Sunday, November 02, 2008

Finding Lala

Serendipity has always been of my favorite words and it came alive for me in time for All Soul’s Day.
It is the story of “finding” someone I had lost 33 years ago and putting closure to a childhood grief experience I thought I had long buried and forgotten.
In Kindergarten in the early 70s, I had a best friend at Maryknoll (now Miriam College) named Lala de las Alas. We hit it off immediately, from the first day of school and were like two peas in a pod. Lala was bright, very pretty, a funny girl with many stories to tell. Unfortunately, our friendship was rudely interrupted in 1973 when she had to stop school to leave for the United States to seek treatment for a kidney disease.
After a year or so, Lala resumed school but was held back because of her illness. I had then moved onto Grade Five. We tried to pick up from where we left off, but you know how it is with children. I missed Lala and I would feel bad whenever I would see her on campus, her appearance had changed and she seemed tired, perhaps because of the steroids that her young body had to take. But her smile was still there. The few times that we were able to chat after she returned from treatment were precious but few and far between.
It was a warm August day in 1975 when the news was delivered over the P.A. system by one of the Maryknoll sisters. “We would like to request the school community to pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Lala de las Alas who joined our Heavenly Father yesterday…” and then it all became a blur as I broke down and cried. All I remember of that day was my uncontrollable sobbing and how I ran to the bathroom to compose myself. In the afternoon, when I returned home from school I requested my parents to take me to Lala’s wake. Perhaps because my parents did not know any better (child psychologists were not readily accessible in 1975) I was not allowed to attend her wake at the Santo Domingo Church. “It’s better for you to remember her alive…” my father said. And so it was that I was not able to say good-bye to a much-loved friend who was gone too soon.
In the ensuing years, although I had tried to block the memory of that first significant loss, I had always considered Lala’s death to be my first major experience of grief. While doing research last year for a book on grief, I remembered Lala’s mother who had lost Lala in the 1970s long before grief support was available in the Philippines. I wondered how she was and had so many questions that I wanted to ask her. I embarked on a search for Dra. Carmen de las Alas that unfortunately ended nowhere.
In March this year, I was asked to edit the book “Age of Confidence” a project of the Maryknoll College High School Class of 1984. A collection of 40 stories from Maryknollers of different generations, it wasn’t an easy project to do and one that was fraught with moments of great frustration but for some reason I was very much drawn to it. I suggested to the book coordinators to include the names of their deceased classmates in the books dedication. When I received the final lay-out, my hair stood. There, in the introduction page, was her name – “In memory of Ma. Estela de las Alas” She was the reason after all, why I had been tasked to edit the book. The Maryknoll High School Batch of 1984 would have been her batch had she lived to graduate from high school.
Then again, I bumped into a wall. Because she died so young, they hardly had any memories of her. However, there was a new link that I had perhaps blocked off but was reminded because of my association to the Batch of ’84 -- Lala had a younger sister named Melanie and she was part of Batch ’84 too. Unfortunately, Melanie had moved to Assumption for high school and no one knew where she was now.
Fast forward to August this year, the hospital I work for hired a new Medical Marketing Director who looked vaguely familiar to me, like someone I used to see as a child. You know how it is when some of the people from your past have faces that hardly change? I noticed that she too would sometimes look at me in a funny way, I would catch her staring at me from the corner of my eye. Finally, one afternoon, during a colleague’s birthday merienda, Dr. Ditas Gonzalez, the new manager, asked me if I had gone to Maryknoll for grade school. I quickly replied yes, andu understood why she had looked so familiar, so I asked her if she did too. She replied in the affirmative and said that she was a part of the class of 1980 but that she had moved to Assumption for high school. A lightbulb suddenly went on in my head… “Wait a minute, I just did a book on your high school batch… Do you know Melanie de las Alas?” I asked her, my chest pounding like crazy, I could hear the thump-thump in my ears. She paused for a moment and replied, “Of course, she’s my best friend…”
Suddenly the floodgates of my childhood swung open and in that moment I thought I was going to faint. So in the next hour, Ditas gave me an update on the why, how’s and whereabouts of Melanie. I was saddened to hear about their mother’s loss but was stunned when I realized that Dra. delas Alas had died during the month when I had been frantically searching for her last year. However I was so happy to have finally found a direct link to Melanie at long last!
A few days later, Ditas hands me over Melanie’s email address and I stare at it for a couple of weeks -- hemming and hawing, agonizing over what I would say to her. Finally, a few days before my birthday last month, I wrote her a very long email. To my great joy she replied the following day. We had both been thinking about each other through the years, “In my mind you will always be ten,” she said. In my mind, I told her, she would always be Lala’s baby sister. How the years had changed us both, how the grief experiences we had as children reverberated all the way throughout our adult lives. What a precious gift it has been for me to find Lala again after 33 years through her sister, Melanie.
The photographs you see here were sent to me by Melanie only a few days ago and the poem is the last one Lala had written the evening before she died on August 25, 1975. God’s ways are truly mysterious and sometimes it takes many decades before we find closure on certain things and events in our lives. Today I remember Lala with special fondness and though I have now been able to bid her good-bye, I am grateful for the new friendship I have forged with her sister. In Melanie I have found and retrieved a cherished part of my childhood, and in me, parts of her sister have come alive once more. Our re-connecting has not been just serendipitous one, but a Divinely orchestrated gift from above.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hannah's Hundred

The gift of life is the most precious gift of all.

If you would like to pay it forward by giving a little girl a shot at life, please read on...

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my three birthday wishes. Today, I write about the fourth one. About a month ago, I came across the story of Hannah Ysabelle Cordoviz through my friend Rapa Lopa's Facebook site. Hannah is a one year old girl afflicted with Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS) - a condition wherein the nerve center that allows Hannah to breathe while sleeping does not function. The syndrome occurs in 1 out of every 1M newborn babies. In the Philippines, there are only three known cases of CCHS, the eldest is now three years old. CCHS patients are expected to lead long and productive lives provided they get the care and necessary medical equipment required for their day to day existence.

A ventilator is CRUCIAL to Hannah's survival. Her parents, Carlo and Joann are so steeped in debt that everything they make now, all go into paying the hospital bills they incurred while Hannah was in the hospital for eight months this year. They have also had to quit both their jobs to care for her 24/7. A portable ventilator costs 750,000 pesos. You can read more about their story in Hannah's Bassinet.

When I first blogged about Hannah, my blogmate and friend Tessa Mendoza Cruz, a physical therapist based in Atlanta, was so moved, that on her own, she circulated the letter to several ventilator suppliers in the United States. We had been praying for someone to either donate a unit or sell it to us at a substantial discount. And God answered our prayers!

An offer came through an email, for us to purchase the ventilator at an amazingly discounted cost! The offer was too good to be true and far beyond our wildest dreams and expectations. But isn't that the way the Lord works?

Between the three of us - Tessa, Rapa and myself - we decided to split the expected cost and create our own fundraising efforts.

And this is mine...

