A Short Dialogue Before Eternity

I was with Lolo the last two days he spent on Earth. He wasn’t with me, though, and the last two weeks haven’t been easy.

It started on the morning of August 19th. It was a long weekend and I was on my way to Dawn Watch with my family when I received a text from my dad that Lolo had been brought to the hospital. I really did my best to pray for him then. Afterward, I was working out when I felt the overwhelming sense that something was wrong. I rushed to my locker to find that I’d missed a call from dad, and that he called to let me know that Lolo had suffered two heart attacks.

I immediately cut my workout short and rushed to the hospital, where I learned that Lolo was undergoing an angioplasty to repair his blocked coronaries. The operation was successful, and Lolo was brought to the Coronary Care Unit.

Unfortunately that was not the only thing wrong with him. Several of his systems had shut down, and he had to undergo dialysis to clean the toxins from his blood.

The next day, Lolo fell asleep. It was not a coma in the strictest sense of the word, neither was it brain death. While he was asleep, he would still respond to pinches and his pupils would dilate when exposed to light. However, he really was in a deep sleep and would not really move much apart from chewing on the respiratory tube once in a while.

It was then that I thought that the face of death wasn’t a skull. It wasn’t a grinning face with empty eye-sockets. The face of death in this situation had closed eyes and tubes sticking out of it, its mouth hanging open helplessly.

Still, at that point, the doctors were still hopeful. The heart was actually quite strong for that of a recent heart attack victim. Dad came home to help the family, and he talked to my aunt and uncles about what they could do  when he recovered. They were planning to bring him to Cagayan de Oro where he’d have a lot of fresh air and would be able to relax.

The next day, however, when I visited the hospital and ate out with Dad, he revealed that the problem was far more complicated, and that the root of it all lay elsewhere.

I’m not in a position to discuss those things here. It’s a long, convoluted story that might be unfair to the parties involved, so I’ll pass on talking about that here. Let’s just say that forgiveness is a rarer commodity than it would seem.

Days passed without improvement. Days become a week, and I would come and visit Lolo as much as I could. I was praying that Lolo would wake up, that I could talk to him about the gospel one last time, that I could be sure of his faith. My sleep was fitful and my waking moments were not really at peace.

————

Last Sunday, our church held its 24th anniversary service at the Araneta Coliseum. The message seemed to be so telling that day: it was about the greatness of God.

Many people would balk at the notion of God’s greatness, let alone the legitimacy of His claims to goodness and mercy, in situations like this. The suffering of man is often taken to be an indicator of how much God cares about the world, and how He is either unwilling or unable to help. Perhaps. Maybe. Yet I couldn’t help but think that we simply don’t see the big picture well enough. In any case, the message ended with this:

My King- Do you know him?
by Dr. S.M. Lockridge

The Bible says my King is the King of the Jews. He’s the King of Israel. He’s the King of righteousness. He’s the King of the ages. He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the King of glory. He’s the King of kings, and He’s the Lord of lords. That’s my King. I wonder…Do you know Him?

My King is a sovereign King. No means of measure can define his limitless love. He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s imperially powerful. He’s impartially merciful. Do you know Him?

He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior. He’s the peak of civilization. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented. He is the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He’s the only one qualified to be an all-sufficient Savior. I wonder if you know Him today.

He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and sustains. He guards and He guides. He heals the sick. He cleanses the lepers. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captives. He defends the feeble. He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent, and He beautifies the meager. I wonder if you know Him.

He’s the key to knowledge. He’s the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the pathway of peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. He’s the gateway of glory. Do you know Him?

Well, His light is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous, and His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him to you. Yes, He’s indescribable. He’s incomprehensible. He’s invincible. He’s irresistible. You can’t get Him out of your mind. You can’t get Him off of your head. You can’t outlive Him, and you can’t live without Him.

Well, the Pharisees couldn’t stand Him but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. I wonder if you know Him.

I found this greatly comforting in the darkness of the circumstances, and that I knew God was going to do something good. I even dreamt that Lolo had woken up and was out of the hospital.

