life with Jude: “May masaya, may malungkot, may mahirap din na adjustments kasi medyo seloso siya. Pero all in all, it was worth it.” Maris and Jude were able to balance their work and the fruits of their work, and share it with their children.
On her birthday, March 26, 2007, Maris first brought Jude to the hospital because he complained of unbearable stomach pains. “It started with 2 weeks na feeling bloated and gassy siya nung last 2 weeks of February 2007. Tapos nung first two weeks of March may pains na, paunti-unti, pawala-wala, tapos hanggang naka-feel na sya ng constipation.” Since then, their trips to the hospital became frequent.
It was on the first week of May when Jude was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. His doctor said he needed chemotherapy immediately.
“It’s not something you immediately understand,” Maris says when asked about her first reaction upon hearing what the doctors had just said. Shock. Fear. Sadness. Denial. A rush of emotions flowed through her, leaving her confused and searching for answers to her questions.
For a battling cancer patient, one should truly give his all. And Jude did, despite being impatient by nature and despite wanting to give up several times. Maris saw this unwavering determination from Jude as he fought for his life because of his kids. Maris says, “Si Jude kasi hindi matiisin na tao, mahirap sa kanya magtiis ng matagal.”
From April to May, she had to be responsible for everything. She took care of the errands, like going to the grocery, buying medicines, etc. And while Jude was confined in the hospital, she would take care of the check-ups and lab tests. When the school year started, she would bring Gabby to school before lunch and pick her up later in the afternoon. During weekends, when Jude stayed in the hospital for his chemo sessions, Maris and the children would stay in the hospital as well.
Maris and Jude’s relationship also changed for the better, “We became more appreciative of each other. Mas na-prove namin how much we love each other.” Maris promised Jude that she would tell him if he wasn’t getting any better. She never did. Maris didn’t want to believe he was getting worse. In the last two weeks of his life, the pneumonia hit and he needed oxygen to breathe. Maris still wanted to believe he would recover, that it was just temporary, that Jude would be able to overcome it. But it was clear: Jude was not going to get better.
On August 3, three months after Jude’s diagnosis, Jude’s oncologist asked to speak with Maris. She wanted to prepare Maris for the inevitable. That night when the doctor made her rounds, by some twist of fate, Maris was also out to buy some medicine. The doctor, then, decided to speak to Maris the following day. But by another twist of fate, Jude went into a coma after suffering from a cardio-respiratory arrest at around six in the morning. He was transferred to the ICU where he spent the remaining moments of his life.
August 4: for hours, Maris had wanted to go the restroom but she kept herself from going because she was afraid that something would happen. Maris watched Jude’s blood pressure go up and down. Beside her was Jude’s mother. The kids stayed in a separate room. Maris kept on talking to Jude even though he was already on respirator and unable to talk. At around three in the afternoon, they asked the nurses if they could send Gabby in. Maris didn’t want to, at first, afraid that it might traumatize Gabby. But she asked Jude if he wanted to see her and tears ran down his face.
“I love you, Papa.” Gabby just said, and tears kept on flowing down his face. And as he listened to Patrick, who wasn’t allowed at all to enter the ICU, talk over the phone, Jude could not do anything but cry.
Jude died that same night at seven o’clock.
Maris was in denial. She was tired, and she just wanted to sleep it off. “That’s how I am pag sad or problemado. Gusto ko matulog.” But she had so many things to attend to. The wake came first. After Jude died, she went home get Jude’s barong, pants, and everything else she needed for the wake. Upon entering the door, she broke down. Her house helpers held her tight as she could not longer keep herself from breaking down.
After Jude lost his fight, Maris began her own — the painful struggle to start anew. Just two months after Jude died, Maris immediately went back to work. Though hesitant at first to work long hours, Maris felt the need to work double-time to shoulder all the expenses. “When I started working, very hesitant ako to work long hours. Kaya lang, after a few months of working, di talaga kaya ng finances. Kailangan talaga mag double-time, kaya eto….” Despite the heavy work load, Maris makes sure she does not miss out on her kids: “Quality time na lang. Bawi na lang pag bakasyon. Pag late ako umuuwi, as much as possible late ako pasok the following day para magkita kami ng mga bata. Pag maaga ako umaalis in the morning, I try to go home before they sleep. Kailangan eh.”
Loneliness is Maris’ main struggle. She feels it the most during weekends because these are the times spent with the family. During family events in school, she becomes sentimental because she realizes how incomplete they are. And when there are decisions to be made for the family, she does not have anyone to share it with. She is now solely responsible for the family.
It has been more than a year, and Maris still gets lonely sometimes. Being a single parent in itself is a constant struggle for Maris. “Maraming beses na I feel so tired, emotionally, physically. I just wish I have a partner to share it with. Iba rin talaga to raise kids all by yourself.” Maris even manages to crack a joke when she remembers something she and Jude used to talk about before he died. “Sabi niya wag daw ako mag-asawa. Mag boyfriend nalang daw ako. Not out of selos but because ang fear niya paano kung hindi mahalin ng guy sila Gabby and Patrick.” It’s ironic how they managed to talk about this when they didn’t even get to talk much about other things, not even the plans for the funeral — where Jude wanted to be buried, etc.
The past year was a year of adjustments and changes. Maris is amazed at how strong she’s turned out to be. She’s blessed to see how much Gabby and Patrick have grown. She tells everybody that there are things that everyone has to learn to accept. Not all things are meant to be understood. Despite this loss that Maris has been through, she has not lost her faith in God. In fact, she has grown deeper into her relationship with the Lord. She has learned to entrust everything according to His will.
“Jude found the Lord and began a very personal relationship with Christ. Together, we praised God for the beautiful life that He has blessed us with. Together, we stormed the gates of heaven with prayers of healing and faith. Together, we found peace, love and grace in the arms of our Lord and Savior.” (from Maris’ eulogy)
Seeing Maris now, whether you know her or not, she’s a person to look up to not only because of what she has become, but because of her strength to overcome all the things that she’s been through. She only has simple hopes and dreams for her and her family. No, she does not expect to get married again. She’s preparing herself to grow old alone. “Ayoko mag expect na makapag asawa ulit. Kung may darating, maraming salamat. Kung wala, maraming salamat pa rin.”
Just like any doting parent, her focus is giving her kids a good life and enjoying life with them, “As cliché as it may sound, I just really want them to grow up as good Christians. I want them to grow up with the love for God, their country, their family and friends. I want them to grow up as decent as they possibly can.”
And as for her self, she lives by the Latin phrase, “Carpe diem” or “seize the day”. She wants to travel more, climb Mt. Apo, become a Master Scuba Diver, and whatever she can achieve in being a lawyer. Jude’s death has taught her the importance of living life to the fullest, not tomorrow, but today.
Jamie Villarosa recently received her AB English degree from Ateneo de Davao University. She wrote this piece for her Feature Stories class.