"Hannah's Hundred" is a 5K race that I plan to run on November 23, 2008. It is a race sponsored by UNICEF, aptly titled "Walk On The Child's Side". Now, I am no true-blue runner and this will be a major challenge for me. As of this writing, I have only ran a measly 3K and at a very slow pace :) I hope and pray that you will help me run this race for Hannah. I do not expect to win the race, only to complete it with Hannah as my motivation to run it to the best of my ability.

How does it work?

I am looking for at least 100 kind individuals who will pledge at 1,000 pesos each for the race I will run. Roughly, that is 200 pesos/kilometer. I am entering the 5K category. Each person who donates 1,000 pesos to the cause will be entitled to a raffle ticket.

What do you win?

Aside from being able to contribute and give the gift of breath and life to Hannah, you can win a very special prize. My good friend, the highly talented and very generous architect and visual artist Joven Ignacio has so graciously donated a watercolor painting of his which he titled "Hannah". Every 1000 pesos you donate to Hannah's Hundred will get you one chance to win Joven's beautiful watercolor painting (17 x 23). This precious artwork is of considerable value and blessed be the person who will take it home :)

Currently, I already have pledges from 5 people and I am looking for 95 more kind and generous souls. We all know that times are very difficult but one lesson I have learned time and again is that when we find the courage to go beyond ourselves, when we step out of the shadow of our own sadness, it is then that we feel braver, blessed and more optimistic about our circumstances. Somehow it has always been in giving that we become more fulfilled. It takes many kind hearts to give one child a better chance at life.

Will you run the race with me and be a part of HANNAH'S HUNDRED?

If you would like to make a pledge, or a deposit, please leave me a message here or email me at cathybabao@gmail.com and I will acknowledge your pledge/deposit via email. If you know of others who may want to help Hannah out, please send this post to them. Any funds collected in excess of 100K will be donated to Hannah's parents to help defray her medical expenses. The raffle will be held after the race, in the first week of December. By God's grace, Hannah will get her ventilator, and a blessed donor will bring home the "Hannah" painting in time for Christmas.

Thank you very much!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Book for Grieving Children


I knew loss as a very young girl when my father died of a heart attack when I was 16 years old. In 1981, an adolescent like myself could not make heads or tails of what the whole grief experience was all about. Drawing from my own personal experience and that of my child's, a little over a year ago, I set out to write a children's story with Pia as my subject. It was the story of how she coped in the first year after we lost Migi. Back in 1998, she was all of seven years old.

"Heaven's Butterfly" is a story about how to help children deal with the loss of a loved one through death. Pia and I pray that the book will be able to help many other children and their parents who have experienced the death of a loved one. In the book is a small section on how parents and teachers can help children grieve well.

It's not always easy to share your story with the world. It was very healing for the two of us to write this. When we saw the illustrations the first time, we really cried. In putting our grief into words, for Pia, especially, our lives have finally come full circle after ten years.

The illustrations were made by the very talented
Panch Alcaraz whose amazing gift made our story come alive. Panch was able to capture the essence of Migi and Pia in the photographs, and how we were as a family 10 years ago. An interesting side note is that while working together, I discovered that Panch's father, Pat, was my former boss at Philippine Airlines in the late 1980s. Again, it never ceases to amaze me how God brings people together for a purpose.



"Heaven's Butterfly" was written to honor the memory of our little boy blue who taught us the meaning of love and selflessness. It was also written for all the other children who walk the delicate journey from healing to hope. Published by Anvil, it is due for release very soon.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Has Justice Been Served?

Seventeen years ago. On a cold, dark evening. A sixteen year old girl begs for her life. Deaf to her pleas, for some unfathomable reason, she is shot, in cold blood.

Seventeen years later, in the dead of the night, while the whole world sleeps, the man who shot the 16 year old in cold blood, is set free.

I wonder what thoughts must be going through Hultman's hearts right now? What would I do, if I were in their shoes? I suppose, forgiveness comes, eventually, at some point in the road. But isn't it also true that one must pay for the consequences of one's sin?

What is the basis for clemency? For pardon? Can someone please explain this to me? If you were the Hultman's how would you feel? Is 17 years behind bars enough penalty? Maybe it is. Did Mr.Teehankee find God in jail?

I would be very interested in a story, in an interview with him. How was your life changed by the experience? What did you discover while you were in jail?

Are you planning to seek the Hultman's forgiveness?

If the Jewish concentration camp prisoner was able to forgive the Nazi who massacred his entire family...If the Amish whose daughters were mercilessly shot by the man who took them hostage were able to forgive...

No one is beyond redemption. There is earthly justice and Divine justice. I suppose the story does not end here. It would be interesting to listen to the opinion and the sentiments of both sides and see how the story will unravel from hereon.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman's Greatest Legacy

The Hole In The Wall Camps will be one, if not the most lasting, the most memorable of Paul Newman's legacies. More than his films, and his other philanthropic works, this is the advocacy that perhaps will leave it's mark on thousands of lives. Paul Newman will live on in each every child that has come through this camp.

Watch this beautiful video...

Paul Newman, 83 Goes Home

I just read the sad news. One of my childhood idols has passed away.

Paul Newman, 83 died in his Connecticut home after a long battle with cancer. He will be a great loss not only to Holl

ywood, but to the world, which he made a little better by his presence. Not only was he a brilliant actor but he was a wonderful human being.

An Associated Press report says --

"Newman had a soft spot for underdogs in real life, giving tens of millions to charities through his food company and setting up camps for severely ill children. Passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of civil rights, he was so f

amously liberal that he ended up on President Nixon's "enemies list," one of the actor's proudest achievements, he liked to say."

I loved all of Pual Newman's movies. I first saw him in the movie "The Sting" with Robert Redford, when I was all of eight years old and since then I have become such a huge fun. My admiration for him was further heightened by his humanitarian work, especially in helping children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.

Like me, he also lost a child too. His only Scott (from his first wife), passed away in 1978 from an accidental overdose of alcohol and valium.

In his memory, Newman set up the Scott Newman Center which produces anti-drug abuse films for kids.

He shared a long, enviable marriage to the actress Joanne Woodward by whom he had three daughters, and three others from his first wife, Jacqueline Witte.

Sally Field once said of Paul Newman "Sometimes God makes perfect people, and Paul Newman was one of them."

AP Movie Critic Cristy Lemire in her article, said it best -- His passion came shining through in his love of, and talent for, auto racing. But it's through his philanthropy — the Newman's Own Foundation, which has raised more than $250 million for charities worldwide, and the Hole in the Wall Camps for children with life-threatening diseases — that he showed his true heart.

He will be missed very much. Read the full story here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blue Eagles Fly HIGH!

How sweet it is...!

Rabeh and the team rocked Araneta this afternoon.

Thank you Lord for leading our boys to victory!

69-61. It was simple awesome!

Let's continue to pray and soar!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Let's Help Hannah! One Year Old Needs Portable Ventilator

There are stories that tug at your heart and remind you of certain points in your life’s journey.

Once upon a time, I was a mother with a child who was born with a congenital heart defect. Migi left this world to return to his true home ten years ago, and that episode changed my life, our lives as a family forever. I remember how, when he was just a baby, I would hardly leave the room in the first three months of his life, anxious that the moment I left, he would stop breathing. All throughout his toddler years, we would make sure that someone was with him 24/7.

