(Until Ate Marivic suggested I write an article about it, I was content with simply recalling the route she, Fr. Fed, and I took to honor our appointment with Sis Eva.)
BECAUSE THE PANDEMIC made mass gathering difficult, familiar faces became wishes that only delivered their vocal counterparts. In the case of my friend, Sis Eva, whose stage 4 cancer restricted her speaking voice to stacatto syllables, I was already happy if she reduced her speech to text messages. Both senior citizens, we could no longer be present in Madriñan fellowships as often as we used to. I could still manage to sneak in, thanks to Ate Marivic’s loyal, reliable “chauffeuring” but, compared to the regularity then, the occasions dwindled to few and far between.
In one of our rare exchanges, Sis Eva asked how I was and my response was the usual okay. But her sharp discernment would sense the opposite. Through her driver, Marvin, she sent me a Palawan padala for my maintenance meds. Her concern was my health when (at the wake), confirmed by her sorrowful face (no amount of makeup can shroud or beautify pain) and shriveled body, she suffered her sickness and slowly disintegrated. Our patroness knew her dolor and duly intervened. On the eve of Pentecost, Mary’s intercession bore fruit and made her blue soldier Eva and our Maker meet.
When her speech started to take an effort, I was thankful that Sis Emmie was staying with her and able to take my calls. When the ECQ was imposed, our plan to visit Sis Eva had to be aborted. In consultation with Sis Emmie, we were able to finalize it on a Sunday, particularly on May 23, although I did not – yet – connect it with Pentecost. The date sat well with Fr. Fed and Ate Marivic.
Saturday afternoon, I received a call from Ate Marivic. She said, like a line out of a movie, “Wala na si Sis Eva!”
That line would jolt me again later, when Sis Emmie thought aloud her regret, that our visit would be meaningless without the visited. I gently disabused her of the sadness. Therefore, like we mentallly telepathized a treaty, Fr. Fed, Ate Marivic, and I carved the Sunday plan in stone.
Sunday soon came. Ate Marivic was on time. We were soon at Sta. Teresita Parish, where Fr. Fed’s Mass was concluding. It helped that Sisters Jackielou and Marsha went with us; they helped freshen our driver’s memory. It didn’t take long, therefore, to find “Garden of Memories” in Pateros. At the wake, in my chat with her older sister Gloria (another Legionary), Sis Eva was eagerly expecting our twice postponed visit. She insisted to have a haircut to be ‘presentable’ to us, an understandable mindset of the sick. She and her daughter were the only family in the wake which made Fr. Fed’s Requiem dearly intimate and proundly solemn.
Before that, however, while we waited for Sis Emmie, her bosom buddy and fellow TTJer, Fr. Fed suggested that we pray the rosary. Ate Marivic naturally asked me to lead it. I was taken aback a little because I didn’t have my Polident. My slight surprise did not prosper, I took off my wooden rosary band and proceeded to pray for Sis Eva to Mary. The surprise was that my dentures did not cause any sibilance or impairment. Talk about an instant increase in faith and speech improvement.
Fr. Fed’s homily was a moving, revelatory eulogy. He told of Sis Eva’s generosity (which I wrongly perceived as excusively my territory) that touched deeply I barely held my tears. Especially when Pads shared Sis Eva’s habit, whenever the Publications Committee meets, of reserving balut and penoy for him (and whispering to him about it). That was no surprise. I knew of the same, special treatment, being a secret recipient of it myself. I was no longer shocked, therefore, when Anna, her niece by Sis Gloria, handed me, on our way out, a small earth-colored envelope. Mother and daughter dueted in saying it was an instruction from Sis Eva, since the inception of our planned visit. There was no need to thank the dead; therefore, for the benefit of her kins, I muttered a comment on the reversal of roles, an ironic expressing of her sympathy to me, instead of my grieving her passing. Sis Gloria and Anna were decent not only in accepting my humility; earlier, Anna also acknowledged (tearfully) our presence and Fr. Fed’s tribute to her aunt with a heartfelt response. I would not want to reduce its import so will simply say that she confirmed what her aunt has been telling them about the latter’s lay Monfortian advocacy and associates.
Fr. Fed captured what escaped me. Sis Eva left on the eve of Pentecost because Mary, her intercessor, chose its significance for her passing. The birth of the Church coinciding with the death of her cross. I made a mental note of thanking her spouse, St. Joseph, for that overlooked detail. My constant supplication to our Happy Death Patron was to keep her company. At the end, it was the Holy Family who accompanied her heavenly entry.
We left before Sis Emmie arrived. What could’ve been a tearful exchange of stories was happily translated into text messages of how we were before the loss, where she is now or headed, the good that parting with pain does, the see-you-in-prayer hopeful promises, and, thankfully the absence of melodrama. What the dearly departed would have preferred to miss. Because it ran counter to her smiling face.
She would have been 72 on June 1, one year my junior. When my middle brother died two years ago in May, I burned with him my bitterness, at least most of it. I appreciate that Sis Eva’s passing recalls the residue, which renews the promise. I don’t subsribe to extolling ad infinitum the virtues of a presently departed, unless the privilege is exercised by the relatives. The time for that is while the praised lives, period.
And because I prefer homilies that are short and sweet, I pray perpetually for my epiphany, Evangeline: AMQAH consecrant, TTJer, Legionary, friend.