Temporary Goodbye

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…

A Poem For Tatay

This is story 8 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

Where do I even start to find the words to say goodbye?

It’s hard cuz I believe that you should still be here, Tatay.

Seeing your tombstone really sealed the deal in my head,

You’re gone and I’ll never see you upstairs in your bed.

This is a different kind of pain, one I saw coming,

This whole experience has been emotional but also very numbing.

It has been a reminder that anyone can be gone at the drop of a hat,

One day you’re here and the next day you can be gone just like that.

To be honest, I’m still waiting for you to show me a sign,

I know that day will come but I know it will take time.

Time for me to heal, to slowly let go of the pain and resentment I feel inside.

These many stages of grief got me up and down this wild emotional ride.

Fuck this pandemic, it took you away premature,

You were supposed to live to be 100 – that we were totally sure.

I replay your last year in my head a lot, maybe way too often,

I know it will leave me bitter with the world so I think of it with caution.

Am I too angry, too heartbroken, too emotionally solid as a rock?

Those are some of the reasons why I think my third eye is temporarily blocked.

I’m waiting for anything – a smell, an animal, a dream,

Anything to show me that you’re not as far away as it seems.

I’m desperate to know that you’re somewhere and you’re okay,

Something to ease the pain for not seeing you every Sunday.

But on the bright side, I’m glad you’ve reunited with Nanay Conching,

If anything brings me peace, it’ll be that one thing.

You’ve lived without her for over 55 years, I know that cut you deep like a knife,

You weren’t able to be buried beside her in the Philippines, but you’ve reunited in another life.

What a reunion that must’ve been: you, Nanay Conching, and your last child,

Having Auntie Merlinda meet you for the first time in Heaven is fuckin wild.

I knew that eventually that’s where you were meant to be,

They waited a long time for you, and now it’s finally you three.

I know you’re somewhere out there, rooting for your family, being our lucky charm,

I know you’ll protect me from the other side so I got your name tatted on my arm.

Just a little something to remind me every day

of the man I so very loved, and that love will never go away.

So I’ll say my final goodbye, but let me make this clear,

This goodbye isn’t easy to do, cuz you should still be here.

The Last Birthday

This is story 7 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

As Tatay’s 98th birthday drew near, I remember basically pleading with God, the Universe, any higher power that would listen to me, to please let him reach his birthday. If he was going to leave this Earth under these unfortunate circumstances, the least they could do was let him celebrate one last birthday surrounded by family. By this point, he was barely eating, his good memory days were a thing of the past, and he lost a significant amount of weight. He no longer went downstairs because he couldn’t walk on his own, let alone sit up on his own. He was completely bedridden.

I remember thinking, “If Tatay can make it to his 98th birthday, I’ll be at peace when he passes.” He made it to his 98th birthday, but of course I still wasn’t content with that tradeoff. It was so ironic greeting him happy birthday as our gut feeling knew that his time was very limited. Everyone’s “happy birthday” greet to Tatay that day was matched with a lump in their throat. It was a mix of emotions for sure – feeling grateful that he made it to another year of life, hopeful that his health would somehow miraculously get better, depressed that we have to see him that weak, and feeling selfish for wanting him to live longer in his current state.

Tatay’s birthdays have always been a big celebration in our family. His birthday falls on July 3rd, so we usually lump it together as a multiple day event since July 4th is a holiday and family usually comes into town. We had a lot to celebrate, each year was a reminder of how resilient, strong, and blessed Tatay was to reach another year of life. With the exception of his 97th pandemic birthday, we went all out every year to celebrate with food, family, and gifts. And for his 98th, we all came over the house despite the pandemic. This birthday was one that I was grateful to attend since his 97th birthday was so downplayed with everyone sheltering in place. But if I’m being honest, it was a really sad day.

We made the usual route up the stairs to Tatay’s room. “Happy birthday, Tatay!” we said happily. He laid in his bed before us, completely unresponsive to our presence and what we just said. His eyes were barely open, he looked the weakest I’ve ever seen him. He was on a new medication that he had started the day before. He was totally out of it, completely lethargic. Tatay looked so small in his bed, and as we tried a few more attempts to see if he’d respond to our greets, he didn’t. We tried to shrug it off, “Let him rest,” as we made our way back downstairs.

It was a “party” but it felt like anything but. The atmosphere was gloomy downstairs as the adults took turns going up and down to and from Tatay’s room to check on him. My cousin’s wedding was the following week in Florida, and the majority of the aunts and uncles had planned to make it, flights booked and everything. They announced that Tatay’s health was declining fast, so they all decided to cancel the wedding trip. They started to plan out a schedule where all the siblings took turns helping Tita with Tatay throughout the week, especially during the night. He was completely unable to stand, sit up, or do anything independently. On top of that, he would get frustrated and would try to stubbornly deny help, making it even harder to assist him. It was a lot for Tita to do on her own. The majority of the siblings are retired, while my dad and Auntie Salvie still work. They all had to Tetris their schedules to be there for Tatay. This schedule would continue indefinitely.

At one point during the night, we asked when we were going to cut the cake. With everything going on, the cake was the last thing on the aunts and uncles’s minds. Tatay didn’t have a cake. This was blasphemy to our ears. This is the first birthday party for Tatay that I can think of where we all got together and didn’t have a cake for him. Sometimes, there were even more than 1 cake. And my gut feeling was telling me that not only was this going to be his last birthday celebrated on Earth, but also some of his last memories with family, it was necessary to get him a cake. My sisters, my younger cousins, and I debated on who would go on the quick car ride journey to get Tatay’s cake. I didn’t want to leave Christian at Tatay’s house alone with all the adults, so I told them that them 4 could go get Tatay’s cake while I stayed back.