When I heard about Hannah Ysabelle Cordoviz and the efforts of her parents Carlo and Joan to help keep her alive, I knew I had to do something to help get their story out. Hannah was born on August 14, 2007 with a very rare condition called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). It is a rare and lifetime condition characterized by one's brain failing to signal the body to breathe. In Hannah's case, her brain fails to do so when she falls asleep. To keep her breathing, her parents need to hook her to a mechanical ventilator/respirator, which connects to her through a tracheostomy tube found in an opening in her neck.

In the Philippines, there are only three known cases of CCHS, including Hannah. The eldest among them is a three-year old girl.

The CCHS Family Network website says that the Key to the CCHS patient’s longevity is informed medical supervision by medical professionals who also work to support the family in optimizing the home healthcare and school (or other) settings. At minimum, this requires nighttime nursing support in the home for the infant and young child, along with some respite support for the parents and caregivers. The U.S. based study cited above found that the majority of CCHS families’ medical costs were covered by government and/or private insurance programs.

Unfortunately, in our country, congenital defects such as CCHS is not covered by healthcare insurance at all and so you can imagine the burden of the cost Hannah’s illness has placed on her parents. I had the privilege of speaking to Joann and she tells me that on the average, the family has to spend 150,000 pesos a month to sustain Hannah’s care. This already includes monthly payments to the hospital where Hannah was confined for eight months – from September 2007 until May 2008. But what parent will not do everything to keep their child alive?

A huge chunk of the monthly expense comes from renting a ventilator which costs the couple 25,000 pesos a month. “The money we have is money we already owe family, relatives and friends who have helped us since Hannah was born,” Joann and Carlo tell me. Both of them have had to quit their jobs to take care of Hannah who requires full-time care. There is a private nurse who relieves them and helps them out when they need to rest and her salary is factored into the cost. “It is our dream to buy Hannah her own portable ventilator, which she can use for so many years ahead. This portable ventilator will also allow us to bring Hannah outside the confines of our house: to the park maybe, to church, or even to a nearby fast food restaurant. It does pain us to know that we're not able to have Hannah see the same sights, hear the same sounds, and experience the same things as other babies of her age do,” the couple say. Joann tells me that a portable ventilator is crucial to Hannah’s survival and it will cost them 750,000 pesos to purchase one. With debts piling up month after month, the ventilator seems to be a pipe dream but the Cordoviz couple remains strong in their faith. “God provides and He has taken us this far,” Joann says.

To help in their fund-raising efforts, they have started a home business and built a website called “Rosaries for Hannah” – www.hannahysabelle.multiply.com Carlo and Joann make and sell lovely rosary bracelets as a means of raising funds to buy Hannah her much needed ventilator. If you would like to learn moirĂ© about Hannah, do visit their beautiful website, if your heart is moved to help out this couple, please call Joann at 0915-3111641 or email her at jscordoviz@yahoo.com

Tara Update

Tara Santelices, the young woman who survived a hold-up in a jeepney last August 9, continues to lie in a coma at The Medical City. The good news is she has begun to open her right eye (the left is totally damaged) and yawns occasionally. Her mother told me yesterday that Tara has also started to move her hands. These movements were not expected at all, considering the extent of her wounds (fragments of a bullet remain lodged in her skull). The President paid her a private visit late last week and pledged to look into her case. As of this writing, the case had been brought to the NBI and a new witness has surfaced. We continue to pray for Tara and for more miracles to come her way.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fly High! Ateneo Defeats De la Salle... Again!

We soared HIGH... once more! Go ATENEO! All the way to the championship :)

A wonderful prelude to our sesquicentennial.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

For All Ateneans - Basketball, The Ateneo Way

This was sent to me via email by my friend and blogmate Jane :) and then I saw it on my other friend Tina's site. Too brilliant not to share! September 6 is THE day...One BIG FIGHT!

ADM 102: Introduction to Ateneo-La Salle Games
Thu/Sat/Sunday, 4:00 PM, Araneta Coliseum

Course Description
The course introduces the student-cheerer to the dynamics and principles of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. The course employs both theoretical and application dimensions. The theoretical phase exposes the student to the history of the rivalry, the tradition of cheering, the construction of the ideal Atenean 6th Man, and other theoretical concepts.
The application phase on the other hand requires the student to put into practice all the theoretical principles. These practices include, among others: effective skills in lining up for the games, cheering (pre-game, during the game, half-time and post-game), jeering, heckling, creating effective posters and banners for one's favorite players and posing and smiling for Fabilioh.com.


Course Objectives
By the end of the course, the student should have been able to:
understand what it means to be the Sixth Man
understand the difference between an Atenean and La Sallite
integrated himself with the community of believers
develop his school spirit

Course Outline and Reading List
Chapter 1: What is School Spirit?
Required Readings:
Excerpts from the "History of the Ateneo"
The student's "OrSem Manual"
"The Ateneo Cheerbook"
"Who and What is the Ateneo Sixth Man?"
Ruel De Vera's "The Eagles Have Landed"
Selected Speeches of Angelico Sinjian (Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion)

Chapter 2: Knowing the Enemy
Required Readings:
SUSPENDED! The 2005 UAAP Scandal
"We Must Come From/Hit Them From Behind"
"What is Sports Science and Translation Management?"
"How To Spell Correctly During Cheerdance Competition"
Optional/Supplementary Readings
"No Cheering During Time Out"
"Get that Ball! — UE"
"Why are there Two Birds in UAAP?"
"Who let the (Bull)Dogs out?"
"You Cannot Overcheer Us!"
"NABRO: Equality or Social Injustice?"

Chapter 3: Pre-Game Rituals
Required Readings
"The Art of Lining Up"
"Sketching Great and Creative Posters and Banners for Your Favorite Players"
"Scalpers and Where To Find Them"
"Reserving Seats for Friends in Upper A and Upper B"
Optional Readings
"How to Jump From the Gen Ad to Upper B: A Step-By-Step Guide"
"How to Jump From Upper B to Upper A: A Step-By-Step guide"

Chapter 5: Game Time
Required Readings:
"Developing Your Endurance"
"The Psychology Behind Get That Ball"
"Who are the Gang Green?"
"Half-time is Game-Time"
"Fly High" + "The Victory Song"

Chapter 6-A: When the Final Buzzer Beats (In case of Victory)
Required Readings
"The Song for Mary and the Proper Way to Sing It"
"How to sing The Song For Mary and Still Look Cute for Fabilioh.com"
"How To Argue with Sore Losers in PinoyExchange.com and Gameface.ph"

Chapter 6-B: When the Final Buzzer Beats (In case of Defeat)
Required Readings:
"Win or Lose, It's The School We Choose: Deepening Your Spirituality — The Sesquicentennial Edition"
"Contemplating on the Meaning of Life: An Introduction"
"Surviving the Wrath of Fr. Adolfo Dacanay SJ"

Course Requirements
Written Long Test will assess your memorization of the tradition and history of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. The test items consist of Multiple Choice questions and an evaluation of True or False statements.
Oral Exam. The student will randomly draw two cheers from a lot. The student must cheer/sing the cheers he picked. Afterwards, he must be able to explain the significance of the cheer/song. He must also be able to identify when these cheers/songs are used.
Practical Exam:. The student must line up for tickets. This is a pass or fail exam. If the student is able to acquire a ticket, he automatically gets an A. If he doesn't get any ticket, he must take the Make-Up Test.
Make-up Test: Negotiating with Scalpers. Students who wish to pass the first practical exam for the course but failed to do so must take the Make-Up test. The student must locate a scalper within the vicinity of Araneta Coliseum. This is not a pass or fail test. The student's grade depends on how he was able to acquire a good ticket with the lowest possible price. The better the ticket with lower ticket price, the higher the grade.

