“This is story 3 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
Fuck this pandemic.
That’s what I really wanted to say during my speech. But like I said, it wasn’t the place or the time. I guess I’m at the 2nd stage of grief – ANGER.
I know that Tatay was so blessed and fortunate to reach 98 years old. But I just know his life was cut “short” due to this pandemic. And I can’t get passed the feeling of anger and thinking of what could have been. Pre-pandemic, you could’ve asked anyone in my family – we all believed that Tatay would live long enough to reach at least 100 years old. Other than small complications that come with old age, Tatay was in great health for 98. He complained about his back hurting, not being able to get around like he used to, his memory wasn’t as sharp, but that all comes with the process of aging. If anything, it was amazing what his body could still do in his mid to late 90’s!
When the 3 week mandatory shutdown was called in March 2020, we all didn’t expect that almost a year and a half later we would still be worried about the virus. We knew that the shutdown was looming around the corner, so we decided to go to Tatay’s house for Sunday dinner, even though it wasn’t the week we were supposed to since we go every other Sunday. We were all a little hesitant to go over his house because we didn’t know much about the virus then and didn’t want to put Tatay’s health in danger since he was the most vulnerable. On the family group chat, my cousin joked that we should go to Tatay’s for dinner, the day before the official lockdown, because it might be the last one for a long time. Unfortunately, it was true.
Sunday dinners at Tatay’s were postponed until further notice. When the shutdown kept getting longer and longer, I started to get a bad feeling about how this would effect Tatay and his health. Obviously we stayed away because we wanted to protect him at all costs, but it wasn’t an easy thing to do. In my opinion, being surrounded by family often, getting up to do usual routines, and getting out every once in a while is what kept Tatay young. It kept his mind working, it kept his body moving, it’s the reason why he made it to 98. But literally over night, all of those things changed. He went from being around family consistently, to just being at home with my step-grandma, Tita. Both of them cooped up in the house to keep themselves safe and healthy. And I hate that it happened this way.
It was around July that my family started visiting Tatay every Sunday. A little over 3 months of not seeing him. Except these visitations were nothing like our usual Sunday dinners. Most of the time, it was just me, my dad, my sisters, and occasionally my mom stopping by to say hello. There was no official gathering, no other family members, and not even enough time to catch up. We would come in with our masks on and try to social distance as best as we could. We just wanted to see Tatay and let him know that we’re not neglecting him because we don’t have time, but because there’s a deadly virus going around that’s easily transmissible. In the beginning we would stay tops 2-5 minutes. A quick hello, dropping off food, and seeing how he’s doing. We wanted to make sure that we were being safe about it and not staying too long to protect him.
Tatay’s house used to be so lively. It was the house to be at for family gatherings, and there was never a dull moment. His great granddaughters ran through the house, screaming from the top of their lungs with excitement every time they were present. “Tatay’s house,” to the kids was a place to play with your cousins, scream your heart out, and eat your weight in Puto. It was the house that always had America’s Funniest Home Videos playing since Tatay didn’t have cable, and it was the only thing everyone could agree on. It was the house where you brought your laptop to finish your assignments because school’s the next day, but Tatay’s house on Sunday is mandatory. It’s the house where all your dietary plans go out the window because everyone brings bomb food for a potluck. That was Tatay’s house.
Entering Tatay’s house during the pandemic was the exact opposite – quiet, untouched, dull. It’s a depressing thing to replay in my mind – how we would doorbell, greet Tita, take off our shoes, and head straight up the stairs to Tatay’s room. We would peak in to see if he was asleep, but would end up going in and waking him up to say hello anyways. 95% of the time we visited him, he was in his bed resting. We would stay far from his bed when we greeted him, being sure to wear our masks, not touching anything, and not “blessing” him to be safe. With his old age, not having family gatherings for months to stimulate his mind, on top of wearing a mask, there were days where Tatay didn’t know who we were.
“What part of the Philippines are you visiting from?”
“What day is it?”
“When can I go back to the Philippines?”
“Why are you wearing a mask?”
Explaining the pandemic to Tatay was not an easy task. Tita, my dad, my aunts and uncles – everyone – would tell him why we have on masks and why we can’t have family gatherings for the time being. No matter how many times it was explained, I don’t think Tatay ever really got the severity of it all. He was starting to show signs of dementia, so there would be times where he remembered that a sickness was going around, and other times where he just didn’t get it. And because he couldn’t fully comprehend the pandemic, it broke my heart to realize that there was a possibility that he believed we all just weren’t visiting him. It’s a thought I tried to avoid the whole time we visited him during the pandemic because it made me feel overwhelmed with sadness.
His many questions would be asked on loop throughout our short stay every Sunday. It was sad to see his mind slowly going. But I didn’t know what was more sad – when he was speaking nonsense, or when he was fully aware of everything around him. Seeing what mind state Tatay would be in every Sunday was a gamble. Was he going to be happy? Was he going to remember us? Was he going to ask for people who have passed on already? Is he going to bring up the Philippines – a very touchy topic that nobody wanted to bring up in his presence because of how bad he wanted to go back… the list went on. I would feel sad when he would ask questions that we just answered 30 seconds prior, because it was a sign that his memory was going. He was slipping away and there was nothing we could do about it.