They eagerly put on their shoes and headed for the door, excited to go on an adventure together. I’m glad that they got to have a little break from the melancholy toned birthday party. I realized that my dad was missing, so he was probably in Tatay’s room. I told Christian that we should go up and see how Tatay is doing, at the very least, keep him company. We entered Tatay’s room and not much had changed. He looked completely out of it, totally feeling the effects of the medicine. You couldn’t tell if his eyes were slightly open or all the way closed. He didn’t speak much, just groaned every now and then. We sat on the chairs that were lined up against his bedroom window.

My dad and Auntie Lilia were in the room while Christian and I took a seat. I couldn’t help but look at Tatay knowing damn well that his time was coming up soon. He was so different from the week before, such a drastic change for the worst. I remember just the week before we were telling him that his birthday was coming up. He didn’t remember how old he was turning, but he was a lot more coherent than the Tatay that laid before me. The medicine he was on truly had his head in the clouds. I couldn’t stand to see him like that, but at the same time I wanted to be there with him on his birthday. It wasn’t about me, it was about him, and I wanted him to know that we were all there to celebrate him. However, this wasn’t your typical birthday party. This was the saddest birthday party I’ve ever attended. It was celebrating Tatay reaching another year of life, but being slapped in the face with reality that death would be knocking on his door soon.

After about 10 minutes in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to cry as I looked at Tatay on the bed, so frail, so small, in and out of consciousness it seemed. Christian reached over as his eyes began to water too. I know being around Tatay in that state was probably bringing up memories of his own Grandpa who passed away about a year prior. My dad tried his hardest to fight back tears, but started to cry as well as I had my moment. I could tell my dad was trying not to look at me or acknowledge that I was crying, but the harder he tried to focus his attention on something else, the more emotional he got. We don’t do well with talking about our emotions or expressing them, but I know my dad gets more emotional when he sees his girls in distress.

My Auntie Lilia looked at me, completely aware that I was crying, but tried to change the subject. She let me know that just 3 days before, on Wednesday, Tatay was on his feet and walking independently. She started with, “Can you believe that just 3 days before he was walking outside?” That was news to me. She explained that Tita went to the store to get some groceries, leaving Tatay alone at home. Tatay was resting and most likely asleep, so she thought she’d make a quick run. He no longer could get up on his own at that point, or so they thought.

When Tita arrived back home, Tatay was missing from his bed. Where was he? They found Tatay down the street with his walker in hand, not properly dressed for the cold Bay Area weather. When they asked him where he was going, the answer alone made me clench my jaw trying to hold back tears as Auntie Lilia continued with the story. Tatay said that he was going back home – to Roland’s house. His mind still believed that he was living with my family at our house.

“Can you believe that? He got up by himself, put on his shoes, carried the walker down the stairs, opened the door, walked down the steps to his house, and was down the street!” My Auntie Lilia said in complete amazement.

I couldn’t believe it either. Tatay managed to carry his heavy ass walker down 2 flights of stairs, not a single scratch on the walls. What was more amazing was the fact that before this incident, he couldn’t walk downstairs on his own that well anymore, he needed assistance. I was relieved that Tatay was still close by when Tita realized he was missing. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he was missing for even just an hour, especially during the times when Asian hate crimes were at an all time high.

That was my Tatay – he never failed to surprise you with his strength and perseverance. It was then that they decided to install cameras in his house. They wanted to make sure that he was safe at all times, and if he needed help, we would know. I wondered what was going through Tatay’s head at the time to be so motivated to go back to our house. That was his last hoorah outside, his last adventure, the last time he walked independently. And now 3 days later, he was totally immobile, could barely open up his eyes, and totally out of it. It’s amazing what 72 hours can do when time isn’t on your side.

When my sisters and cousins came back with the cake, they had stories to tell of their own about how difficult it was to get it. But all that mattered was that we had a cake, that Tatay’s last birthday wouldn’t be cakeless. Getting Tatay a cake was really important to us cousins, and I’m glad that we got to give him a cake one last time. Because it was an ice cream cake, they quickly prepared it so it wouldn’t melt.

Since Tatay was feeling the effects of his new medication and was completely bedridden, the whole family came up to his room. The room was dim, adding to the already somber mood. Michael came in holding the cake, the “98” candles already lit. My dad took one side of the cake as they positioned it in front of Tatay as he laid on the bed. We all began to sing happy birthday, hoping that Tatay would at least open his eyes. Tatay laid there, eyes closed, unresponsive to our singing. It was the saddest happy birthday song I have ever sang.

After the cake, they started to give him his gifts. Tatay loved receiving his envelopes during birthdays, so it lightened the mood a little bit when he started to open his eyes as they were putting money in his hands. They joked that Tatay woke up at the right time to receive his presents. However, that was short lived as he got drowsy again.

Tatay’s lethargic state was partially due to his new medication that he started taking the day before his birthday. The siblings decided that night that they were not going to continue to give it to Tatay since it made him so out of it. The next day, we visited again. Tatay was completely coherent, and even though his time was coming soon, at least we got to see him be somewhat aware of his surroundings. We asked him the day after his birthday if he remembered anything from the day before, he said no. That was the last birthday Tatay spent on Earth with us. It wasn’t ideal, but at the very least, I’m happy that he was surrounded by family.

Somewhere Deep in Tatay’s Memory

This is story 6 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 might be weird to some, but sometimes I think of what my life will be like when I’m an old grandma. What kind of life would I have lived? What things have changed? Who are the people closest to me? What accomplishments did I make in life? What lessons have I learned? Will I still be able to remember and recall my past? And as I witnessed Tatay’s mind start to drift further and further from the present day, I started to put myself in his shoes. I wondered what he was thinking, who he still remembered vividly, and what memories played in his mind. Visiting Tatay every Sunday was like a gamble. Was he going to be aware of who we were and what time frame it was, or was he going to ask for people who have already passed on a long time ago? It made me wonder…

Where do people’s minds go when they get older? What memories stick out to them the most and why?