Final Exam: Students are required to cheer during the game. The grade depends on the voice quality and frequency of the cheering. The Ateneo standard grading system will be applied. Therefore the passing score for the Final Exam is 70%. Students who cannot stand up and cheer 70% of the time automatically fail the exam.
Bonus points are given to students who are able to convince others to cheer loudly, either through a well-articulated speech or forceful coercion. Extra points are also awarded to fans who make creative banners for their favorite players.
Written Long Test: 20%
Oral Exam: 20%
Practical Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 40%

Course Policies and Other Reminders
1. Plagiarism. Plagiarism is an extreme offense. Do not copy cheers from other schools.
2. Cellphone Use. Using your cellphone to place in bets is illegal. Do not get yourself into trouble.
3. Cuts. Once you are inside Araneta, you are not allowed to leave. You must watch all four quarters. Win or lose, you are not allowed to leave before the Song for Mary is sung. Doing so merits an automatic W for the course.

Course prepared by Migoy Lizada.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Prayer For My Friend

And just when I thought that the Lord was done speaking to me through music, I had to "stumble" upon this.Another beautiful one from Casting Crowns. For a friend who is very dear to me. Here's my prayer for you, set in music and lyrics that I pray you will listen to. May the Lord touch your heart.

Who Am I? Here's the answer...

There are some songs that move the spirit and move you to tears of joy and humility.

Last night at worship, one of our pastor's sons sang this song that resonated in me.
Reminding me how we are but a speck of dust on this earth and how everything we have - loved ones, talents, and material possessions are only lent to us. "Not because of who I am, but because of who YOU are..." Here today, gone tomorrow.

What is unchanging is the unconditional love that He has for us and how we can always trust Him no matter what.

May you be inspired by this beautiful song...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In The Eye Of The Storm, HIS Eye Is On You

Today I accompanied a good friend (more like a sister) and her family to her father's first of a series of radiation treatments. The treatments are being done at the hosptal where I work and I consider it a blessing having this opportunity to be of service in whatever little way I can.

We watched from the sidelines as her dad was fitted with his mask, and the technician gently positioned him on the bed beneath the huge, linear accelerator that would zap portions of the tumor growing in his brain, by God's grace shrinking it and by His mercy adding more productive days to his life. When my friend's dad was finally set into position, we were asked to leave the room and made to wait outside. As we were making small talk, trying to allay whatever nerves we were feeling, my glance fell on the iron door as it shut, my friend's dad lying in there by his lonesome. "Do not enter when RED light is on." the sign above it read as the red light began to flash.

"Shucks, ikaw lang talaga mag-isa..." I quietly said to my friend and her mom as heaved a sigh. At that moment, I could not help but think of my tito as he lay in there on that cold steel bed. What must he be thinking? feeling? And then it dawned on me that at many crisis moments and turning points in our lives, often we find ourselves alone with God. My thoughts flew back two two years ago, when on August 28, 2006 I too was in that same place. Not on a Linear Accelerator machine having a tumor zapped, but in the high-risk pregnancy unit, eight weeks pregnant, counting the hours before a laparoscopy was about to be performed on me, hoping and praying that the ectopic pregnancy inside of me would not burst. It was then I realized that in many moments of my lifeit was really just God and me in the wilderness. And in the same breath I remembered how many times HE had carried me through. Really, in the middle of the storm, HIS eye remains firmly on us no matter how much our boat gets rocked.

The treatments signify a new road on the journey for my friend's dad. I pray that they trust and believe in God's healing power always, because with great love and FAITH come great miracles. And that no matter how and when the journey ends, God will be there to see them through.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ted Kennedy's Season of Hope

"For me this is a season of hope...." - Senator Eduard Kennedy

I've always been a HUGE Kennedy fan.

Teddy Kennedy's speech at today's Democratic Convention was one of the best I have heard. Stirring, inspiring, and heartwarming, it was also a bittersweet moment. I could not help but be teary-eyed while watching him on Youtube today.

Perhaps it is also because he shares the same illness with someone very dear to me that I found the moment extremely poignant. It warmed my heart to see and hear him say that nothing would keep him away from that podium today. Much like the courage and resolve of someone I know. Ted Kennedy inspires us all with his fierce determination.

For someone whose days are now numbered, his words certainly stirred my heart -- "The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on..."

God bless Ted Kennedy. Listen and be inspired.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tara's Deep Deep Sleep

It was momentarily surreal for me. Like watching parts of my life in a movie.

As H and sat across Tara's parents - Larry and Anne - it was liikelooking at ourselves some ten years ago. Only this time, it wasn't Migi lying in a deep coma but 22 year old Tara Santelices.

When I first told H that I wanted to visit Tara's folks in the ICU waiting area of The Medical City, he wondered aloud if it was the same Santelices whohad gone to the same school he went to as a young boy in Naga. True enough, it was. No coincidences in God's plan.

When we arrived, the Santelices couple were not there yet but Joee Mejias, Tara's best friend who was with her on the night that we shot inside a passenger jeepney somewhere in Cainta, was there and willing to talk to me about the harrowing night of August 6 when Tara's was shot in head by what now appears to be a .38 cal revolver. The assailant, a burly looking man in his 40s continues to remain at large.

I remain in awe of how Joee managed to keep her wits about her that evening. The two friends had been waiting for a ride home to Cainta (for Tara) and Antipolo (for Joee) a little before midnight. They had left the Burger King on Marcos Highway and waited at the jeepney terminal by Santa Lucia Mall when a strange looking jeep with the sign "Angono" passed them. The two young women were the first to board the jeepney. It was a few minutes before midnight, the eve of Tara's 23rd birthday. A few minutes, and several passengers later, a rougish looking, 40 year old man, boarded the jeep and squeezed himself into the space betwee Joee and the leftend side of the jeepney. Tara had been seated beside Joee when around 1230 AM in a crowded, dark area, the man pulled out his gun and announced the hold-up. He told the two girls to give up their bags and belongings but Tara, being the feisty young woman that she had always been, put up a struggle and it was then that the gunman pulled the trigger, shooting Tara on the forehead.

The man jumped off the jeepney and escaped, leaving Tara slumped on her seat and Joee in shock. After a few seconds, Joee checks on Tara and asks if she is okay. "She had blood spurting like crazy from her forehead and we were both all bloodied but she managed to tell me that she was ok and so I knew she was still conscious," Joee recalls of that tragic evening. Barking orders, she asked the driver to take them to the nearest clinic which was some 20 minutes away. Joee says that they couldprobably have gotten there faster had the driver not made several stops to let three other passengers off!! I was appalled when Joee shared this with me -- at the seeming lack of urgency! Could it have been that the jeepney was in cahoots all along?

