I have always been aware of Death. I have never doubted that he’s real and that he’s such a powerful being, no one can escape his might. I’ve always been aware of the indescribable pain and stark sense of loss that are his marks; and of the bottomless void and utter emptiness that he always carries with him wherever he goes.
But for a long time, Death was just a mythical presence in my mind, like Santa Claus who goes around giving gifts to every child on Christmas, but somehow manages to always overlook our house. I had always concluded that our house was so remote Santa Claus could not possibly find us, which was just fine by me because I was never concerned about receiving gifts from him. I had, in fact, been thankful that our house seemed to have been left out in the maps of the deities, especially whenever I would think about Death. Every time I let my mind wonder about Death, I always envisioned him having a hard time finding our house and that of our extended family. I would then smile to myself, thinking that somehow we had been tricking Death for sometime without him knowing it.
But not for long. Death eventually located where Inang (grandmother) and Amang (grandfather) lived. One night in December 2005, without warning, he forced entry into Amang and Inang’s door, and took my lovely Inang with him.
It was my first time to see Death up close. He was a gory sight, a horrible presence that sucked up happy emotions and thoughts, replacing them with despair and gloom. I felt awful being that close to him. Still, I tried to stand between him and my Inang and defiantly challenged him not to prey on the weak. But Death knows no dignity. He simply looked down on me, telling me there would be a time he’d deal with me, but not just yet. I smelled his putrid breath as he spoke; it was all I could do not to puke. I stared at him hard, and a chill ran through me. I noticed there was no heart inside his ribcage. He must have lost it some time ago; or maybe it was never there.
I watched as Death walked out of the house, carrying my Inang who was blissfully lost in her dreamless sleep. We knew we were defeated; there was nothing we could do. Our only consolation was that Inang didn’t seem to know what had happened; she looked at peace in her sleep.
The moment Death and Inang left, darkness enveloped the house, but this, we did not readily notice. We didn’t have the strength to go and switch on the lights; we were all consumed in our loss as we struggled to console Amang, who was so calm, having already surrendered everything to the God we prayed to every night. That night, though, life refused to flicker in Amang’s eyes.
My great loss threw me into a bottomless pit I never knew existed. I felt I had drowned or suffocated. My pain and loss gnawed at my very soul and ate a big piece of my being. Every time I felt the need to unleash my pain, I would let out all the water in the overflowing dam of my aching heart.
Then a new kind of fear enveloped me, realizing that Death was not yet done with us. He would be back, and in my heart I knew who he would take with him first. Since Inang’s departure, a kind of panic always enveloped me every time I looked at or thought of Amang. So I tried to be home more often and spend as much time with him as possible.
Death did come back, much sooner than I had thought. In May 2007, just over a year after he took Inang away from us, Death showed up at Amang’s door. He neither knocked on the door nor acknowledged us. He just went straight to Amang’s bed and gathered him into his cold, unfeeling embrace. How we shouted at Death to let go of Amang, how we tried to pull Amang free of the unwanted visitor’s powerful grip. But slowly, gradually, we lost. Death had Amang lying limp in his arms, and though they lingered a while longer, they too eventually left; leaving us to mend the shreds of our shattered hearts.
Life went on. We managed to accept our great losses. But life was never the same again for us who have been left behind. Where before I could simply go home and share a laugh with Inang and Amang, all I have left of them now is a memory — so alive Amang and Inang seem, so tangible are their images I swear I can feel them in my arms and hear their sweet laughter. But still, deep within me I know they are just shadows trying to ease my pain.
I will forever be thankful for the good memories that I have of Amang and Inang, but my heart sometimes can’t help but wish for more. The only thing that gives me strength when I think of them is the thought that they are together now, never to be separated from each other again. Death, after all, is the beginning of a life that never ends — a life that has no place for Death and his utter nothingness.
//Sherma E. Benosa
31 October 2007; 8:35pm