The Strength to Say Good-Bye
My grandfather's name was Ireneo, but he was best known and called "Tata" by everyone in the family or Tatay Neo by everyone else who knew him. A few months before the completion of my second term as a Columban lay missionary, I heard news that my grandfather was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It was shocking news to all of us, because we never saw him seriously ill before. Being away from loved ones is never easy especially when things such as this happen.
While preparing to go home to the Philippines for my home vacation, I imagined what the scenario at home was like. My family lives together with our grandparents in the same house. My mom had been very stressed out upon learning about Tata's condition, and she developed hypertension. Our grandmother at that time wasn't aware of Tata's real disease and only knew that my grandfather had a growth in his stomach. Nobody was brave enough to tell her that it was the big "C." We underestimated her strength. My youngest brother who used to nurse him was leaving for Ireland the day after I arrived home. I kept telling myself that I would be helping out my mom in looking after my grandpa when I got home.
A few weeks before he died, I was very fortunate to be able to talk to my Tata about my work as a lay missionary. I remember him asking me one day when we were watching his favorite local TV drama, "Are you not tired of what you're doing in Taiwan?," and I smiled and told him that I am very happy with my life as a Columban lay missionary. He nodded and smiled back. He asked me when I will be going back to Taiwan and told me to always take good care of myself and my mom.
The three months being beside Tata and my family were moments that deeply impacted me. Seeing his facial expressions and hearing him almost shout and cry due to severe pain was never easy. Actually, pretending to be strong was difficult. I never showed Tata that I pitied him, nor shed a tear in front of him. Instead I cried when I was alone in my room. I never told him to hold on. One day when he mentioned that he was tired, I just told him that we were praying with him and for him and that he too needs to pray to God and tell Him what he wishes to happen. I never prayed that he would be with us longer. I prayed for God to help him end his pain and suffering. The entire family, especially my grandma was surrendering him to God.
I was also blessed to see how our clan helped each other in taking good care of Tata. During that week when Tata was at his weakest, my cousins and I took vigil the entire night. We treasured the few, short moments when he was conscious, awake, and talkative with us. I treasure the many times I helped out in giving him a bed bath and laughing with him as we joked about grandma. I am blessed to have witnessed those moments when everyone in the family including the kids whispered to his ears their words of love for him. I thank God for giving me the strength in leading them into prayer during his last hours. I used to fear death especially that of a loved one but God showed me how beautiful and blessed I am to have journeyed with my grandfather until his last breath, something I didn't experience when my dad passed away more than 20 years ago when he was in Japan as a migrant worker. It was painful, of course.
Even today, I still cry when I look back at those moments when Tata was around. Healthy and enjoying our pasalubong (take home goods/ food) with him…but now he's gone. Tata would always be the one left to look after the house when everyone would go somewhere, may it be to the nearby market, family outing, and during my mission sending Mass seven years ago.
I am grieving with my family for Tata's death, but I am forever grateful to God for the gift of faith He has given me, to be able to serve my grandpa and help out with my family at home. One month after his passing, I flew back to Taiwan to continue to serve as a long term lay missionary, carrying with me the love and inspiration that my grandpa shared with me. I pray that God will continue to look after my family back home and that He grants me the grace I need to be able to live out this love and faith and be able to share it with the people I minister to.
Columban lay missionary Sherry Lou Capili lives and works in Taiwan.