But this seemed to shatter when I heard that lolo was in critical condition the next evening.

————-

He was bleeding, and all his vitals had dropped. The doctors immediately pulled some of his anticoagulant medicines so that the ulcers would heal. I went into a panic then.

I was blaming myself for not being there. I was blaming myself for being to lazy or cowardly to follow up my talk with him some time ago about the gospel. I was blaming myself for not bothering to get to know him more, for abandoning him, for practically being his murderer.

Then I realized he wasn’t the only person dying in the world. He was only one of the hundred thousand people who die every day, many of whom are in much less desirable circumstances.

Then the Lord reassured me:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. –John 3:16-17

The next day was the day I begged off from work to watch over Lolo. That was yesterday. Since it was Humanities Week at school, I knew I wouldn’t be doing much on the days that the English department wasn’t assigned to do activities, so I volunteered my time to watch over Lolo at the hospital.

The circumstances leading up to it were incredible.

The devotional given that morning at Dawn Watch was about miracles, especially of the medical kind. The gentleman who was sharing had a blocked coronary artery and was scheduled for an angioplasty that he really could not afford. Through prayer, however, he experienced a miracle: new coronary arteries grew around the blockage, restoring healthy blood flow to his heart.

I was hoping for a miracle like this. I was hoping that Lolo would wake up and live another 10 years and be around for my wedding.  So I prayed fervently, and it was the first time in a very long time that I’d not fallen asleep at Dawn Watch.

After a brief workout, I headed to the hospital. There was only one taxi in the queue, so I took it. I was amazed to hear him playing Christian music (Casting Crowns’ Love them Like Jesus). I began singing along, and it was not long before the driver asked me about my faith. He was a believer too, and when I told him about Lolo, he began encouraging me. What are the odds that out of the thousands of taxis in Manila, this one driver would come up to the taxi stand at the moment I got there?

I was in high spirits when I got to the hospital, and read to Lolo the following verse:

PSALM 118

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
2 Oh let Israel say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
3 Oh let the house of Aaron say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
4 Oh let those who fear the LORD say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
5 From my distress I called upon the LORD;
The LORD answered me and set me in a large place.
6 The LORD is for me; I will not fear;
What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
Than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
Than to trust in princes.
10 All nations surrounded me;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
11 They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
12 They surrounded me like bees;
They were extinguished as a fire of thorns;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
13 You pushed me violently so that I was falling,
But the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
15 The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
17 I will not die, but live,
And tell of the works of the LORD.
18 The LORD has disciplined me severely,
But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD;
The righteous will enter through it.
21 I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me,
And You have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief corner stone.
23 This is the LORD’S doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day which the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 O LORD, do save, we beseech You;
O LORD, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD;
We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and He has given us light;
Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You;
You are my God, I extol You.
29 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

As I picked up Mom from work later that night, I told her about everything, and we were both so elated at God’s work.

This morning, however, things were just not the same. When I entered the CCU to see Lolo, he was in the middle of dialysis, and although low blood pressure was a side effect of the dialysis process, I somehow felt that something was more wrong than usual. Even if the alarm going off was normal, it seemd that the amount of nurses and orderlies rushing to the room when it started ringing was larger than usual.

I asked the cardiologist present why it seemed that Lolo was getting weaker despite being “stable,” and she told me that it was likely that while they were doing everything they could, his body was simply reaching its limits, and that the stress of trying to recover was too much for him. What made matters worse was that the primary cardiologist came and asked me the painful question: In case he goes into cardiac arrest, do we resuscitate?

I declined to answer, saying that my aunt was in a better position  to answer that question. It was a jarring question nonetheless, and when I told my aunt over the phone that I’d been asked that question, she also conferred with Dad and my uncles.

Shortly after, Dad gave me a call and asked if I was okay. I said I was, but I couldn’t bear to tell him the guilt that I felt for not being there, for not getting to talk to Lolo more, for not encouraging him while he was still awake. Dad, sorry I lied. I didn’t know how to tell you at that time.