Unfortunately, the clinic where they were dropped off was ill-equipped to handle the emergency and so again Joee pleaded for help from her co-passengers but she says that among them, only one woman named Abigail helped them flag a cab that took them to Amang Rodriguez hospital. At the hospital, Joee was met by her mother whom she was able to call at some point during the evening, hysterical, saying that Tara had just been shot. "We arrived at Amang Rodriquez at around 1:30 AM and by then she was already unconscious and had lost so much blood. Tara was "stabilized" at 4AM on August 6, as dawn's first light broke on her 23rd birthday.

Larry and Anne Santelices decided to move their eldest daughter to The Medical City that same morning and she arrived at the hospital at around 9AM. While there, tests showed that the bullet was lodged in the left side of her head close to the left temporal lobe. It is what you call a "hollowpoint" bullet, one that fragments upon impact. The Santelices couple were advised of only a 10 percent chance of survival if Tara was to be operated on and that at this point in the game, if she were to survive, she would no longer be the Tara that everyone knew and loved.

What kind of person was Tara? Joee says that Tara was highly-artistic and very peace loving. An AB Political Science '07 graduate from the Ateneo de Manila, she had dreams of one day working for the United Nations. At the time of her accident, she was working for an NGO called Upland Marketing. Tara loved music and wasthe lead guitarist of an all-girl band called Saffron and was part of a duo called Storm.

A life cut so soon always makes one stop and ask many questions. There now exists so much violence in our communities that it has become a difficult time to be a parent. This is the third violent incident I had heard about this week and I must admit that it rattles my nerves. Nowadays, one must be extra prayerful and ask that the Lord continue to cover us and our loved ones with His protection and grace.

A criminal roams the streets of Cainta and I pray that Divine justice will be served. This is a wake-up call on many levels. Meanwhile, Tara remains in a deep, deep sleep and we all continue to pray for God's hand to manifest itself in the days ahead

Monday, August 11, 2008

While Tara Sleeps...

What do you do when your child hovers between lifeand death? It is a situation very familar to me, having been there before. I read this entry in my friend Tina's blog. I do not know Tara either but I was very moved by what she andher parents are now going through. Tara is confined in the hospital where I work as a consultant. I will make sure to visit her parents tomorrow and give you an update.

Word spreads around fast and almost everyone has already heard about what happened to our dear friend, Tara Santelices (Assumption Antipolo’s Batch 2003 and Ateneo de Manila University’s Class of 2007, AB Political Science).

On the eve of her 23rd birthday, Tara was shot in the head during a hold-up while riding a jeepney along Imelda Avenue, Cainta, Rizal. Joee Mejias, who was with her at that time, rushed her to Amang Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Marikina City. The parents of Tara and Joee arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter. When morning came, Tara’s parents finally decided to transfer her to the Medical City, Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City. Since 8:00am of August 6, Tara has been in the ICU fighting for her dear life. Her parents have decided not to push through with the operation.

Although it might seem that there is nothing else that we can do but wait for Tara to wake up from this horrific nightmare, we, the friends of Tara, have decided to raise funds for Tara’s hospital bills. This is the least we can do to ease the unbearable pain her family is going through. We have been given the go-signal from Tara’s dad, Tito Larry, and here are the details:

The temporary bank account is under Anne Marie F. Santelices, Banco de Oro, SA 2140-062201. For direct cash donations, please proceed to the ICU Waiting Room of the Medical City (Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City). Please look for Joee Mejias or Lila Santelices.

Any amount will be gratefully accepted. Anonymous donations are also welcome. Please spread the word. Forward this to your family, friends and even to everyone else you know. Please post this on Friendster, Multiply, Facebook and wherever else you can think of. Please send group messages on Yahoo Messenger. This will mean so much to us, her friends.

Please continue praying for Tara, for Joee and for both of their families. If you want to come see Tara, visiting hours at the ICU are at 9:00 am to 11:00 am and 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Thank you so much for your time and kind consideration.

For inquiries, please contact Joee Mejias (09228154987) for calls and Jac Ledonio (09167243071) or Myka Francisco (09163695148) for text messages.

While Tara Sleeps...

What do you do when your child hovers between lifeand death? It is a situation very familar to me, having been there before. I read this entry in my friend Tina's blog. I do not know Tara either but I was very moved by what she andher parents are now going through. Tara is confined in the hospital where I work as a consultant. I will make sure to visit her parents tomorrow and give you an update.

Word spreads around fast and almost everyone has already heard about what happened to our dear friend, Tara Santelices (Assumption Antipolo’s Batch 2003 and Ateneo de Manila University’s Class of 2007, AB Political Science).

On the eve of her 23rd birthday, Tara was shot in the head during a hold-up while riding a jeepney along Imelda Avenue, Cainta, Rizal. Joee Mejias, who was with her at that time, rushed her to Amang Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Marikina City. The parents of Tara and Joee arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter. When morning came, Tara’s parents finally decided to transfer her to the Medical City, Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City. Since 8:00am of August 6, Tara has been in the ICU fighting for her dear life. Her parents have decided not to push through with the operation.

Although it might seem that there is nothing else that we can do but wait for Tara to wake up from this horrific nightmare, we, the friends of Tara, have decided to raise funds for Tara’s hospital bills. This is the least we can do to ease the unbearable pain her family is going through. We have been given the go-signal from Tara’s dad, Tito Larry, and here are the details:

The temporary bank account is under Anne Marie F. Santelices, Banco de Oro, SA 2140-062201. For direct cash donations, please proceed to the ICU Waiting Room of the Medical City (Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City). Please look for Joee Mejias or Lila Santelices.

Any amount will be gratefully accepted. Anonymous donations are also welcome. Please spread the word. Forward this to your family, friends and even to everyone else you know. Please post this on Friendster, Multiply, Facebook and wherever else you can think of. Please send group messages on Yahoo Messenger. This will mean so much to us, her friends.

Please continue praying for Tara, for Joee and for both of their families. If you want to come see Tara, visiting hours at the ICU are at 9:00 am to 11:00 am and 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Thank you so much for your time and kind consideration.

For inquiries, please contact Joee Mejias (09228154987) for calls and Jac Ledonio (09167243071) or Myka Francisco (09163695148) for text messages.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ang Sikreto Ni Victoria

This entry and photo on my funny friend Charmaine's Multiply site REALLY made my afternoon :)

She got this from her friend who shot it somewhere in "bucolic Quezon". Only in the Philippines, right? Don't you just love our Pinoy business savvvvvvy....!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Break Muna...

I know I promised a part two but I am really exhausted today.

Had a pretty exciting day at work and not enough sleep from staying up late last night blogging and facebook-ing (my destresser...). So tonight, I'm slipping into my PJ's really early andwill be kinder to myself.

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata. Better to write down my thoughts after I've had a decent night's sleep at baka kung ano ang masabi ko that I will regret later on.

Until tomorrow...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Ways To Help Your Doctor Help You

“You know your body best, so if you want your doctor to help you even more, you need to tell him your story because you are the expert of your own life,” Margaret Bengzon, Head of the Strategic Services Group of The Medical City tells me one afternoon.

