In the beginning of the lockdown here in Manila last March 15, 2020, I texted Sr. Agnes to check how she and my Carmel sisters in Zamboanga were doing.
And her reply was—“Hi Rapa. Thanks for concern. Zambo is COVID-free so far. Mayor Beng is on top of the situation. I’m more concerned with how you all are. Please take care guid.”
To allay her anxiety about our situation, I jokingly responded: “We are okay Mother! We will live like Carmelites in the coming days!”
Of course, in my mind was how the Carmelites actually live in seclusion and how they are actually separated most of the time from people outside the confines of the convent. In fact, “social distancing” was already practised by the Carmelites ages ago, long before the term was coined when this pandemic started.
This is why when I heard the news last May 5 about the passing of Sr. Ann and three other nuns testing positive for Covid, I could not believe it. I immediately texted Sr. Agnes to check on her and she immediately texted back— “We lost Sr. Ann Sunday night at 11 30 and buried her remains Monday at 3:30. We sent her off with tears but with joy on her final journey to HOME! 2 other Sisters are in the hospital and 1 in isolation outside in our retreat house. All Covid positive. Rest of us inside with 2 elderly bedridden lockdown in their rooms and us holding on …”
At that time, she also informed me that Sr. Bernie was in bad shape. On May 9, I got another text from her—“Sr. Mary Bernard Escucha (Bernie) went Home to God at 4:21pm. Prayers please, second death in a week…Last Sunday we lost +Sr. Ann. This afternoon +Sr. Bernie also went HOME to GOD. PRAYERS PLEASE”
Reading her text, I could feel her deep sadness losing two of her sisters but also felt a deeper peace as she surrendered them to her Beloved. I really had no words of consolation I could text back to her then except a sad emoticon face and the praying hands icon on my phone.
I also found myself in a very different situation because most of our previous text exchanges often started with me requesting her prayers for various intentions, I had for myself, my family and friends. She and Mother May in Carmel Bacolod (my two adopted mothers in Carmel) are my go-to prayer warriors during very difficult times in my life. So it was a reversal of roles which I was not used to and I also felt that my intercessory powers were no match to theirs.
The following day, May 10, I got another text from her. It read:
Results of Negative:
- AGNES GUILLAN
- MA. CARMELA BAJARO
- GLORIA LIMBAGA
- MARY REGINA ABABON
- EDILLA TERESA RATILLA
- GENEVIEVE MARIA TAMPOS
Of course, I cannot claim that it was the power of my prayers that brought this about, but this bit of good news really gave me much happiness and hope that sooner rather than later all would be well.
But little did I know this would be the last text message I was going to receive from her.
On May 13, I received a text from a dear friend Dr. Anton Lim, who I met when I accompanied my cousin, then former Sen. Noynoy Aquino, when he went to Zamboanga in 2009 for a day long retreat with Sr. Agnes as he was trying to discern his presidential candidacy.
Doc Anton texted that Sr. Agnes had to be re-swabbed as she was not feeling well. As it turned out, her good news three days ago was shortlived as she later tested positive for Covid. Then at midnight of May 22, I again received a message from Doc Anton stating that she peacefully passed on.
Just the other day I learned from Mother May, that Sr. Agnes, as sub prioress, had to take charge of everything that was happening in the convent as her prioress, Mother Therese Margaret, was one of those who tested positive for Covid and was incapacitated. According to Mother May, Sr. Agnes embraced the responsibility wholeheartedly without thinking of herself.
These past three weeks went by so fast, like most weeks these days. But it once again reminded me how short our lives are here on earth and we will really never know when our time is up.
This vicious pandemic has really come so close to home. In a blink of an eye, I just lost a Mother and two sisters in Zamboanga.
Some time ago, I remember sharing some of my woes with Sr. Agnes when I had the opportunity to visit her in the Zamboanga convent. Since it was a rare occurrence, I took advantage of the opportunity and poured out all the emotional baggage that I was carrying then. I recall shedding tears then as she looked intently at me straight in the eye, listening to every word I was saying. After everything I had said, she simply said with a smile, “Rapa you will be okay. You know what, the Lord allows us naman to indulge in self-pity. Pero three minutes lang. After three minutes, snap out of it na and move on.”
Mother, I know you know that losing you, especially in these very uncertain and trying times, leaves a big void in my heart. If you will allow, please allow me to grieve a little longer than three minutes. Promise, I will snap out of it sooner rather than later. As you have reminded me then, there is really very little time to be just thinking of myself and what pains me. I will move on, get out of my self-pity and just continue to live every precious moment I am blessed with, to love and serve our Lord and the people around me in the same way you have so generously done so yourself.
But promise me this, when it’s my time to come home, please intercede for me there, kasi baka hindi ako tanggapin diyan.
I love you always Mother!