The time I spent with my sunflower

Dinky was one of my most trusted companions
in my life journey. She wasted no time in sharing the gifts
of her humanity with others who had less

Former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman: Her fidelity to mission was unflinching. (Photo from Dinky Soliman FB)

Photo of Dinky Soliman taken by author Rapa Lopa in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), one of the most powerful cyclones in history, hit the Visayas: ‘I took this when I met up with Dinky in Tacloban five days after Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas. With only her Berocca boost beside her, our tireless Dinky was at the center of relief operations and in many other occasions when our people needed to feel the presence of their leaders.’

Last week, I noticed that my energy and productivity levels were quite low. It was not physical exhaustion, but more a mental, and probably even an unconscious psychological weariness that made me feel less motivated to do what I knew were important things I needed to attend to, personally and professionally.

I did manage to go through all the Zoom meetings I had scheduled for the week, and I like to think that all of those meetings went well.  But in between the meetings, I just found myself at times staring at the computer screen, not knowing what I should be focusing on during those moments.

Looking back, the only time I sort of felt this way was during the early part of the pandemic.  The uncertainty of those times truly brought out much anxiety, paranoia, and fear, which, I initially brushed aside until more physiological symptoms like high blood pressure, irregular sleeping patterns, and low energy levels started to manifest.

Digging deeper in search of what was causing the unease, it became clear that the events happening around me then and today reminded me of my mortality. The ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases has again led to so many deaths, and quite a number of such deaths (both COVID-related or not) hit very close to home.

The most recent of such transitions was my dear friend Dinky Soliman.

Dinky Soliman at work as Welfare Secretary: Hers has been tireless emptying for others who have less (DSWD files)

After Noy’s presidency, Dinky was one of those who went out of her way to periodically check on Noy, whether by text, a call, or an actual visit to his home on Times street. I know this because each time she would have the chance, Dinky would immediately update and compare notes with me on how Noy was doing.  She was very concerned about how Noy was taking a beating from his critics and political opponents. She was also so worried about how Noy, by his lonesome, was quietly absorbing all the lies and political persecutions being thrown at him.

Dinky was one of those who went out of her way to periodically check on Noy, whether by text, a call, or an actual visit

When Noy’s health started to fail, she was also constantly checking on Noy’s condition, and would send me feedback on how we could find ways to help Noy cope with his failing health.  Last May 22, she updated me on her text exchange with him, where she expressed her concern over how Noy was taking the passing of Sister Agnes, his close confidante and spiritual director.

On June 14, she again sent me another text update on Noy and gave very concrete recommendations on how a change of scene could help Noy cope better with his health condition.

Of course, this idea of a Tagaytay hiatus never materialized, as 10 days later, Noy left us. But up to that point, Dinky was steadfast in watching over Noy. To her, Noy was not just her former boss; Noy was a younger brother.

Beyond adopting Noy as a younger brother, Dinky also took on many other roles towards many other people. Various individuals and sectors who had the privilege of working closely with or simply encountering Dinky have described her as their leader, mentor, mother, tita, lola, with all the endearing adjectives attached.

To me, Dinky was one of my most trusted companions in my life journey.  She was always there to listen when I needed someone to rant to about my frustrations; to give wise advice when I sought wisdom; to jolt me back to action when I seemed to be sliding towards apathy and indifference; to inspire me when I needed an extra push to continue fighting the (not so easy) good fight.

Months before Noy’s death, she was actually celebrating some health victories when she shifted to a plant-based diet. Weeks after the shift, she told me that her blood sugar count had dropped dramatically, to the point that she no longer needed to inject insulin. More important, she said that doctors also saw significant improvements in her creatinine levels then, which meant that her kidneys that had been damaged by her diabetes were still holding on, and that she could still escape dialysis. She was so proud of this, and declared that she had never felt so strong and healthy as she did then.

Unfortunately, as life goes, new battles and challenges emerge. Last July 10, I got another text from Dinky regarding her own failing health. This came just a little over two weeks after Noy’s passing, and we were all still grieving our loss. Reading her text, I could sense the growing anxiety that she was feeling.