In the Philippines, the doctor’s word is often, God’s word. As parents of an ill child, the norm is usually to just take what the doctor says and go with whatever it is he or she wants done. However, we tend to forget that not everything going on in our child’s life is known to the doctor.

This is the paradigm that The Medical City wishes to break with its new advocacy campaign. One that will hopefully shift the way we Filipinos think about doctors and healthcare. A campaign that will probably resonate with many families who have lived the expereince of caring for a sick loved one whether it be child, parent, or spouse. Bengzon says that at The Medical City, every patient is considered a partner in the healthcare process. In a true partnership, where all things are equal, it is expected that communication flows freely both ways.

However, in a healthcare setting, this is often not the case. I have sat in too many family conferences to know where parents or the chief caregiver hesitates to ask questions or share stories and information, and anxieties for fear of thinking that what he or she has to say is irrevelant. Take for example, a child who is brought to the pediatrician complaining of stomachaches day in and day out. Tests are run and the child is checked but the doctor cannot seem to find anything wrong. Then the mother finally says, at the end of an almost half hour consultation, “Oh by the way, he’s also been complaining about this teacher who has been giving him a hard time in school…” Bingo. Suddenly the pediatrician has this new insight that changes the course or manner by which he or she views the problem. Child stress can be the root of many ills that is often not seen on a medical chart.

Another story, an elderly patient is taken to the doctor by her adult children. She complains of palpitations and vertigo (dizziness). A battery of tests are run to find out what is wrong. Her heart is checked, all clear. She is sent to several specialists and her tests indicate that she is as healthy as a horse. After a couple of consultations, in the course of a conversation, she finally admits to her primary doctor that she has been having sleepless nights worrying about her youngest child who is working overseas as a nurse and has been the subject of wife battery. Again, if the patient had only mentioned this at the very start, then perhaps, a lot of money could have saved and unecessary anxiety over test results should not have happenned.

Some doctors are experts at drawing their patients out. It is a gift, but it is also a skill, I believe that any doctor is capable of learning. However,the reality still is that not all doctors are as adept, and so, as parents of our children, or caregivers to our own parents, we need to ask the questions, to share our stories. Doctors are human beings and not mind readers. Not everything relevant can be seen on a patient’s chart. Yes, numbers and test results are significant, but definitely, in many cases, there are many significant issues about one’s life that need to be shared with your doctor. Questions are another issue. One needs to be pro-active. Research on what it is you or your loved one has and don’t be afraid to ask. Is there a better way? Are there alternative treatments? What is the best possible outcome if we do this or that? How much is this going to cost us?

Your doctor can help you best if you also help yourself, tell him or her what is on your mind and share what is in your heart or what it is that is going on in your life. We pay very good money to get the best health care. A doctor will appreciate it if he sees that you are open and interested to know more about your illness. Do not hesitate to share your fears. The best of doctors will not pooh pooh your concerns. They take the time to listen and show you compassion. Even if there is a whole gaggle of patients coming after you, the good doctor will not make you feel that you are being rushed. A CNN report suggests some ways how a patient can better help his or her doctor –

© Bring in a complete list of your medications. This list includes all the prescription and non-prescription medicines that you are taking and any and all health supplements and vitamins that you have been drinking. Write the name of the drug, the dosage and how often you take it. My personal practice is that whenever any of my children are ill with fever, I make a chart so I can track down the highs and lows of the fever (especially if it has gone on for a couple of days) and beside it the times I give the medication. Whether or not my doctor asks for it, I am ready with the information.

© Come armed with your personal health history. It always pays to know what illnesses you have had in yoiur bloodline. Do you have a history of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, mental health problems? If your grandparents and parents are still alive, I suggest you sit down with them and find out what sickness has plagued them through generations. Some families have a genetic predisposition towards certain types of cancer, heart disease and even mental illness. If you have had a parent who died from a heart attack before the age of 50, your risk of having a heart attack yourself is higher than the general population. Having that knowledge will encourage you to hopefully be more careful aqnd vigilant about what you eat, how you exercise and taking care of your heart.

© Make a list of your concerns and share them. The reason you are seeing a doctor is because there is something bothering you about yourself or your loved one. However, sometimes, when you are already at the clinic, or in front of your doctor, fuzzy thinking sets in. The CNN report quotes Dr. Dana Frank, an internist as Johns Jopkins who says that she appreciates the patient who is ready, “like a boy scout” and is not afraid to ask the questions. If you also feel that something is not very clear to you, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor again – “Could you please run that by me again, doc?” Yes, doctors are busy people but it is a ptient’s right to get the facts straight and very clear. Write notes when necessary. It is best to be clear about your doctors orders, than coming out of the clinic and wondering for the rest of the day if you got it right.

© Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even at the risk of sounding silly, do not hesitate to ask questions of your doctor. Clarify the points that are not very clear to you.

© Know your doctor and find the right fit. In this day and age of HMOs it is hard to be picky about doctors. But here’s the trick, often, I first research and find out the list of MDs that the HMO has in a particular hospital. Once I have the names, I go around and ask colleagues, if they have tried out this doctor, or better yet, if I know someone from that hospital. I try to find out a little about this doctor that I am about to see. That way, I already have an idea about what to expect. In certain instances, for whatever reason, you may not be happy with your first doctor or with what he/she has to say. Remember that you have every right to seek a second opinion, and even a third one, especially, if what you are considering is a major procedure. Work with the doctor you are most confortable with. Only you will be able to tell who the right person is for you or your child. After all, it’s your body, and you know its quirks and idiosyncracies best. At the the end of the day, it’s your decision on whom you want to help you care for it.

Published in my Roots and Wings column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 July 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Disaster Mismanagement



Published in my Roots&Wings column in the Lifestyle Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 June 2008

"Grief is a journey, often perilous and without clear direction, that must be taken. The experience of grieving cannot be ordered or categorized, hurried or controlled, pushed aside or ignored indefinitely. It is inevitable as breathing, as change, as love. It may be postponed, but it will not be denied."~ Molly Fumia

The manner by which Sulpicio Lines has handled the tragedy that is MV Princess of the Stars is a classic example of what disaster management should not be.

The actions shown by this shipping company whose track record for accidents and mishaps is now perhaps the worst in the Philippines has been deplorable, to say the very least. Sulpicio has not shown an ounce of compassion to the families of those who have died, the survivors, and those who continue to be missing.

As I write this, no clear-cut measures have been made to ensure proper identification of those bodies found floating days after the tragedy. Family members of missing passengers have not been properly housed, ferried, shuttled and advised about what is going on. Yes, as one banner story in this paper announced last Friday, ‘World stops for grieving kin of missing passengers”. When tragedy strikes, especially when it concerns the life of someone whom you love, everything else in your life becomes meaningless.

I ask myself, what kind of bereavement support is being provided for these families? At least over in Cebu, through the DSWD, the local government has been offering some form of debriefing or grief support to the survivors and those whose loved ones have yet to be found. Their loss is ambiguous, the kind of grief that takes forever to heal from, one where it is very difficult to find closure.