I remember my Uncle Cris sharing that when Tatay first came to America, he hated it and wanted to go back to the Philippines. I wondered how hard it must’ve been to leave his home and family in the Philippines to reunite with his children and in-laws in America. Out of all his siblings, Tatay was the only one who resided in America. He must have felt so torn – feeling homesick being away from the place where he grew up, leaving behind his siblings and all of his extended family, but also feeling “at home” reuniting with all of his children after 7 long years apart. All I know is, I’m grateful that he decided to call the Bay Area his home and vacation to the Philippines every so often, instead of the other way around. Deep down he probably knew that this was a sacrifice he had to make for the future generations to come.

One of Tatay’s last wishes was to be back in the Philippines. But because of a volcano eruption and COVID following not too long after, we were unable to do that for him. Tatay was known for his flip floppiness when it came to where he wanted to permanently reside. There have been a couple of times where he swore up and down that he was going to stay in the Philippines, but with time he always came back. It seemed like wherever he was, Philippines or the US, he always wanted to go back to the other country eventually. His children would take his decisions with a grain of salt because they knew their father too well – he was always changing his mind. Give him a month or 2 in the Philippines and he’ll be ready to willingly come back to the US, complaining about the weather when it gets too hot. Give him a couple of months to settle back into the US and he’s already requesting his next trip back to the Philippines. That was Tatay, he called both places home.

Pre-pandemic and pre-volcano eruption, Tatay wouldn’t back down with voicing his desires to go back to the Philippines. I truly believe that he believed he would spend his remaining days on Earth in Batangas. He was so adamant. By this time, 2019-ish, it was well over a couple of years since Tatay’s last trip to the Philippines. With his old age, he just couldn’t handle the 15+ hours on a plane. But he was persistent. My aunts finally decided to give him what he wanted, a 1 way ticket to the Philippines – not because they believed he was going to stay there permanently, but because they knew that with time he would want to come back home to the US. They were just unsure of how much time it would actually take this time around for him to come back. So they bought him a 1 way ticket there and planned on a return flight with a date that was to be determined. I can only imagine what that might’ve felt like to finally get your wish to return back to Batangas, and then be told that you no longer could go. The volcano eruption delayed it, but they still planned on rescheduling. When the pandemic happened, there was just no way. At one point during the pandemic my cousin tried to get Tatay dual citizenship. It was the only way he could travel to the Philippines during these times – but he was denied.

Tatay couldn’t make sense of it all. Why couldn’t he go?! Tatay took every opportunity he could to bring up wanting to go back to the Philippines throughout the pandemic. And as his memory started to teeter-totter back and forth between present day and the past, the Philippines became a regular topic for him. Some days he would think that we were friends visiting from another part of the Philippines, other days he’d be asking my dad when he was going back to the Philippines, and other times he would ask on repeat why / when can he go back. My dad and Tita would avoid talking about the Philippines or anyone going to the Philippines in front of Tatay. The topic alone could set him off into a question frenzy. He wanted to go home so bad. His mind was constantly thinking about the Philippines, so it only made sense that he talked about it all the time and sometimes believed that he was there.

I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it felt like a blow to the heart when he could no longer recognize who we were. But Tita would share what Tatay would ask and say on a day to day basis. A lot of the time, he still believed that he was living with us. The time frame he was thinking of would have me and my sisters as little kids. He would ask Tita where my dad was, where my mom was, where my sisters and I were sleeping, and when he’s going back to his house, our house. Tita would have to remind him that he has his own house and we live separately. I wondered what about this time frame stuck out to him. Tatay lived with us for about 6 years, and that is a very short amount of time in his very long life. Regardless, it made me feel a little better to know that we were still somewhere in his memory, even if it was more than 20 years dated.

Tita would also tell us stories about Tatay asking for my dad’s mom. She died during childbirth over 50 years ago. He would call for my dad’s mom in the middle of the night. “Conching,” was the nickname he called my grandma. At times he would ask Tita where his wife was and why does she keep leaving. Tita would simply tell him that she was his wife. “You look different,” he would tell her. Tita would have to remind Tatay that my dad’s mother died over 50 years ago and she’s his wife. Tatay and Tita were married for over 20 years. But that didn’t stop him from talking about my Nanay Conching. So many decades have passed, but his memory of my grandma was still there. He never forgot her.

One Sunday Tita shared with us that Tatay woke up in the middle of the night and called her by my grandma’s name, Conching. He asked if she was awake and she told him she was, but she wasn’t who he thought she was – she wasn’t Conching. Tatay proceeded to tell Tita that he had a dream that there was a lot of people telling him to go with them and sit in a chair with them. Tita tried to make light of it and advised him not to go with the people in his dream because it’s a pandemic. Of course we all thought about the Filipino superstition – when you have dreams of people who have passed on and they’re telling you to come with them, you will pass away in your sleep if you choose to follow them. There would be other times where Tatay would ask for random people that he wouldn’t bring up regularly in the past. But it so happened to be that everyone he was randomly asking for had passed away for some time.

There was another dream he shared with Tita, who later told all of us. In his dream, he saw my Nanay Conching. They were at their old house in the Philippines and she had prepared a lot of food. A lot of people were at their house for some type of party. My aunt, who was 2 years old when my grandma died, desperately tried to get answers from Tatay. “How do you know it was my mom? Did she say it was her?” She asked in Tagalog. He said no, she didn’t introduce herself, but he knew it was her. My aunt continued, “If you see her again, ask her how is Merlinda. Ask if she’s big now.” Merlinda passed away with my grandma. She was a stillborn birth. Tatay seemed to be a little uncomfortable with what my aunt was saying and his expression looked a little sad.

As Tatay’s memory began to fade in and out, it brought me a great sense of comfort knowing that he still remembered my Nanay Conching. She has been gone for 55+ years, and he was still calling out for her in the middle of the night. I’d like to believe that those were not just dreams he was having of her, but signs from the other side to let him know that once he passed on, he would be welcomed in by familiar faces. Even though Tatay’s memory went back and forth between the present day and the past, he always spoke of people and places that meant the most to him. I wondered if his life was playing like a reel in his head – reflecting, remembering, reliving – like a movie.

I guess I’ll never really know how Tatay’s memory was working as he neared the end of his life. I just know that at times it made me sad to know that his memory was all over the place. But he brought up so many different people, places, and reminisced on different parts of his life. It just reminded me that he lived such a long life filled with so many memories that of course his inner RAM was getting all jumbled up. It had 98 years to account for!

The day after his birthday, we all visited him again. He was weak, but still managed to give me a smile when I walked into his room. “Hiiiiii Tataaayyyyy!!” I said in my usual tone. “That’s the first time I saw him smile like that!” My Auntie Salvie said. I secretly hoped that he smiled because somewhere in his memory, he remembered me.

Tatay Moods

This is story 5 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

Have you ever heard the cliché saying that the secret to a long life is to think positively? I used to laugh internally when I would hear people give that advice. Not because I don’t believe it’s true, but because my Tatay’s personality was a contradiction to this belief and he was old as shit. He was known to be hot headed, blunt, short tempered, and at times too prideful. But on the flip side he was chill, tender, inquisitive, creative, and playful all wrapped into one. His personality quirks is what made Tatay “Tatay.”

Growing up with Tatay and having him live with my family and I for a period of time, I knew that he was very particular about almost everything. From how something is cleaned, to where an object is placed, all the way down to what he decided to wear, Tatay was very distinct about it all. It was just known by all of us that that’s how he was, and if he didn’t like something, oh you’d definitely hear about it. Like the time my parents got him new sunglasses when I was about 5 years old. I remember them presenting it to him, and instead of kindly declining, he got upset. He went on an irritated rant about the glasses. He only wanted to wear his Raybans that he’s had since my dad was a young kid in the Philippines. Tatay’s train of thought was definitely “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When he had his mind set on something, there was no telling him otherwise.

What I admired most about Tatay was how strong-willed he was, especially when it came to him aging. “Tigas ng ulo” – hardheaded, is probably the best way to describe Tatay when it came to him getting older. He was walking all on his own with no assistance until he was about 90. For the record, his cane and walker was always there, he just refused to use them. To him, it was almost insulting to ask him to use either of them. He was strong, and even if his aging said otherwise, he resisted until he couldn’t resist anymore. Even when he would “use” his cane, he wasn’t even really using it. Tatay would hold the cane, but most of the time it wouldn’t even be touching the floor. It was kind of like his safety net. He had too much pride to use it entirely, so he would only use it if he really needed to – which was rarely. I feel like he held the cane just so the aunts and uncles would stop pestering him about using it.

Even when he was nearing the end of his life, Tatay’s spirit was still strong. He still wanted to sit up, get up on his own, and walk. It was hard to see him in denial that his body was failing him. Even at 98 years old, Tatay couldn’t seem to processes why his body couldn’t move the way it used to. He didn’t want to accept help from others, even when it was apparent that he needed it. And even as his body got weaker, his drive to be independent was still there. If anything, the weaker he got, the more he wanted to do things on his own. The last 2 week of his life, any time someone visited and said hello, he would try his best to get up on his own. It was painful to watch. Tatay would grip the bedside handle bars with two hands, and wince at the pain as he gathered all of his strength to hoist himself up… unsuccessfully. The more you told him no, the more motivation he had to try to sit up. How do you tell someone who is so mentally and physically strong that their body can no longer handle it?

But that was my Tatay – Strong willed, independent, stubborn, motivated, and knew exactly what he wanted and never hesitated to voice it and let you know what he was thinking. He didn’t give a shit if what he said made you feel bad, he said exactly what he was feeling, completely unfiltered. Usually Tatay would give this side of himself to his children, Tita, and doctors and nurses – basically anyone trying to help him and tell him what to do. His grandchildren and great grandchildren got the best parts of Tatay. With us, he was playful, curious, and always had a smile. His personality was like a light switch, and his grandchildren always saw the best part of him “on.”

Despite the language barrier, Tatay was able to have a loving relationship with his great grandchildren. They didn’t hesitate to give Tatay a hug, bless him, or sit on his lap. His love was louder than words. His cane – that he never used – would be the object he would use to play with them and get their attention. There would be times where I would observe Tatay looking at all the kids with awe and admiration, a small smirk on his face, probably not even knowing which kid belonged to who, but still seeing the beauty in life and their innocence. He was always on the sidelines observing, waiting for his moment to troll one of the little ones.

Tatay was extremely creative. All around his house you would find things that he put his special touch to. He had stuffed animal tigers that he sharpied black eyebrows on, he had a butterfly hanging from one of the lights, he even stole Jacob’s Woody action figure to be the driver of his SF Giant’s jeepney. Yes, cut off the legs and everything so he could jam it into the driver’s seat. When Jacob asked about his Woody doll, we didn’t say a word. When my sisters and I would find these little touches of Tatay around our house when he lived with us and in his own house with Tita, we would laugh. He definitely liked things a certain way, decorating was no different. He was a fan of little trinkets, especially if they were animals.

There was one fall where Tatay had a pamphlet of different pumpkin carving faces. It was a basic newspaper that he probably received in the mail and thought was cool. He had a tiny pumpkin that he had in hand, and was telling my dad that he wanted to draw a face on it like the newspaper. My dad told him that he should let us draw it because all 3 of us are pretty artsy ourselves. However, we quickly told our dad that if Tatay wanted to draw on it, he should be the one to do it. We didn’t want to take away his opportunity to design his pumkpin. Tatay had a worn out sharpie in hand, and he looked at the newspaper for reference. He drew, looked at the newspaper, and drew some more. He embarrassingly laughed and said something along the lines of “forget it.” When we looked at the tiny pumpkin, Tatay had made an even tinier face. And not only was it about 1.5 centimeters in its entirety, it didn’t even look like anything in the paper, let alone a face. We looked at Tatay with kawawa eyes, and our hearts melted. The attempt was cute as fuck.

Even if drawing wasn’t Tatay’s strong suite, he still managed to create things around the house that were beneficial to him. On his 98th birthday, my dad found a string on the chair next to Tatay’s bedside. That’s the chair Tatay would sit in if he didn’t want to be laying down. My dad quickly realized that the string that was on the inside of the chair was purposely put there by Tatay himself. For what? What would a string on the inside of his chair possibly do for him? It was his water holder. We all gasped in shock yet admiration that at 98, with his health declining, he was still trying to make some DIY projects around the house to make his life easier. That’s what I loved about him. He still managed to “Tatay-fy” things. You just knew that he couldn’t resist to put his touch on things – partly because of boredom, but also to make it more convenient.

God, I miss him… He was my pessimistic, grumpy ass, loving, smiley, curious, cute ass Tatay. And I loved him for the good, the bad, and the ugly – every part of him. He was real as hell with sharing his views on aging. He didn’t hesitate to let you know his honest opinion on anything. Even if it wasn’t what people wanted to hear, it was what he believed. Through it all, whether he liked to admit it or not, he still managed to find joy in the simplest things. The excitement in his eyes when he saw animals, saw a familiar face, or when you offered him french fries is a sight I will never forget. As I get older and reflect on Tatay’s personality traits, I see that I’m actually a lot like him. I’ve inherited the Jacinto moods.

When I start to think about how Tatay left this Earth in the middle of a pandemic, I start to get angry and depressed. I know it’s basically pointless to dwell on things that I can’t change, so I’m trying to remember happier times. I remember we visited him 2 months before he passed away. He seemed to be in a happier mood, was more active and sat in his chair, and was making conversation. He was so chill with both of his feet propped up on his bed. Marielle decided to get his attention for a picture, and as he smiled, I decided to photo bomb him. He makes a grunting sound, “Aray! / Ouch!” We all gasped in utter horror. Everyone is starting to yell at me and blame me for hurting Tatay. I felt so guilty but swear I didn’t even touch him. When we look back at Tatay, he’s straight cracking up – I knew I was innocent! I knew he was truly my Tatay because he was finding so much joy in trolling me. He laughed and laughed. And Marielle caught it all on camera.

Sundays at Tatay’s House

This is story 4 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

Ate and I teaching Tatay how to do a Boomerang

If my dad doesn’t see signs of my sisters and I motioning to get up by 5 PM on a Sunday evening, he starts up again. “LETS GO! GET READY NOW!” he says throughout the house. Whether someone is sleeping on the couch, going pee in the bathroom, or literally already about to head downstairs to get ready, they get the same reminder. It’s Sunday, so it’s time to go to dinner at Tatay’s house. We partially ignore my dad’s irritated orders because we know we’re still going to be the first ones to arrive anyways. Depending on my mom’s mood, she’s either making food to bring to Tatay’s, or we buy take out. It’s the last scramble to get your belongings, phone charger, water bottle, computer, any work that you’re “going to work on” while at Tatay’s, before we hear my dad again. “LETS GOOOO!!!” Depending on his mood there might be a honk or two while he’s in the car.

We make our way to Tatay’s house and make the same walk that we always do from the apartment parking lot to his front door. We doorbell, but end up opening the door anyways. We greet Tita and bless her, quickly trying to claim a spot on the couch. The smell of food is already in the air. One thing about Tatay’s house is that there’s never a time where you leave and don’t smell like food. Little by little everyone starts showing up with food in hand, going straight to the kitchen. Tatay makes his grand appearance down the stairs, his cane not even touching the ground. We all line up to bless Tatay and greet him. We all wait until everyone has arrived before we pray and start to eat.

At Tatay’s service, something that all my cousins brought up during their speech was the language barrier we all faced when trying to communicate with Tatay. Every Sunday that we were there for dinner, my sisters and I would struggle to try to attempt to say something in Tagalog. Sometimes it was successful and we could carry out a simple conversation, but other times he would look at us like “….?” We would burst out laughing in embarrassment that our Tagalog was not understandable. We could understand what he would say to us in Tagalog, but we would need some time to process how to say what we wanted to say from English to Tagalog. But when our Tagalog wasn’t successful, we would tell our dad to translate what we wanted to say. We would use my dad as the human translator to tell Tatay information or ask him something.

Regardless of the language barrier, we all still found ways to communicate with Tatay. It’s crazy because even though we couldn’t communicate smoothly, the bond was still there. Maybe it’s because he lived with my family and I until I was about 7 years old, or the fact that there was just a mutual love between grandfather and grandchildren. Whatever it was, I still felt very close to my Tatay. When we were little he would take bus all around the city and come home with random things for my sisters and I. We showed our love through food, acts of service, and trying to show him things through the TV, our phones, or pictures.

