An Anniversary

I spent yesterday mostly with my father and my younger brother and his wife. Late evening, I had a simple dinner at home with my son after he came back from his workout in a gym in Central. It was my 28th Wedding Anniversary and perhaps the only one that slipped through without alcohol or a celebration toast.

My father will be 93 in two months and has almost completely recovered from the stroke he suffered last May, a few days before I went to the West Coast for my son’s commencement. He lives alone – well, not exactly, for her daughter, my eldest sister and her family live one floor down – and a foreign domestic helper takes care of his daily needs. On weekends and statutory holidays, the siblings would take turn to look after their now only parent. Our elder sister actually issues a roster every month, without any consultation, but we all follow her instructions dutifully and with understanding.

The roster has become a necessity after his stroke, and besides my father is not exactly a young man. Rosita had kept up the visits to my father until she was hospitalized. My father was hospitalized for nearly two months. We visited him regularly while he was there. The stroke was a minor one, but had left him rather weak such that he had to be helped to get in and out of bed. He was then not exactly in high spirits. More than once, as soon as we arrived, he would beg us to take him home, on grounds that the doctors had not given him any active treatment. Rosita would coax him like a child, urge him to eat sufficiently to stay strong and to exercise his small muscles regularly. At the time, my father could not eat solid food and all liquid in-takes including water had to be mixed with thicken-up, a powdered preparation to gel all fluid so that they won’t go into the windpipe. Thicken-up obviously does not taste good, to say the least, and he had very little motivation to get off his bed for such tasteless meals. Little did we know at the time that a few weeks later, Rosita had to be put on a similar, but even more uncomfortable regime.

Well, my father finally left the hospital bed early July. We had planned a small welcome back party in his place. That was the last time he saw Rosita; she was hospitalized that very weekend, for herpes zoster.

I saw very little of my father in the two months which followed. In between breaks from Queen Mary Hospital, I went to see him to update him on Rosita’s conditions. I told him that Rosita had suffered a stroke of a similar magnitude as the one he was recovering and that I wished she could recover just like him. When my children and I went to tell him the news that Rosita had died, he said we all would die once in a lifetime. I was speechless, and congratulated him on his recovery.

In the weeks that followed, I tried to visit my father in between trips. He had kept a diary since our mother died in 2000, to remind himself the major day to day events, but mainly where he went to play mahjong and how much he lost. Rosita always had great fun reading these entries. Here is one example. Last January, we took him to Baguio Villa for a game of mahjong. I had to recruit a friend to come along to make up for the table. He was never a fast player and old age had made him even slower, but he still derived a lot of fun from the game. Half way through the game, he forgot the rules and would have been penalized. We allowed him to revoke, of course, and in the end, he won $200. He was very pleased with the results and with himself and made an entry in the diary that it was a rare feat in recent days that he had won so much in one game. Rosita recalled that he did not appear as happy when we gave him $2000 for the New Year earlier, an event which he gave a routine mention in his diary.

He stopped making any entry in his diary from May after he had his stroke, which was rather understandable. He had been under physiotherapy since July, initially twice and later once a week, which had kept him and the house helper very busy. He said he did not feel like writing initially, and became lazy afterwards. Yesterday, I found he had made quite a lot of entries in the last two weeks since the regular helper had gone on leave. The replacement helper was a strong and stout lady and apparently had developed a rapport with my father who had written almost daily notes on how she had taken care of him, that her culinary skills were superb and that she was very kind and helpful.

My father has by now almost fully recovered, but is not sufficiently strong or confident to move about by himself or without a wheelchair or walker. He would attend his last physiotherapy session next week. The better news is that he would eat almost anything now, albeit very slowly, even though my eldest sister still insists he sticks to those special hospital-prescribed diets. My brother and I took him to the Chinese restaurant nearby and he ate away happily. After lunch, he suggested a mahjong game. Well, we had the quorum – my brother and his wife, he and I – and so the game began. He played it with consummate passion as we adjusted the rules in his favour during the play. Ordinarily, he would have an afternoon nap around four or five, but he remained energetic past the time until the natural break when we thought that he should break for a rest and snacks. He hurriedly finished his milk and congee and asked whether we would start another round.

The replacement helper”s return saved the day. She presently told us that my father was the best senile client she had ever looked after, even though he would play dumb at times and would deliberately call her by the name of the helper who was on leave. Then she went on to say that I looked every bit like him, at which point I could not tell whether it was a compliment. I left my father and went home to wait for my son to have dinner with.

A friend had earlier advised me to arrange a full programme for the day so that I won’t feel lonely on my wedding anniversary. I was not sure, for in the past three months, I had tried all sort of things. I had tried traveling alone and in a group. Rosita’s father passed away eight weeks after she did, in Los Angeles, and I made a special trip to the West Coast for his funeral, returning within the week, catching up my reading and movies during the flights. I had made long phone calls and long distance calls and had tried to establish a routine, beginning with going to Mass every morning. I had opened up my flat to a group of young friends, mainly retired or retiring Rotaractors, for eating parties. We had two parties so far, and I felt rather good when they were in the flat. Rosita and I used to have big and small parties in our flats when the children were small, and we had great fun. These parties thinned out as the children became bigger and came to a stop when Rosita had her first operation in 1997. Last Friday, a few young friends asked me to dine out, ostensibly to celebrate the wedding anniversary of a couple who had chosen to get married on my 26th wedding anniversary. I felt good at the time.

Indeed, activities always make one feel good. It is the post-activity period and the time between activities that one needs to manage more carefully. Everybody says that time will heal, and I am sure they are correct. All my friends say they understand that I am having a difficult time, and stop at that. Nobody has told me how difficult it can get. Alas, very few would know and I wished that none of my friends needed to go through what I had gone through, was going through and would be going through.

I waited for more than a few weeks before I called up a few friends – most of them are overseas – but even then I could never tell when I would break down and cry. I could be in the middle of anything and I would reach for my tissue paper. I have learnt not to fight back and let go, for if I did, it would come back later, probably with interest. It follows that there can be no one sure-fire recipe, and for that matter, self-help books are of little help.

Some of you may recall the VCD of our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Rosita and I had viewed the VCD together many times since its production. We loved it every time we ran it. We played it the last time in the hospital in her last week. Both of us wept quietly as if we knew that it was the last time we would see it together.

Back to last night, Lawrence and I watched on TV Eunice being interviewed on the passage of her friend and lover James. I wonder how she deals with the so many things, books, gifts, letters, pictures, videos, recordings and unfinished works that would remind her of the good time they had together. Once again, everyone will do things differently; and there is no one best way, in the same way that every couple would spend their anniversaries differently, and sometimes, separately.

If I do not write to you shortly, and I have no idea right now, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. May God bless you and your loved ones.

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