Chrysanthemums, Sirens, and Remembering

Nonfiction by | April 12, 2015

The jeepney that my friend and I were in lingered for a while across the emergency room of San Pedro Hospital; the driver was waiting for more passengers. I heard the siren of an ambulance approaching and I was curious to find out what was going to be brought out of the vehicle.

“Matanda na babae,” My friend Iggy told me.

“Parang. Feel ko din,” I said.

The ambulance stopped at the door of the emergency room and a girl about my age or younger got down from the ambulance. She was wearing house clothes– shorts that were big for her and a grey shirt. I didn’t exactly know if she was crying because her facial expression was not clear from where I was but when the gurney was being brought down from the vehicle I immediately covered my eyes with my hands and kept saying “Oh my God, Oh my God.” I saw the medic doing CPR on a man. The man’s body reacted lifelessly from the force of the medic’s hands. My heart was beating fast and I wanted to cry but I stopped myself from crying because I didn’t want the other people in the jeepney to see me cry.

I thought that five years after my father died, and seeing my mother slowly die, I would think of death as something ordinary. But I was wrong. I still couldn’t get over the experience of death. I still feel a pang in my heart when I hear an ambulance siren. It has been years since my father passed away. Though the pain is still there, the intensity of it has subsided. I still don’t want to pass by Southern Philippines Medical Center where my mother was confined and later died because I remember the days when we were there looking after her.

My brother Doi and I were staring at my father in the coffin.

“Hindi ko na hug si daddy nung time na namatay siya. Busy kasi ang mga tao,” I told him.“Puwede kaya?”

“Puwede yan. Sino man magpigil,” Doi answered and he removed the wreath of white flowers at the edge of my father’s coffin.

I heard gasps behind us. Not many people were there because it was already near midnight and it was the first day of the wake. I didn’t mind them at first but I kept it in mind to remember to tell them how angry I was with them. But my friends were there with me. They stood beside me as if barricading whoever or whatever that would try to stop me. Doi opened my father’s casket and I didn’t waste any time; I immediately hugged him. The thought of hugging a dead body didn’t bother me. The only thought that crossed my mind was that it was my father. I didn’t even smell any sign of death. My father smelled like he always did, the Rexona Axe for men deodorant scent that perhaps my mind wanted to smell. The hug should have felt normal if he hugged me back, but there was no reaction, not even the feeling of warmth. He was really cold.
“Daddy, ma-miss kita. I love you very much.” I again heard people talking behind us. They were saying “Bawal gud na. Dili gud na puwede.” I didn’t know who exactly those people were but I hated them for saying that. Who were they to tell me what I was doing was wrong and unacceptable? Who were they to deprive me of hugging my father for the last time? Apparently it was prohibited to cry over a person’s dead body because they will have a hard time crossing over ,carrying the sorrow of their loved ones over their shoulders when they try to reach the pearly gates. I didn’t care for their superstitious bullshit. What I cared about was my father who was dead and my need to hug him for the last time.

The first night of my father’s death was hard to endure. It was the first of knowing that he really was dead. I think that for some of us, the first night is the hardest. It also adds up to the sadness when I see the dead body inside of the casket. I wish that it is just a dream and the person inside of it will just wake up or when I wake up in the morning he will be there serving me breakfast or even calling my name as if nothing happened. But the next day, I woke up to the sight of the casket inside the room of the funeral home.

The things that were going through my mind during the wake were that I wish I could have done this and I wish I could have said that. But I also felt angry at my father that time. I was angry because he left without saying goodbye and didn’t prepare us for his death. I felt cheated and I felt it was really unfair. I was also angry with God because He took my father away from me without notice. I know that it is selfish of me to be even thinking of my own wellbeing when my father was already dead. But I really did feel these things. And like others, I also thought of “What will happen to me now?”

On the other hand, when my mother was dying I slowly accepted that she was going to die. The things that I felt during that time when I saw her on her death bed were regret, anger, and acceptance. I regretted that my mother was not going to hear the things that I was saying to her. I was questioning that spiritual or medical belief that my mom could actually hear me. If she heard me, how could it register when she was brain-dead? If I were certain it was true I might not be feeling this way now but I feel that it wasn’t enough. She should’ve heard me so she would feel guilty about what she did to our family. But I kept on talking to her, having that little hope in me that she would hear me. I told her that I loved her and asked forgiveness for only hearing one side of the story. I also said that the state that she was in that time was her own fault because she didn’t listen to us.

She died without us seeing her take her last breath. The time I saw her dead body in the morgue, it hit me that she really was dead. She was still covered in a white sheet from the ICU but I knew it was her. I loved her, but next to my feeling when my father died, my mother’s death paled in comparison. It might be because I was given the chance to say goodbye to her but I know the real reason is that I didn’t love her as much as I loved my father.
At the crematorium of the Davao Memorial Cemetery, we were all staring at our mother’s shortened body. I focused on her face, it was as if I was just looking at her while she was sleeping. She was covered with a bed sheet with flowers printed all over. We decided that it was what she wanted because my mother loved flowers. The only part of her body that wasn’t covered, not just yet, was her face. She looked peaceful. She looked like she was sleeping. Dead people all look like they are only sleeping.
They were about to place my mother inside the huge oven for cremation when I looked at her and my world began to shatter. The rest of my siblings were crying with me. But then my brother Doi made a joke out of things and made my world-shattering moment put on hold.

“Hala ka, hanapin ni Mommy yung paa niya. Dapat gisama natin dito,” Doi said.

“Nauna na yung paa niya sa heaven. Gina hintay na si mommy dun.” My sister Elaine answered.
I couldn’t help but smile at the simple joke about Mother’s amputation. My mother was then lifted and placed inside the oven, and when the doors were about to close, that was when the play button was pressed making my paused moment continue. This scene was just like the scene when my father was being placed inside his crypt and they were about to close it with cement. I felt as if I was not going to see them again. Their presence in my life would not be felt again. The connection I had with them whether it was good or bad will be lost. It is just like the feeling of a loved one far away from me. I wouldn’t miss them that much if I know I could go to them anytime, but if I were continents away I would really feel that it is impossible to see them even if I wanted to. It also felt like something was taken away from me. I felt that a part of me was gone, ripped from my body and slowly moving toward its total dissipation.

I feel the fears that are accompanied with this kind of separation. I feel the fear of knowing that I will not be able to see them again. I feel the fear of being incomplete.

What I am scared about is not knowing what is going to happen next when I die. I don’t know if there is a heaven, hell, or a life after death. There is no one who can actually say that there is. They will just answer you with “have faith.” I’m scared that if I let myself believe that I am going to see my parents one day, I would just get disappointed. What I don’t like about any death is that it reminds me of the ones that I have lost because of it. I hate smelling death, the smell of chrysanthemum flowers that are usually present at wakes. I hate hearing death like in the siren of an ambulance. When I remember my parents’ death I hate feeling the way that I felt during those times, like I have lost a part of me. I felt I would never be able to find and mend what was lost or what was broken. I hate it because I always get the feeling that I had forgotten to do something. It’s this nagging feeling I get when I think I forgot to lock my door, left the flatiron on, or close a faucet. If they say that the dead have unfinished business, the living are left with unfinished businesses too. The living are the ones who are left to deal with the pain and the loss. The living are the ones who are left to worry about how to move on and how to continue on living when they know they could never be complete again.

Ella Jade Ismael studied BA English major in Creative Writing at UP Mindanao and was a fellow at the 2010 Davao Writers Workshop.

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