Tatay’s house doesn’t have cable, so we were always trying to look for shows about animals. Animal planet was Tatay’s channel. He has always been so entertained and intrigued by animals. Ever since we were little, it was Tatay’s staple in his personality. Anything that had to do with animals, he loved. For a period of time, we would enter Tatay’s house on Sunday and immediately put it On Demand – a show about animals that he couldn’t get to on his own. He would always ask how we got on that channel, probably so he could try to watch it himself when we left. But the remote control for a 90+ year old is like the smart phone for Boomers. We just let him know that we would put on the channel for him when we came. We would watch animal documentaries while eating food, everyone huddled around the TV. Tatay would be totally fascinated. I don’t know when the switch happened, but over time we moved on to America’s Funniest Home Videos, and it was a plus that there was an animal segment.

When everyone is done with eating dinner, we just chill and hangout. This is usually the time when Tita will take out and offer the ice cream. Not just any ice cream, Mitchell’s Ube and Mango. Whoever takes the offer of getting ice cream always ends up being the server for everyone else. On the sidelines you will find cousins who are typing hard away on their laptop, people doing homework, great grandkids screaming from the top of their lungs running throughout the house, for some reason wrestling always ends up happening in the middle of the livingroom floor, some chisme in the kitchen with the adults, and cousins chopping it up in the livingroom. It’s a small apartment, but we made it a home. All of us crammed in there every other week to just hangout and be together as a family. Tatay would be in his designated chair either watching TV, or just observing the beautiful Sunday chaos going on around him.

And then there’s the pictures. I feel like we bonded with Tatay through taking pictures together and showing him filters. I always wondered what he was thought of them. Imagine being in your mid 90’s, and a little screen is showing that there’s a cat on your head. At times he would laugh and make a surprised entertained noise, and other times his reaction was like what the hell is that?! Seeing his reaction to filters and seeing his face when he saw himself on camera was priceless. I have so many photos of Tatay with a filter on, and they all put a smile on my face because I know he was truly shook with every single one.

One Sunday Tatay took an interest in my phone. I was on it and he asked if it was mine. The curiosity in his eyes and in how he was asking led me to believe that he was interested in playing around with it. I was doing homework at the time, so I put in my password and handed it over to him. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing because I was focused on what I was working on. In less than 30 seconds Tatay quickly hands it back to me and says something along the lines of “Here, I’m done now, take it,” in Tagalog. He was a bit distraught and to be honest, a little frantic. I looked at my phone to see that a couple of my apps were open and moved around, my Amazon cart was was open in the process of adding something random to my cart, and so many things were rearranged and done in such a small amount of time that I couldn’t help but laugh.

That’s what I mean when I say that even though there was a language barrier, it didn’t get in the way of Tatay bonding and interacting with us. Especially the relationships he had with his great grandchildren. All the kids knew his house as “Tatay’s House.” To them, Tatay’s house is where you go to play with your cousins, scream and run all night, and get scolded for going on the stairs. Tatay’s house was a place that they looked forward to going to because they knew that all the family would be there. They knew that there would be pizza, puto, and cousins to play with. Tatay was very loving an affectionate to his great granddaughters. They would come up to give him kisses and hugs, sit on his lap, and eagerly greet him when they came in. He would use his cane to play with them, and even though he probably didn’t know who’s kid belonged to who, he was thoroughly amused by their rambunctious ways. I’d always hoped that Tatay would be around long enough to meet my children.

There would be many times where I found myself observing Tatay as he observed the room himself. When the kids were yelling and having a great time, he would smile to himself, not bothered by the high pitched screams of enjoyment. Tatay was always lingering around. He wouldn’t be in the main conversations, but more so chillin on the sidelines hanging out. When we had our first Sunday dinner after over a year of being apart, I saw the spark in Tatay’s eyes again. Seeing everyone together, being in the thick of the chaos to see great grandchildren reuniting after so long, the apartment that was so quiet throughout the entire pandemic finally got brought back to life. I’m glad we gave Tatay a few more Sunday dinners despite the pandemic.

Now, Sundays look a little different. We are continuing to go to “Tatay’s house,” – because it will always be “Tatay’s house” to me – every other Sunday to have family dinner. This time around, we visit the cemetery before heading over. My dad’s “LETS GOOO, GET READY NOW!” announcements are now a little earlier so we have time to swing by the cemetery before it closes. We still make it a point to see Tatay every Sunday. It’s only right that we drop by and say hello, even if it’s only for a quick 2 minutes like what we did throughout the pandemic. If I think about it for too long, I get sad knowing that Tatay’s house will never be the same. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that still thinks he’s going to walk down those 2 flights of stairs, cane in hand, making his grand appearance into the livingroom. As time goes on, I know things will continue to change, people will move away, and things won’t always be the same. But for the time being, while we are still resuming family gatherings, I’d like to think that Tatay’s watching over us. I hope he’s glad that we’re continuing to come together as a family at “Tatay’s house” for Sunday dinner while we all still can.

F*ck This Pandemic

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.

Emotional Constipation

This is story 2 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

I’ve always considered myself very close to my Tatay, “Tatay Jack,” as I grew up calling him. I’ve always looked at him like he was a living relic because of his old age. 98! The things he witnessed and lived through always intrigued me. How he carried himself, how his mind worked thinking things through, where he came from, and how he grew up was so fascinating to me. He was 98 years old, but I expected 98 more. As naïve as it sounds, I never pictured my life without him. Of course I knew that with his old age, and given the life expectancy of your average person, it was childish and absurd to think that we would be on Earth together for as long as I lived. But, it was still my train of thought. To me, he lived against all odds, he was invincible.

