More than a year ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. His body and mind started to weaken. We didn’t understand what was happening. As a septuagenarian, he was a relatively strong man and had managed to leave the house on his own to regularly visit relatives in Metro Manila. But that was before his illness caught up with him. By 2014, he couldn’t walk anymore. One of his doctors said he had Parkinson’s disease as well.
Exactly a week ago, he passed away, at age 78, leaving behind my loving grandmother, my mother and the rest of our close-knit family. His death certificate says the immediate cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest aspiration pneumonia. We didn’t expect it. Just days before his death, my uncle bought him a mattress pad to prevent bed sores.
Needless to say, the past week had been tough for all of us. Up until the very end, my grandmother couldn’t let go of him. I had trouble concentrating on work and would cry at the littlest of things.
Lolo Bert was very independent and headstrong. He preferred to be left alone. He watched the news and read the newspaper every day. He liked waking up early and making sure the front of their house was clear of leaves and litter. When he fell ill, all of that changed. He had to rely on other people to be fed and bathed. He stopped reading and watching the news.
But he also became affectionate and expressive. He would suddenly say, “I love you.” He would sometimes tell us that we were beautiful. “Who is that beautiful girl in front of me?” he would ask during bouts of forgetfulness.
I didn’t expect him to leave us this early. I hoped that he would somewhat recover, to the point of having a clear mind…enough to hold a long conversation, like the ones we had in the past when he would ask me to sit beside him as he warned me against the evils lurking in the city. Be careful when crossing the street. Don’t stay out too late. Get a job that wouldn’t put your life at risk.
My grandfather’s passing made me think a lot about death. The things I could have done, should have done with him…like spending more time listening to his stories about his golden days (or at least attempt to make him remember and talk). Could I or we have done more for him? And there’s the realization that when we grow old we are like infants again, relying on others for survival, seeking care and love.
I know Lolo Bert still wanted to accomplish many things. He wanted to see his family happy. He wanted to provide. And just like that, he fell ill. Now, he is gone.
It’s hard not to feel depressed about death but I hope what they say is true…that he is now in a better place. Or at least, he was happy to be surrounded by family during his last months, to be so loved and cared for.
I love you Lolo.
As the resident storyteller and chronicler of our family, I made a series of videos and posted photos of our grandfather, Alberto B. Sahagun Sr. My editors were also kind enough to run an obituary I wrote: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/714278/alberto-b-sahagun-sr-78
Here’s my Facebook post the day after his death:
Goodbye Lolo Bert. You are missed. You are loved. You are remembered.
When my Dad was trying to inform me of your passing last night, I was out with friends. I dropped the call and texted him that I was having dinner. That’s when I read his text that you were gone.
My friends asked me if we were close. It made me assess my relationship with you. I knew that you were closest to my brother while I was closest to Lola. Were we close? Although we didn’t spend much time together, you were always worrying, always reminding me to stay safe, to not stay out too late, to be careful when crossing the street.
Your death marked the end of an era for our family. You were my link to the past, to the rich history of the Sahaguns. And I regret not spending enough time with you to work on that project of mine (I still have the notes when we last talked about our family history).
You were one of the few family members who discussed politics with me. You would always recall the glory days, when you were closely involved in the family business and you would visit other parts of the country and meet powerful men.
You lived in the past or at least attempted to relive it. And as the patriarch of the family you had that tendency of telling people what to do. But you were generous with your grandchildren. You were more forgiving with us. You never questioned my decisions in life.
I guess we knew that it was going to happen. You were bed-ridden for months and you had lost your appetite, resulting in the deterioration of your body. The last year was quite hard for us, especially Lola. You were no longer able to feed yourself. You started losing a lot of weight. But we didn’t expect you to leave us so soon. Just last week, Tito Eric bought you a mattress that helped prevent bedsores. I was half-hoping that you would recover and when you were first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s I would spend time researching online. I wondered about the odds of your recovery and if it was at all possible.
I kept telling myself that I should buy you supplement milk to help you regain weight. Like my other cousins, I regret not doing the things that I should have done for you. My Mom, however, has stayed strong throughout the ordeal and she has cared for you like the strong woman she is. I remember that video I took of you months ago, for Mom’s birthday. You already had a hard time remembering things but you became emotional and thanked Mom for everything she did for you.
I guess that’s one of the good things that happened when you became sick. You became more thoughtful, appreciative, and at times emotional. You would suddenly tell us, “I love you.” And after bursts of temper you would apologize.
I love you Lolo. The dreamer in me hoped that you would regain your strength and you would flash that genuine, happy smile you had when we celebrated your birthday almost three years ago. You don’t express your emotions that often but when we brought you out for lunch that day, you gave a really nice smile for my camera, a smile that we would never forget.
Thank you for caring for us, for always thinking about us. I will think of you whenever I would have to go home at night or cross a busy street. I will stay safe for you. I will care for our family, especially Lola.