At this point in time, the best that Sulpicio Lines can do is get their act together and provide for the families of the 800 or so passengers that have yet to be found. Thank God for organizations such as the Public Attorneys Office (PAO) and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) for stepping in and giving the bereaved families form of direction.

Sulpicio Lines offer of 200,000 pesos per victim is not the way to go with these families. In addition to this, or even over and beyond the financial assistance, genuine compassion, care and concern towards the families waiting would have been much laudable. Instead, these family members have gotten the opposite.

Gina Virtusio who was the Public Relations Manager at WG&A Superferry (now Aboitiz Transport Group) told me that the gesture most appreciated by families affected by a tragedy of this magnitude is the support and care shown to them by the shipping line. She recalls how when in February 2004, Superferry 14 was bombed by the Abu Sayaff, the entire company involved themselves in primarily caring for the victims families. “It was really tough and as employees you are only human too and so you are prone to break down. At first you will really get yelled at, cursed, almost to the point of being beaten, but you just have to ride it out and show them that you care,” she says. In the end, Virtusio says that the families eventually became very close to them and that she even remains in touch with some of those affected by the tragedy. “You must show compassion, there is just no other way,” she stresses.

I am reminded of what former New York Governor George Pataki said after TWA 800 crashed off the coast of Long Island on July 17, 1996, he said, “It became clear to me that, as Governor, I was going to make a difference – and in more ways than one. I began to realize that even in the darkest moments on the job, I could somehow bring light to someone, somewhere… When I heard the news, everything that seemed important just minutes before, suddenly became irrelevant. It occurred to me that one of the most important functions a Governor can fulfill,is to extend a caring hand to people in despair, and give them what they need most in times of sorrow: comfort, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on.”

Days after this horrible crash, a memorial service was held at the site attended by all the family members of the crash victims. The ceremony was broadcast all over the world, allowing others as well, to show love and support for the family members who needed it so desperately. Pataki says that he has never stopped thinking of those people. “The moments I spent with them are forever etched in my mind and in my heart. Many of them told me that the service and all of the state’s efforts on their behalf, helped ease their pain…One of the most important things we can do in life is to give a piece of ourselves to lighten the burden of others.”

You would think that after a spate of tragedies that began with the MV Dona Paz, Sulpicio Lines would have mastered the art of crisis and disaster management. Apparently, this is not so. Pain and anguish cannot be swept under the rug by 200,000 pesos. Compassion and care far outweighs money in times of tragedy.

I think of the 800 families affected by such a deep and searing loss that will change their lives forever. I end this by sharing with them a poem written by Janelle Davis whose sister Rose died in an Alaska Airlines crash in January, 2000.



HOPI PRAYER

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the gentle Autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the sweet uplifting
rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there, I did not die.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

How Lulu Orena Survived Her Daughter's Abduction

“I was always against her going to Mindanao because I knew it was very dangerous,” Lulu Orena tells me with a smile a few hours before Ces was to check out of The Medical City. “But Ces has always had a mind of her own. Minsan she will tell me that she’s going there for an assignment, when she does, I always remind her – ‘Ces, paano na ang mga anak mo pag may nangyari sa iyo?’”

Dressed in a white cotton tunic over slacks, Lulu was still visibly tired but terribly relieved that the worst was now over for her eldest daughter, Ces. She recalls how on she became hysterical upon finding out on the morning of June 9 that Ces had been kidnapped. “Chary Villa called me to confirm that she was missing and that she had been kidnapped. When I heard the news I knew that my worst nightmare had just begun.” On the ride from her home in Fort Bonifacio, all the way to the ABS_CBN studios in Quezon City, she says she was a wreck. “I was shaking all over and having palpitations like crazy. Nanginig talaga ako,” she recalls.

On day one of her abduction, she had the chance to speak briefly to Ces, whose first words to her were, “Mommy, mommy, please don’t cry,” Lulu shares. The nine days that followed were the most difficult days of her life. “One more day was just a day too long,” she says looking back. “I was so hungry for news the whole time that I kept the television on at our house 24/7. One television was tuned in to ABS-CBN and another one to GMA-7. The radio was constantly tuned in to DZMM. “I really wanted to go to Sulu. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be near my daughter. To be in the same place with her. When I saw on television, the things she had left behind in her room, it really broke my heart and I wanted to board the next plane to Sulu but my children would not let me.”

Lulu is grateful for the blessing of her children. Daughter Grace kept her company all throughout, while only son Frank and youngest daughter Joyce were busy with the negotiations. The rest of the Orena brood had been tucked away in a safehouse with Ces’ three sons, while Lulu and Joyce, opted to remain at home. “I would just be crying at makakagulo lang ako sa negotiations.” Each day that came and went was sheer torture she says. When nightfall would come, she would break down in tears, thinking of how Ces was faring in the jungle. “Pag uulan, lalo na akong nalulungkot and I would really storm heaven with my prayers. I would ask God, all the saints, Mama Mary, Ces father (who passed away in a helicopter crash in 1993) to please keep her safe from harm.”

Sleep would come fitfully and only when her body could no longer take the tiredness. “They gave me sedative but it did not work,” she smiles. A mother’s anguish and worry, far surpasses the effects of any drug. Lulu clarifies that there is no truth to the news that she had a stroke or a nervous breakdown. “I was close to it, I guess. I became very depressed and lost all desire to eat and exercise – things that were part of my daily routine. All my thoughts were focused on Ces.” Respite would only come briefly when her grandchildren would return home from school and wrap her in their hugs, saying that it was going to be okay and that their aunt would be home soon. “I don’t know what I would have done if my children and grandchildren were not around. Siguro patay na ako ngayon,” She shivers at the recollection.

At the time of our interview on Friday afternoon, Lulu was still feeling the effects of the stress from the last nine days. “Medyo nanlalambot pa rin ako but I cannot stop thanking God for carrying us through,” she shares, her tired eyes, beaming with joy. She is also very grateful to everyone who prayed for her daughter’s safety. She made special mention of her late husband’s classmates, members of PMA Class ’61 and their wives who threw their full support behind her. “I am just so grateful and having gone through an ordeal such as this, I realize that the most important thing in life is really just family. Money will come and go. You can always earn it. Material things will lose their value. To have a strong faith in God and having your family intact, safe and sound, that is what’s most important.”

When the chopper carrying Ces finally landed on the helipad of The Medical City that rainy Wenesday afternoon, Lulu says that it was a miracle made real. She shares that the very first thing a tearful Ces whispered in her ears when they hugged was, “Mommy, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Forgetting all the anguish she had just been through, just like any mother faced with a repentant child, she told her eldest daughter, “Don’t say sorry. It’s all right. You’re home now and that’s all that matters.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ces Is Free! The Medical City's Official Statement

Ms. Ces Orena Drilon arrived at The Medical City this afternoon at 2:30 PM. She was flown in by helicopter from the Centennial airport.

Ms. Drilon is in good spirits and requests that she be given time to rest. She is accompanied by her immediate family members. Her two companions, Mr. Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderrama are also confined here in the hospital. The Medical City respects and values theprivacy of its patients and requests that the media extend the same to Ms. Drilon, her companions, and their respective families.