With time, Tatay’s health started to decline little by little, and then drastically throughout the pandemic. When we would visit him, I couldn’t help but look at him with a heavy heart and wonder to myself how much time he actually had left with us. I know that’s a wretched way of thinking, but my brain was already mentally preparing my heart for the worst. At the same time, it made me cherish the times we went to see him even more because I knew time was not on our side. We all knew it was going to come one day, but I didn’t want that day to be now – or ever for that matter. But I knew I had to come to terms with the reality of life and death.

I expected to be an absolute wreck because I know myself to be a very emotional person when it comes to death. I expected myself to be more obviously distraught, crying at just the thought of him, and a ball of nerves and emotions. Instead, I find myself numb, withdrawn, and avoiding my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly sad, angry, and grieving, but my response to the passing of my Tatay is not the reaction I had prepared myself for. I find myself grieving in waves.

After receiving news of Tatay’s death, it’s like I was watching a movie, a total out of body experience. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, like it wasn’t even reality. As a family, we all had to process his death, but also go immediately into planning mode for his service. I found it easier to busy myself with tasks like writing his eulogy and looking through pictures to send to my sister to put on his slideshow than to deal with my sorrow and anger. For me, I didn’t have time to be sad. My main concern was capturing Tatay’s life in the best way possible for his eulogy and doing my part in giving him the best service, because that’s what he deserved.

Coincidently, Tatay passed a day before my last day of work before a 2 week long summer break. I was looking forward to this break for so long to finally unwind and relax. I soon realized that I would be using these 2 weeks off to mourn and bury my grandfather. Trying to make light of the situation, I would tell people closest to me that at least I had two weeks off of work to deal with his passing, oppose to grieving while still having to work 8-5 Monday through Friday. Christian and I had planned a week long stay in SoCal to visit his family before Tatay passed. Our Airbnb was non-refundable, so I decided to go for a couple of days instead of a full week to not entirely waste our money. The plan was for me to go to SoCal for a couple days and cut the trip short so I could be present for all of Tatay’s services, and Christian left SoCal shortly after me so he could be there in time for Tatay’s funeral.

It was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was on summer break, but I was so sad that it was under these circumstances. On my last day of work I got my nails done at the salon to prepare for my long anticipated vacation, even though all I could think about was the fact that Tatay wasn’t here anymore. I tried to force myself to get excited for the trip and have it be something to take my mind off of my reality for a while. I picked white for my manicure and pedicure so when I came back from SoCal, I was – dare I say – “funeral ready.” My aunts wanted all of us to wear white the day of his funeral.

The whole time I was in SoCal, I knew I had to write my speech that I would read during his viewing service. I brought my laptop and everything with me to type it up. But I couldn’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop and get started. Instead, I was mentally writing it in my head, drafting down nothing. I stalled on writing my speech because that would crystalize my reality – Tatay is gone, this is your last goodbye. So I stalled and stalled some more until I was back in the Bay Area. There was so much I wanted to say, so many memories I wanted to include, so many points I wanted to make, but no words on my screen. All that stood before me was a blinking cursor.

I procrastinated for so long, but it got to a point where I had to finish the speech because his viewing service was less than 24 hours away. This is part of the reason why I decided to write a series for Tatay. I had so much to say, but knew that his viewing wasn’t the place or the time. I wanted to go in depth about some topics and give my honest feelings about my grief, but I knew it probably wasn’t the appropriate setting for it. So I made the speech short and sweet, brushing over the topics I wanted to rant about. Thinking about it now, that probably added to my repression.

The viewing and the funeral was such an emotional rollercoaster. I’d have intense sadness that would result in audible weeping and uncontrollable crying. But then there would be other instances where I’d just have this out of body experience and just be seeing things play out right before my eyes. My grief was coming in waves, and I didn’t know how to let it all out. I felt as though I had an on/ off button for my emotions, but I had no control over it. As they lowered Tatay’s casket into the ground, I remember feeling completely numb. I didn’t cry, I didn’t look away, I just thought to myself, “damn. This is really happening.” I felt emotionally constipated. I had that feeling in my throat where I knew my soul wanted me to cry more tears to relieve my sadness, but nothing was coming out.

And shortly after his funeral, life went “back to normal,” and work started back up again. Only 2 weeks had passed, but I felt like a completely different person. The day Tatay died, I was telling everyone that I was okay, that my family and I were expecting his departure. It took me 2 weeks to realize that I actually wasn’t okay. On the outside, I was continuing with day to day tasks, keeping up with work, doing everything I did before Tatay passed. But on the inside, I was bursting at the seams with emotions, yet at the same time, empty and emotionless. The more I wanted to simmer in my grief and heartache, the colder I got. I couldn’t figure it out. Internally I felt emotionally constipated. And my gut feeling was telling me that all of my buried emotions were about to burst out and surface at a time when I least expected it. I didn’t know that out of all things, my manicure and pedicure would be the thing to set me off. Yup, nail polish is what made me crack.

I usually change my manicure color every week. I have my own gel curating machine at home and a ton of gel nail polish sets. I get tired of my manicures pretty quickly, and the moment I see a chip in my nail polish, I’ll take it as a sign to peel those bad boys off and change the color. My manicures last at most, 1.5 weeks, and that’s part of the reason why I do my own nails and rarely get them professionally done because ain’t nobody have time or money for all of that. I have no problem taking off a manicure and switching it up, it’s something I’ve been doing for years. But the manicure I got the day after Tatay passed was different. I was clinging onto that manicure for dear life.

