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Telling the Departed to go to the White Light

Like most everyone else today, I had the television on from early in the morning to mid-afternoon following the funeral ceremonies for the late former President. No, I was not stuck in front of the screen all that time; I had an ear cocked to what was being said by the commentators and went about as I normally do when I do not have to go to work.

A lot of the commentary was on what Kris said during her eulogy. I shall, therefore, ignore that here.

Instead, I shall focus on something the celebrant said to the deceased towards the end of the Mass, “Tita Cory… You have to go now…” Like she was right there inside the Cathedral…

These days are so different from those I grew up in. Then, we were so in touch with the spiritual, even the supernatural. Our beliefs were steadfast, even if they bordered on the superstitious.

Call me superstitious still; but this morning, even as the celebrant spoke publicly to the spirit of the deceased, I actually believed she was right there hearing every word!

Now, let me tell you this story that I hardly ever talk about because we – as a family – just do not wear our hearts on our sleeves. I will do so now for posterity and also to unload some of my personal baggage.

It was 1992, and my Mother was on her deathbed. Like the late former President, she spent the last months fighting a losing battle against cancer.

Those who have had somebody in the family die of cancer know that the last few months are particularly taxing not only for the one who has it, but also for the rest of the family. I cannot begin to imagine what the pain must have been like for my Mother, just as she could not possibly have begun to imagine the pain the rest of us felt seeing her wear away in front of our eyes, knowing all the while that it was just a matter of time.

As opposed to having a member of the family die suddenly – when the pain is in the shock of loss and the difficulty of acceptance – death by lengthy illness is, on the other hand, met with almost a sense of relief by the family of the deceased.

There is simply no joy to be had in life when a barely lucid, emaciated body is all that remains – and I say this not only on behalf of the one whose time in the earthly abode is about to end, but also of those shortly to be bereaved.

In our case, it was the whole family collectively “letting go” that must have reassured my Mother that it was alright to leave for this place we were all taught since we were young to aspire for: a place where there is no pain, where one is not bound by the rules of time and space and where one will bask for all eternity in the glory that is God. I have no statistics to back me up, but I am certain all who have gone through what we did will have the same story to tell.

Two weeks before my mother finally passed away, we had to rush her to the hospital bracing ourselves for the worst. It was a false alarm, though. The hospital staff managed to revive her to a semblance of stability.

In all of the four days she was confined, I continued to go to work and left it to my brothers and sisters to alternate keeping watch. I am a little better these days in dealing with the notion of death; but in those days, it was something my mind simply refused to accept, even deal with. Thus, I went to work where I could pretend everything was normal.

It was not, of course; and two weeks later, the inevitable came. We had to rush my Mother again to the hospital, but this time she was hardly ever conscious. That last morning – and the moment is etched in my mind like it happened only yesterday – while everyone kept vigil inside the room, I sat quietly smoking in the corridor.

Towards midday, when there was neither a sign of improvement nor of deterioration in my Mother’s condition, my brothers and sisters announced that they were going home for lunch and some rest. I was the only one left with my Dad and a close friend of my Mother.

It could not have been more than 15 minutes since everyone left – and we were just passing time making small talk – when I saw from the corner of my eye that my Mother’s breathing had become irregular. I bolted up from where I sat and asked Dad to go find a doctor.

As Dad rushed out of the room, I stood next to the bed looking down at my Mother. It was surreal, me standing bedside of my dying Mother without any agitation, placidly looking on and seeing her breathing slow down… slow down… slow down… until she exhaled her final breath.

And I was the one who did not want to see this… Yet, even as I stood there, the tautness in my mind eased away into a catharsis of acceptance. I never imagined death could be so peaceful… so effortless…

I read somewhere that one must tell the departed to head for the white light… “Ma,” I found myself saying, “punta ka sa white light…”

The celebrant this morning said you have to go now to the late former President. I think he meant to the white light…

[This story was first published on Facebook on 5 August 2009.]

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