“This is story 9 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
This is the last story of Tatay’s Series but I highly doubt this is the last time you’ll read about him. When I was planning out what each story would be about for Tatay’s Series, it really forced me to sit down and think about every idea, every memory, every feeling I wanted to express. I wanted to write about everything but at the same time drew blanks. It’s like that feeling when you know something so thoroughly, whether that be a show, book, subject, but when it comes to getting tested on that knowledge you question if you ever really knew all the answers, even though you know it’s there.
I arranged the stories in a way that I thought would benefit me most – let out all my anger in the beginning of the series so I could start to heal. I feel like all of that bottled up anger I have was blocking me from accepting Tatay’s passing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry and carry a lot of resentment, but it was a relief to get those feelings out into words and not just have them be thoughts in my head. As cliché as it sounds, I really felt my heart get lighter with each emotion I analyzed. I tried my best to have the stories somewhat come out in order, so you could follow along with me how fast, yet slow, his declining health was. I know this series has been 100% for me – giving my personal thoughts, first hand experiences, and memories with Tatay. But I hope whoever has been reading – especially my family – that this has helped you process your emotions around Tatay’s passing, even just a little.
Grief is very overwhelming. It’ll have you feeling a variety of emotions, then suddenly feel nothing at all. It’ll have you reminiscing about the past, hating the present, but trying to feel hopeful for the future. Grief will have you detach from the present day and desperately clinging onto memories. There are days where you want to be comforted, but would much rather be alone. You’ll start to panic at the fact that with time, there will be things that you will forget. It can be a lonely and exhausting process. Like me, grief will replay the same things in your head over and over again until you get it all out into words. And there are times where you purposely block out or avoid thinking of certain things because you know it’ll take you to a place that you’re not ready to face. That’s especially true for me, but when I close my eyes at night, I replay the same scenario. The day Tatay passed.
July 15, 2021 –
It was a Thursday night, and I was so relieved that the next day, Friday, would be the last day of work. This wasn’t just being excited for the weekend, but being excited for the long anticipated 2 week summer break. I was so excited to finally kick back, relax, sleep in, and do whatever I wanted for the next 2 weeks. The clock was winding down for summer break, but little did I know the clock was ticking for something else as well.
It was a typical Thursday night. I still had my hair wrapped up in a towel after getting out of the shower moments before. I went into my room and picked up my phone that was on the charger. I had left it charging during dinner time, even though I usually have it with me at the table. While it’s charging, I usually skim my notifications quickly to see if there’s anything I need to tend to as soon as possible. I saw a notification that I missed a call from my mom, and another notification saying my mom texted me.
“Tatay died @ 6:10 PM ,” the text read.
I stood there, staring at my phone. Kind of frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. I just stood there.
“Tatay died,” I told Christian.
I honestly don’t remember how he reacted or what his response was. I just said that I was going to call my mom. I stepped out of the room and dialed my mom’s number. She said that Tatay passed away about 30 minutes prior. I asked if I should make my way over to Tatay’s house, but my mom said that it was okay, there was no need to because he already passed away and my aunts, uncles, and dad were already headed over there. I asked if she was heading over, but she said she wasn’t. My dad is the only one who drives, and he was coming straight from work to Tatay’s house. We got off the phone, but I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t feel anything. I was in total shock, but not surprised at all. This was something we were prepared for.
It was really upsetting to me that I didn’t get a chance to sleep over Tatay’s house and help take care of him. All of the aunts and uncles were taking turns and having shifts to help care for Tatay. They finalized a tentative schedule during his 98th birthday, and they were going on week number 2 of the new routine. My dad and Auntie Salvie had the weekend shifts because they both worked throughout the week – the only 2 siblings that aren’t retired yet. My younger sister and I were trying to convince my younger cousins, Michael and Shawn, to sleep over with us while their mom and our dad did the weekend shift. We wanted to help care for Tatay, even if it was just letting my dad know that he needed something throughout the night. We had planned to sleep over Tatay’s house that upcoming Saturday, and I was excited. Not your typical excitement, since I knew that his health was declining, but excited in a sense that I would be useful in caring for him. It was just 2 days away. We never got the chance, and that really upset me.