But I think what was more heartbreaking was when he was completely aware of where he was and the situation at hand. There were some Sundays where we would go up straight to his room and find him in his usual spot – his bed. We would ask him how he is and he’d sound depressed. Saying how he’s bored at the house, there’s nothing to do, he can’t go anywhere, and he just wants to go back to the Philippines already. We had to explain to him that he’s not the only one feeling those feelings. Everyone around the world were getting pandemic fatigue as well. We let him know that my mom and sisters were working from home, nobody really leaves the house except to do necessary things like getting groceries, and even if we wanted to go out, everything is shutdown anyways.
One Sunday Tatay was giving us an ear full about how he’s so bored, frustrated that he can’t do anything, and all he does is just stay in the house. “What kind of life is this?! / Anong klaseng buhay ito?!” He would say bitterly. Again we dived into the conversation that it’s a global pandemic, that everyone around the world is cooped up in their house with nothing to do, everything is shutdown everywhere, and it’s all because of a deadly virus. We told him that’s why everyone is wearing masks, why we were wearing masks at that exact moment to protect him, and that the virus could spread without you even knowing it. Typical Tatay sighed and let all the things my dad translated go over his head. He continued to complain – which he had every right to do especially since he didn’t get what the pandemic actually was. My dad went downstairs to help Tita with packing things for the Philippines, so it was just me and my older sister with Tatay. One thing about Tatay, he will give you a mouth full and be stubborn as can be, but when it comes to his grandchildren and great grandkids, he eases up and doesn’t give us that side of him.
“So when you’re at home, you’re doing nothing too?” Tatay said tenderly in Tagalog, as he laid in his bed. He was no longer irritated.
We reassured him that we were bored as hell at home too. We told him schools were closed, everyone was working from home, everything is shutdown, and “lahat” (everyone) around the world is doing nothing. We let him know that his current reality was one of many. This seemed to make Tatay feel a little better, even though my dad had just explained it moments before. I laughed and quietly told my sister, “misery loves company,” to make light of the situation. But it was true, we let him know how boring life is during a pandemic, and let him know that yes, it did suck. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t the only one. I could see it in his face – his change of heart, his anger slipping away, his face expression now replaced with a look of pondering. I always wondered if he asked that for reassurance, or if he wanted to know if the pandemic was as serious as we were telling him.
We continued to visit Tatay every single Sunday, and when he got vaccinated in early 2021, we felt more comfortable extending our visits from 2-5 minutes, to about 15 – 20 minutes. We would sit around his bedside and try to make small talk, show him animals on our phones, or show him pictures that would entertain him. We would still have our masks on, and he would still ask why we had them on. One week it would seem like Tatay’s health was super weak and declining, then the next week he would be playful, in a good mood, and seemed to be aware of what time frame he was in. He had his good days and his bad days. Even on days he didn’t know who we were, Tita would tell us the many stories about him asking about us. He would ask Tita the same thing: “Where is Roland and Beth? Where do the kids sleep? Are they cold?”
I wondered what time frame he believed he was living in since he used to live with my family and I until I was about 7 years old. Pre-pandemic he would occasionally ask me where I sleep at home and if I get cold. I never really got why he asked that, but it obviously it seemed to be of some importance to him since he asked that question often. When we would visit Tita would tell him, “Do you know who they are? Here’s your grandchildren! These are your grandchildren!” He would smile and laugh, a little embarrassed that he didn’t know who we were. I would show him pictures of us when we were really young, to jog his memory, hoping he’d recognize me in the pictures.
Little by little, Tatay’s health started to decline. When it was apparent that his health was declining rapidly, the family decided to resume Sunday dinners again. At this point, it was May 2021, a year and 2 months of not all being at Tatay’s house as a family. The damage of not being around everyone was irreversible, he was slipping away. Tita would give us little updates every Sunday, and it all happened so gradually. It started with his memory, then he didn’t have much of an appetite, then he only ate because he was forced to not because he was actually hungry, then he couldn’t walk up and down the stairs all that great anymore, it quickly turned to him not being able to get up and walk by himself, and on his 98th birthday was the cherry on top of the “fuck this pandemic” cake. My aunts and uncles decided to start taking shifts to take care of Tatay throughout the week because he didn’t have much time left and needed around the clock care. Up until that point, Tita was doing it all.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of believing in my heart that this pandemic cut Tatay’s life short. It robbed Tatay of his last years here on Earth to be spent mostly isolated, it prevented him from going back to the Philippines, and I personally believe that it stole a couple of good years he still had left in him. This is where my anger stems from. Fuck this pandemic. It took my Tatay away prematurely, and I’m pissed. I understand why we had to stop family gatherings to protect him and his health, but I hate that we weren’t there to keep him consistent company. I hate that we couldn’t hug him, take off our masks, or be in close proximity without feeling like we were putting him in danger. I’m upset that he left under these circumstances, Tatay deserved better than this depressing pandemic as his last 2 years.
I’m simmering in my anger and just letting myself feel whatever I’m feeling. I find myself thinking of alternate endings, what it would be like if COVID was never a thing, if the pandemic had an ending, if we continued with Sunday dinners despite the shutdown, if he had made it back to the Philippines before COVID, would things workout differently? Would there be an ending that I would be satisfied with? I don’t know. I just know that my family and I went into the pandemic with X amount of people, and we’re coming out of it with 1 less… I know there’s no use in dwelling on what could have been. This is the reality of it all. For the time being, I need something to blame.
Fuck this pandemic.