After an arduous and very difficult nine days in captivity, Ms. Drilonwishes to spend some quiet and private time with her family members. The Medical City is committed to extending to her the best possible care during this period. We will update you on Ms. Drilon's condition as she authorizes us to do so. Thank you very much.

Ces, is a TOWNS sister. It gave me great joy to witness her arrival today from my office window and to be able to deliver this message tonight. We are so glad she is back and safe. Now her journey to healing begins.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gabriel Garcia Marquez_A Letter To My Friends

Tonight I am wistful. H has just left for Vietnam and once again we are apart.
I am wistful too because tonight, I looked intently into a dear friend's photograph and saw great sadness masked behind a smile. I know those eyes so well. And my heart breaks to see you in such pain. I wish to share in your sadness but for reasons only known to you, you refuse to let me into your life at this point. And so I share in your sorrow from afar. I pray for you and storm the heavens for your loved ones. I find comfort in knowing that God stands in the gap, in the chasm that you opt to build between us, for now.
Nothing by accident...Tonight I stumbled upon this beautiful letter, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My friend Ardy, from whose blog I discovered this piece, says that we should not wait until the last minute to write a letter such as this. Marquez's words shine through the darkest of nights. His sorrow has given birth to such wisdom that leaves us breathless and inspires us to do just as he has written...
This is for H, and all my loved ones, and my dear friend... may this illumine the dark night of your soul. If God, for a second, forgot what I have become and granted me a little bit more of life, I would use it to the best of my ability. I wouldn't, possibly, say everything that is in my mind, but I would be more thoughtful of all I say. I would give merit to things not for what they are worth, but for what they mean to express. I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste 60 seconds of light. I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep. If God would give me a little bit more of life, I would dress in a simple manner, I would place myself in front of the sun, leaving not only my body, but my soul naked at its mercy. To all men, I would say how mistaken they are when they think that they stop falling in love when they grow old, without knowing that they grow old when they stop falling in love. I would give wings to children, but I would leave it to them to learn how to fly by themselves. To old people I would say that death doesn't arrive when they grow old, but with forgetfulness. I have learned so much with you all, I have learned that everybody wants to live on top of the mountain, without knowing that true happiness is obtained in the journey taken & the form used to reach the top of the hill. I have learned that when a newborn baby holds, with its little hand,his father's finger, it has trapped him for the rest of his life. I have learned that a man has the right and obligation to look down at another man, only when that man needs help to get up from the ground. Say always what you feel, not what you think. If I knew that today is the last time that that I am going to see you asleep, I would hug you with all my strength and I would pray to the Lord to let me be the guardian angel of your soul. If I knew that these are the last moments to see you, I would say 'I love you'. There is always tomorrow, and life gives us another opportunity to do things right, but in case I am wrong, and today is all that is left to me, I would love to tell you how much I love you & that I will never forget you. Tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old. Today could bethe last time to see your loved ones, which is why you mustn't wait;do it today, in case tomorrow never arrives.
I am sure you will be sorry you wasted the opportunity today to give a smile, a hug, a kiss, and that you were too busy to grant them their last wish. Keep your loved ones near you; tell them in their ears and to their faces how much you need them and love them. Love them and treat them well; take your time to tell them 'I am sorry';' forgive me','please' 'thank you', and all those loving words you know. Nobody will know you for your secret thought. Ask the Lord for wisdom and strength to express them. Show your friends and loved ones how important they are to you. Send this letter to those you love. If you don't do it today...tomorrow will be like yesterday, and if you never do it, it doesn't matter either, the moment to do it is now. For you, With much love, Your Friend, Gabriel Garcia Marquez Thanks to my online buddy and friend, Ardy Roberto, for leading me to this beautiful reflection.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Raphe, Renz and LT Remember Rudy, the morning after

Published in my Roots&Wings column on June 15, 2008 in the PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER My heart broke when I saw photos of Raphe and Renz Fernandez as they spoke at their father’s necrological service. In the same breath, I was in awe of his widow, Lorna as she sat listening to her husband’s speak of their fond memories of him – clearly a picture of beautiful grace and faith under pressure. To grieve in itself is a difficult process to go through. So much more when you have to do it under the public eye. The Fernandez family is blessed in the sense that Rudy was able to prepare them and prepare himself to meet his Maker. Rudy had been quoted as saying that he was often in deep conversation with the Lord because he wanted to get to know him better. “After all, I will be meeting him soon,” he quipped. Speaking to Raphe, Renz and Lorna the day after Rudy’s burial, my heart was warmed by the genuine closeness this family possessed. Raphe’s professor and thesis mentor at the Ateneo, Dr. Rofel Brion, had introduced me to him a few years back when he was working on a paper about his grandfather, the late great movie director Gregorio Fernandez. He had always struck me as a bright, young and sensitive young man. The morning we spoke, he seemed fully in control as kuya and now the man of the family. The Fernandez’s had decided to sleep in the same room after Rudy’s wake. Choosing to cocoon and stay together, finding solace in one another. The boys were still both groggy when I talked to them, still reeling and tired from the week’s past events. Lorna says that Rudy had indeed prepared them well and for that she was very grateful. She paused when I reminded her that Sunday was Father’s day and I could hear a slight sigh from the other end of the phone. “It’s his 9th day….” She said. It was comforting for her to know that all these “coincidences” seemed to be orchestrated from above. She said that she was very proud of her boys and the way by which they were handling their loss. “We really did not have that much time to talk to one another while we were at Heritage until one night when Raphe approached me with a problem and so finally we had to sit down as one family. I was tired and a bit upset and I was thinking to myself quietly, diba dapat ako naman ang alagaan nyo muna… until Renz said something that made me stop – sabi niya, “Mama, mag-alagaan na lang tayo.” Lorna said. I smiled when I heard that, and thought to myself, yes, Rudy had prepared his boys very well. I asked Raphe why he opted to do an extemporaneous eulogy and he said simply that it was because he wanted it to just flow. And flow it did. As well as the tears of the thousands who had come to mourn their very public loss as they listened to him talk. When I asked him what he would remember the most about his father, he said that there wasn’t a single lesson he could his place his finger on because there were just too many. “To place a number on it would diminish the importance of the others. It was really in the way he lived, the way he loved us and showed us that he cared. It wasn’t really through words, but more through actions. Whatever legacy he has left us, nasa dugo na namin. These lessons will be easily remembered and called upon when the times become tough.” For now, Lorna says, they just want to rest and be by themselves. Travel maybe to some quiet place where they can be refreshed. Sleep still does not come easy to her or the boys and every nook and cranny of their home carries with them some portion of Rudy. The emotions, she shares are so intense, some moments she cries out for him, on others she is as still as she normally is. “It’s really more the loss of the person himself that drives you to sadness,” she says. As in any other loss of a loved one, it is the longing for the one who is gone that is the most painful. Coming home after the funeral, upon entering the den, Lorna says, it finally hit her that her Rudy was truly gone. For now it is just her and the boys who fill her world. It is a long process yet, she knows, and this brave family’s grief work has just begun. The manner by which Rudy prepared his family for his loss is a poignant example on dying well, one, that many of us can learn from. And his widow and sons openness and care for each other under the most stressful of times, is a gift and a beautiful lesson to us all on how to grieve well. Rudy, would certainly be proud