I went to the bathroom just to sit down on the toilet and plan out my next move. I know my mom said there was no need to head over to Tatay’s house, but I knew in my heart that’s where I felt I needed to be. I opened the group chat with my sisters and Ate Nina. “Tatay died,” “I know, my mom told me,” I read on. I asked if anyone was planning to head to Tatay’s house because I really wanted to go but didn’t know if it was appropriate for me to go. Ate Nina said she was willing to go if we were going as well. Usually with us 4, it’s a group effort. My sisters quickly responded and said they wanted to go with her. Ate Nina let them know that she was going to start getting ready and pick them up. When my mom learned that Ate Nina was going to give a ride, she wanted to come as well. That was all the information I needed. I went to my room and told Christian that I was going to Uber to Tatay’s house.
Being that I live so deep in San Francisco, I knew I’d probably be the last one to arrive. So I quickly got dressed. I get pretty anal about my routine sometimes, and you’ll never catch me leaving the house after I’ve already showered and started my night routine. Of course, this was the exception to my rule. I threw on whatever was comfortable, and pulled my towel off my head, my hair still dripping wet. Christian was hosting his usual game night that night, so I let him know that it was okay to stay back and host it. I knew he was conflicted because he thought he should go with me for support, but I didn’t know what the tone would be like at Tatay’s house. I thought it was best if I go alone and report back on whatever was discussed. I just felt like I had to get out of the house as soon as possible. I needed to see Tatay, I had to be there.
I started to tear up as I waited outside for my Uber. It was cold, foggy, and my hair was still wet. Everything about the scenario fit the gloomy mood. I started to text my close friends that Tatay had passed, as I kept them in the loop throughout the last couple of months regarding Tatay’s health. I think typing out “My Tatay passed away,” made it feel more real. However, it still didn’t register completely. I was originally texting people that I was okay, that we as a family were expecting his passing. And at the time, I really meant it. I really felt “okay.” I wasn’t reacting the way I thought. I thought the moment I found out, I would be balling my eyes out. But that wasn’t the case. I feel like it took me a really long time to process everything. Everything that I prepared myself for went completely out the window. I would soon realize that as much as you prepare for the worst, you will never know for certain how you will take things until you’re actually living it. I thought I knew myself well enough to predict how I’d react, but that wasn’t the case.
My Uber finally came. I was fine the first couple of minutes, occasionally wiping my tears away, still really slick about it. The kind of tears that could be played off as something in your eye that you’re just wiping away. But then I started thinking about how things would be once I got to Tatay’s house. I was going to see his body. How would I react then? Would it be too much? Then I really thought about it. It dawned on me, holy shit, I’m going to see Tatay’s body! The tears started flowing uncontrollably. My nose started to drip under my mask, and there was no hiding my obvious discomfort anymore.
God bless my Uber driver’s heart, he didn’t ask if I was okay, he just rolled down the window for some fresh air, continued to drive, and tried his best not to look at me in the mirror. He probably thought that I got broken up with or something, and I felt a little embarrassed to the point where I wanted to call someone and be like, “Hey, Tatay died,” just so I didn’t look pathetic. But I thought, fuck it, Tatay’s dead, looking like a fool to a complete stranger is the least of my problems. I’m thankful that he didn’t try to talk to me because my Uber ride lasted about 30 – 35 minutes. It was a true 5 star experience because he minded his business and kept it moving. Literally.
During the Uber ride, I just kept mentally preparing myself to see Tatay’s body. I’ve only ever seen loved ones’ bodies during viewings and funerals. So this was something new to me. I’m also a huge scaredy cat and I get uncomfortable being in those settings. So I had no idea how I was going to process seeing Tatay lifeless in his bed, the same spot that I last seen him in. The same place where I saw him time and time again, week after week. I really had to process it and mentally prepare myself for what going to Tatay’s house really meant. Was I going to be hesitant to approach him? Was I going to be scared? Would I keep my distance? I didn’t know. But at the same time, my worst fear was that they would have Tatay’s body be removed from the house before I got there.
When I got to Tatay’s house I opened the door and said hello to everyone that was in the livingroom, but quickly went upstairs. I got upstairs and saw my Auntie Lilia and Auntie Luz in the hallway in front of Tatay’s room. I said hi, and kept it moving. In Tatay’s room stood my dad at Tatay’s bedside and Tita on the other side. My dad was holding a napkin or cloth under Tatay’s chin. When I asked what he was doing, he said that he was trying to have Tatay’s mouth be closed as much as possible because he didn’t want whoever would be handling his body after to force his jaw closed and break something. I walked over to Tita and blessed her.
I looked at Tatay laying down before me. It just looked like he was asleep, but I knew that he wasn’t going to wake up. I burst into tears and started wheeping audibly, holding onto Tatay’s arm. Tita hugged me and she started to cry as well. Together, we wailed over Tatay’s body as my dad’s eyes began to water. What made me even more sad was what Tita was saying to me as I cried. “Tatay’s gone now. No more Tatay. Now there’s no reason for you guys to visit on Sundays anymore,” she cried in Tagalog. That broke my heart. I’ve always prepared myself for what life would be like without Tatay, but I never really considered what it would be like from Tita’s point of view. It crushed me to hear that she feared that we wouldn’t visit her anymore because Tatay was gone.
I wasn’t scared to be in the same room as Tatay, I wasn’t afraid to hold him, I wasn’t distant at all. I wanted to be next to him, and I was sad that I didn’t get to see him one last time. I was miserable to know that in just 2 days, we planned to sleep over and keep him company. It finally hit me. He was really gone. I asked my dad if he was okay, and headed back downstairs to join my cousins. I’ll never forget the hug my Kuya Ryan gave me after I sat down teary eyed. He didn’t try to hide his pain, he didn’t try to “be strong,” he was feeling the same exact feelings I was. It was a silent comfort and a mutual understanding of shared grief.
We stayed at Tatay’s house for a couple of hours. Almost every immediate family member that lives in the Bay Area was there that night. At one point, the story of the blue bird was told to us. As Tatay took his last breath around 6:10 PM in South San Francisco, a blue bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. This bird was flying back and forth in the house – curiously observing its surroundings. What’s even more crazy is that the family members who are living in the house took a video, not even knowing that Tatay had passed away. We were all shocked to learn this information, but it brought peace to our hearts.
All Tatay ever wanted was to be back home in Batangas. It’s all he talked about – wanting to be back home in the Philippines and live out the remainder of his life there. It hurt me to see him in his bed during the pandemic basically pleading with anyone who would listen to let him go back. With our hearts heavy, hearing the story of the little blue bird who entered Tatay’s house in the Philippines brought us great comfort and peace. Tatay finally made it back home. Of course that’s the first place he would go to once his spirit left the physical world. That’s what you wanted all along, Tatay. And I’m glad you’re finally there.
Losing a loved one is never easy, and nothing about it is pleasant. What I will say though, is that in times of need and tragedy, the family came together. Family came from all over to grieve with us, to lay our Tatay to rest, and be there for us in our time of need. The Cabillo family leaned on each other for support, plunging ourselves into the thick of planning to make Tatay’s service one that he deserved. In Filipino families, when someone passes, the next couple of weeks are anything but lonely. It seemed like we were always together, always at Tatay’s house, always discussing what we needed to do next. Even though they were under these circumstances, it felt good to have the family be so united.
And I know that’s what Tatay would’ve wanted. A few years ago, after his 95th birthday, we all sat at Auntie Lilia’s dinning room – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren – and interviewed Tatay. We wanted to know what he was most grateful for, what he wanted to be remembered by, and any messages he had for his future generations to come. Tatay was a man of few words, but he did let us know that he just wants us to be happy, to enjoy the company of those we choose to be around, and be together as a family. He just wanted his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all the family that he will never get the chance to meet, to be happy, have good health, and be united.
Even though Tatay’s passing was “expected,” it didn’t lessen the pain of having someone you love be gone. It took me a really long time to process Tatay’s death. Even at his viewing and funeral I still felt like it was an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching a movie and no way was this real life. But it is. And I still find myself choking up at the thought of seeing Tatay on his bed, or how he looked during his viewing. Just when I thought I knew the meaning of life, reality threw me a curve ball. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I really view life in a different way.
Tatay, this is my temporary goodbye, because I know I’ll see you again one day. This has been the hardest “see you later,” to date. Just know that your family is holding it down, and we’re trying to make you proud and live out your wish. Until then, you will find us at your grave every Sunday. Like old times, “Byeeee, Tataaaayyyy,” until we meet again…