Then Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman (far left), then Rep. Leni Robredo with then President Aquino (From Leni Robredo FB)

I imagine the paralyzing fear that might have surrounded her at that time

Knowing that Noy’s health challenge (and eventual cause of death) closely resembled hers, I could not help but put myself in Dinky’s situation and imagine the paralyzing fear that might have surrounded her at that time. But that was me and my imagination. Coming from my own assumption of how Dinky may have been feeling then, I gave her the comforting advice to just take it easy. In my mind, thinking that she was probably physically and emotionally drained by the unfortunate turn of events, I suggested that because I knew at that time that she was still actively participating  in meetings called by Vice President Leni Robredo at the Office of the Vice President (OVP) regarding various projects where she needed Dinky’s help. Her response was, “Okay lang naman,” punctuated by a smiling emoticon.

This was just one of so many other stories of the courage and determination that Dinky demonstrated all her life. Her fidelity to mission was unquestionable and unflinching.

A few weeks after, I got another text message from Dinky. This time, however, I saw a Dinky I had never seen before. My dear friend was at her most vulnerable. I could sense that death was staring her in the face, and by her own words, it appeared that she wanted to know if her time was up.

I have to admit that the eventuality of death is still something that I continue to grapple with.   Often, when the idea enters my consciousness, I immediately dismiss it and start thinking of other things. I guess this feeling I am struggling with is, to a large extent, again a denial of the idea that the journey here on earth can end at any time.

But Dinky, my ever-present companion in this pilgrimage of life, once again reminded me to be brave and trusting in facing death. Her desire for discernment at the imminence of death taught me two important points that I think I am missing out on each time I snub death when it makes its presence felt in my life.

First is the importance of embracing my discerned mission to the very end. By her life example, Dinky showed how fully committed she was to the mission she discovered.  She literally wasted no time in sharing the gifts of her humanity with others who had less. For Dinky, it was a constant recognition of overflowing grace and a tireless emptying for others who had been deprived of it.

When she said, “Some level of depression is setting in,” I could sense that Dinky still wanted to find a way to beat the overwhelming odds against her.  Her resolve to overcome her depression was again Dinky’s relentless drive to squeeze every bit of life she had left, so she could pursue her mission to her last breath.  She was never one to wallow in self-pity, because as many have witnessed, Dinky’s life was really all about what was in it for others.

Her resolve to overcome her depression was again Dinky’s relentless drive to squeeze every bit of life she had left

Second is the total trust in God’s plan and promise. The most difficult struggle I have about death is my separation from people I love. Dinky’s desire for discernment as death stared her in the face, was probably an expression of her own struggle to detach herself from people that she had loved so much, people she felt responsible for.

I am then reminded of the parting lines shared by the Fox with the Little Prince:

“Goodbye,” said the fox. And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyeIt is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so importantPeople have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

It was quite obvious that Dinky was in pain, tired, and in anguish but she did also not seem ready to leave the people she loved so dearly in a world that continues to be wounded, broken, and vicious.

Since that text exchange on August 1, I think Dinky did not get the chance to do the retreat she sought to do. In the days that followed came the final health rollercoaster ride that she, Hec, and their family went through, with their entire household testing positive for COVID-19, and Dinky suffering two strokes that eventually led to her passing.

Then again, maybe Dinky did not need to go on that retreat anymore.  She was probably already in close contact with the Lord.  In our text exchanges at the height of her family’s  COVID crisis, her brief messages assured me that she was coping well, and her simple requests for continuous prayers somehow made me feel that Dinky was at peace with what was going on. There was no sign of bitterness and anger over how the world was crumbling on her and her loved ones.  It was as if she was already assured that all would be well.  In the end, it was total trust and surrender to the One who probably told her, “Here is my secret. It’s quite simple…It is the time I spent with my Sunflower that makes her so important. People forget this. I am responsible for the people I tame.”

Rest in peace, Dinks. I know you know more than all of us that indeed, all will be well.

Read more:

Dinky Soliman: ‘Walang ninakaw. Nakatira pa rin sa maliit na bahay’

Now na!!!

Where are the millennials and the GenZ? Helping, working tirelessly, quietly

‘Alalahanin, Gunitain’: Revisiting our years with ‘Mr. Pagsi’

Only three minutes of self-pity


About author


He is the author of “To Love Another Day,” the memoirs of democracy icon Corazon Aquino. He continues to work with NGOs—evidently one of the Filipinos who continue to believe in the Filipino.

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