I refused to change my white gel manicure. It was done with salon gel nail polish, so to be fair and honest, they did last way longer than my gel nail polish that I get from Amazon. This manicure was on week number 3, going on 4. I realized that I was getting fixated on changing my manicure, but brushed it off. “I’ll deal with that later when it actually comes time to change it,” I thought to myself. It’s the longest manicure that has ever lasted on my hands. My nails were growing out, and it was definitely time to change the color. But I was so hesitant. Why? Because time.

For me, seeing my nails growing out and doing a new manicure meant that time was passing. This is obviously a given, but in my head, my manicure was a measurement of time. Since I got it the day after Tatay passed and picked a color that was appropriate for his funeral, to me, changing the color meant significant time had passed since he left the physical world. My nail polish color is something so small and irrelevant, and I didn’t expect to be so fixated on the concept of what changing the color meant to me. Changing my manicure meant that time was passing, that his death was no longer “recent,” that time was moving forward and there was nothing I could do about it. I burst out into tears and started wailing.

I knew I had a lot of emotions that I had to sort through to cope with Tatay’s death. Grief is a tricky thing. One day you think you’re okay, and then another day you’re in complete shambles. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m worried that I’ll forget him. Writing this series is my way of letting it all out. I know I have to sort out all of my grief and lay it all out on the table or I’m just going to keep avoiding these feelings.

I’ve had enough of the emotional constipation…

Tatay Jacinto P. Cabillo

This is story 1 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

*I had the honor of writing my Tatay’s eulogy. This is an edited version of the original*

“Our Tatay, Jacinto P. Cabillo, was born on July 3, 1923 in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines. He was the third child out of six siblings. As a young man, Tatay helped his family raise chickens, pigs, and cows.

 In 1950, he married Concepcion “Conching” Tagle, and together they had 8 children: Lilia, Peping, Luz, Delfin, Cris, Roland, Salvie, and Merlinda. After 15 years of marriage, Nanay Conching, who was 36, passed away during childbirth along with their 8th child, Merlinda. Tatay was widowed at the young age of 41, and was left with 7 children to raise on his own. From eldest to youngest, his children’s ages ranged from 14 to 2 years old. His in-laws, Tarcela and Ricardo Tagle Sr., stepped in and proposed the idea to adopt all 7 children to bring them to America for a better life. 

At first, Tatay was hesitant. But he knew that he couldn’t provide for all 7 children all on his own, so he agreed with one condition. Tatay believed that Roland and Salvie were too young to join their siblings in the States. He feared that they wouldn’t remember him because they were 5 and 2 years old. He wanted the two youngest children to keep him company because he was worried about his mental health – dealing with the loss of a wife and now his children. So the 2 youngest children stayed back with Tatay in Batangas, where they lived until 1974. 

In 1967, his 5 eldest children left to immigrate to America with the help of their Tatay Ricardo and Nanay Tarcela. It was a bittersweet decision for Tatay, but he knew sending his 5 eldest children to plant roots in the States would be the best decision for the generations to come. The saying is true, it really took a village to help raise the Cabillo children. Tatay and the 7 siblings are forever grateful for the sacrifices and help they received from their grandparents, aunts, and uncles after the passing of Nanay Conching.

After 7 long years, Tatay finally reunited with all of his children in 1974 when he arrived in San Francisco. Everyone in the family had to make a lot of sacrifices and do their fair share to make a living in America. To provide for his family, Tatay worked custodian jobs at Riordan High School and Treasure Island. He was also a flower picker in the city of Colma, which was very on brand with his love of nature.

In his long life, Tatay enjoyed exploring the Bay Area, spending time with family, and of course, going back and forth to the Philippines. Even though he was in the States, his heart always remained in Batangas. And on July 18, 2000, Tatay married Adeleida “Tita” Cortiguerra in Pasig, Philippines. From that day forward, Tita never left Tatay’s side. She cared for him and was at his bedside as he took his last breath. 

Tatay lived 98 long and beautiful years. He had the support and love of his children, wife, and family every step of the way. The Cabillo’s are truly blessed to have had Tatay for as long as we did. He had 16 grandchildren, and was fortunate enough to be around while his grandchildren had children of their own. Tatay’s legacy will forever be passed down to the 8 great grandchildren that had the privilege to meet him, and the future generations to come.

Tatay will always be remembered for his signature Rayban aviators, hats, and impeccable swagger. You’d most likely find him sitting on the sidelines of family events observing and finding little things to do to play with his great grandchildren. Tatay always found a way to connect with each great grandchild, despite the language barrier. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, he did so with intent.  He knew exactly what he wanted. 

Before the pandemic, Tatay longed to go back to the Philippines and live his remaining days in the country he grew up in and forever loved. Unfortunately, due to a volcano eruption, Tatay’s flight to the Philippines was canceled, and shortly after, the pandemic hit and borders to fly overseas were shut down. Tatay never got to return back to the Philippines, but our family is grateful that we were able to spend the remainder of his life with him here in the Bay Area, despite the pandemic. 

Tatay passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 6:10 PM peacefully in his bed, accompanied by Tita and family. When our family was sending news to Tatay’s extended family in the Philippines about his passing, they had a surprising revelation to share that brought peace to our hearts. As his soul left his body in South San Francisco around 6:10 PM, a blue colored bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. Family members who are residing in the house couldn’t get the little blue bird to leave, and luckily, they recorded it. We were all at a loss for words. He finally made it back home. 

Tatay, our hearts are heavy to know that you are no longer here with us physically, but we are overjoyed to know that your soul is back in the Philippines. We will miss you, our bi-monthly Sunday dinners, watching animals on TV, and seeing your face light up when you received gifts. Tatay’s wish for his children, grandchildren, and future generations to come was this: To have unity in the family and stick together. We love you, Tatay. We promise to live out your wish.”