I still prayed. Still asked God to spare Lolo. To bring a happy end to all this.

I left that afternoon to go to the Ortigas area, hoping I could get a working internet connection before I picked Mom up from her classes at night. I didn’t get one, and the whole time I was in agony. I didn’t know how I’d react to Lolo’s death if ever he went.

Would I lash out? Would I keep it within? Would I implode? Would I stop believing in God? Would I stop trying to do His will? Would things never be the same?

I had an early dinner, and I made sure I ate something good even if it cost me. Hummus with whole wheat pita. A vegetarian panini with yoghurt. These dishes will forever be associated with the day my Lolo died, but I don’t consider that a bad thing. As unleavened bread and wine are eaten in remembrance of Christ, perhaps I would eat hummus in remembrance of my Lolo.

I moved to Mom’s office afterward, and although I tried to keep myself busy, I eventually fell asleep at the desk. There, in the darkness of slumber, I dreamed the unthinkable. Lolo was gone.

I woke up with a start, checked my phone, and saw nothing. When Mom said it was time for us to go home, I walked about as if in a stupor, and as we were going down into the parking lot, I told the Lord:

I can’t live with this burden of guilt forever. I have to move on. Lord, I leave Lolo in your hands. You take care of him.

And at that moment, right as I ended that little prayer, without exaggeration, my Dad called. I knew it could not be good news.

True enough, Lolo had gone into cardiac arrest. That was it. Ten minutes later, Dad texted again a simple message: “Lolo’s gone.” to which I replied “I’m really gonna miss him, Dad.”

So my Lolo’s death has not been as painful as it seemed. It did not cause me to sob and cry and retch. I experience now the same peace that I’d experienced when my other Lolo died. I knew that despite all of the suffering he went through and the silence of his last two weeks, God was in control of the littlest details.

Perhaps Lolo’s sleep was even a blessing–a private audience with the Lord, a short dialogue before eternity, just the two of them in the silence. Maybe Lolo heard my Bible readings, maybe he didn’t. But I’m certain God was right there, in that room, even while Death was beginning to take its victim. In fact, Death was not truly victorious; Lolo was not truly a victim.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 55 “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

-1 Corinthians 15:50-57

And despite all this, despite the death, I thank God that there were so many other things to be thankful for:

-That Lolo did not die in wretched agony, in horrific seizures, or after a long and draining battle with cancer or Alzheimer’s.

-That the family could at least provide for the hospital bills and didn’t have to go into a miserable state of debt.

-That God was working actively, watching over the littlest details and the timing of my actions.

-That I at least knew Lolo and have been able to relate with him.

-That I have good memories of Lolo and how he was so kind and helpful to me and my Mom even through our trials in the past.

-That I had friends: Aumar, Carolyn, BJ, Mikki, RC, Pastor Ryan, and many others who stood by me, prayed for me, and encouraged me in the midst of the trials. God bless you abundantly for this, my brothers and sister.

-That my mom and brother were also very supportive of me and understood my pain. They also prayed for me and for Lolo.

-That none of the violent reactions I’d anticipated happened.

-That the Lord had prepared me spiritually and emotionally for what was going to happen tonight.

-That I had peace in the end.

God has been so faithful. Indeed, I knew He was going to glorify Himself in the end. It was not the ending I’d hoped for, but I know. I believe. I believe that I will see Lolo again sometime in the future.

Thank you, Lord, for Lolo.

Lolo, I’ll see you soon. Happy Grandparents’ Day.

In Memoriam

Melchor Rimando Flores

January 6, 1926 – September 4, 2008

~ by J. R. R. Flores on September 4, 2008.

3 Responses to “A Short Dialogue Before Eternity”

  1. sir, i don’t really know what to say but would you mind if i (cyber^^) sing for you? c:

    //When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with You above the storm. Father, You are King over the flood. I will be still and know You are God.//

    *hug* May God’s peace always always be with you, sir. *hug*

  2. Thanks. ^_^ Indeed, His peace has always been with me.

  3. My condolences

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: