Before I Forget

There’s not a day I don’t think about my Maningning

We accept that the dead will not return to us in life

In file photo, Maningning Miclat before her 8ft. x 44ft. mural, 'Soliloquy', at Cultural Center of the Philippines with its president, Lucrecia Kasilag, and (bottom photo) with noted writer SV Epistola (File photo from author)

It was a most beautiful dream. I was contentedly looking at my husband Mario and grandson Raja sleeping soundly in our bed. In the back of my mind, I knew that Mario would soon be gone, so I took the opportunity to kiss him, repeatedly, on his cheeks, forehead, nose, lips. It was like I couldn’t get enough of him. Then, the chirping of the birds suddenly snapped me out of my dream. And I found myself alone, staring at a void. The cold harsh reality that my husband of 50 years was gone forever hit me.

Eight months had passed since Mario died alone at the ICU of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) after three days of being intubated on his confinement. He tested positive after the COVID-19 testing done by a home health service provider due to his incessant cough, loss of sense of taste, and on-and-off fever. I thought at first that it would be best to quarantine him and manage the virus at home because of his heart condition. He was a survivor of quintuple heart bypass surgery and several angioplasty procedures. But when kuya Jun, his medical doctor brother, who video-called from Florida, saw that he was restless and disoriented, he told us he should be hospitalized.

The author and husband Mario with Banaue during their daughter’s  graduation at Brooklyn College, 2006

It was the most heartrending time in April, when hospitals in Metro Manila were overwhelmed by the sheer number of COVID-19 patients and were no longer accepting patients. Our neighbor had to be sent by ambulance to a hospital in Cavite. Mario was getting worse. My daughter Banaue had to ask help from her University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS) batchmate, a PGH doctor, who, upon learning that Mario’s oximeter reading dropped to critical level, immediately arranged that he be admitted at the COVID-19 section of the hospital. Banaue, who also tested COVID-19 positive, drove him to PGH but was not allowed to accompany him inside the ER. I was volunteering to stay with Mario since I tested negative, but seniors like me were not allowed inside the COVID-19 section.

I never imagined that this modern scourge of humanity would deprive me of attending to my husband at his deathbed and cremation

Not only were the hospitals in crisis; crematories also couldn’t accept bodies anymore. My contractor nephew Mar and his wife Lou arranged for Mario’s cremation in an Antipolo crematory which they constructed a few years back. They then brought his ashes in an urn to me. I never imagined that this modern scourge of humanity would deprive me of attending to my husband at his deathbed and cremation. Was it a curse or a blessing that Mario spared me the agony of watching his last few days on earth?

The first death in our nuclear family was in September 2000, when my 28-year-old daughter Maningning fell from the seventh floor of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute of Architecture and Fine Arts Building, where she was an art instructor. Mario and I were in the United States for a conference and a speaking engagement. We had to rush home, thinking that we would go straight to the hospital from the airport. We didn’t know that the incredibly difficult task of arranging the wake and funeral services had been done already by my courageous 21-year-old younger daughter Banaue. She also did her make-up because Maningning never allowed anybody but her baby sister to touch her face.

For the longest time, my mind would not entertain the word “suicide,” even as a psychic intimated to me that Maningning talked to her during a garden memorial ritual and dinner tendered by our writer friend, the late Gilda Cordero-Fernando. She said she saw her behind me and was asking for forgiveness for what she had done, but that she had no control over it, she was sucked down into a vortex. She added that she had so much love to give and she loved us very much, but that love couldn’t save her.

The death of a child is the worst and hardest grief to absorb, because it’s a violation of the natural order of living and dying

The death of a child is the worst and hardest grief to absorb and work through, because it’s a violation of the natural order of living and dying. For bereaved parents, it’s not just losing a child, not just losing a person they loved. It’s also losing the years of promise they had looked forward to. The trauma is often more intense, the memories and hopes harder to let go of. As such, the mourning process is longer.

How can one ever fathom bereavement? How do you make sense of death, of immense grief, especially, in my case, a double-whammy of grief borne out of losing a child and a husband?

Emily Bronte, in her poem Remembrance, wrote:

“And even yet, I dare not let it languish,
Dare not indulge in memory’s rapturous pain;
Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish,
How could I seek the empty world again.”

Washington Irving had this to say in his book, The Sketch Book: “The sorrow for the dead is the only sorrow from which we refuse to be divorced. Every other wound we seek to heal, every other affliction to forget; but this wound we consider it a duty to keep open; this affliction we cherish and brood over in solitude.”

It’s been 33 years since Anderson Cooper’s brother Carter tragically died by suicide, but the CNN anchor says he is still affected by the devastating loss. Says the 54-year-old broadcast journalist in a magazine interview, “There’s not a day that I don’t think about it…It was the same with my mom (Gloria Vanderbilt). Till the day she died (in 2019), we were both still stunned by what happened. There are some things that can never be answered and you have to find a way to live in that space of not knowing, or not fully understanding.”

That horrible word ‘closure,’ which…I think should just be banned’

Cooper, who recently published a book titled Vanderbilt and wrote a book with his mother in 2016 called The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love, and Loss, says further: “All that stuff, it never leaves you. People in TV use that horrible word ‘closure,’ which…I think should just be banned, that word, for anyone who has experienced loss, particularly early loss, there’s no such thing as closure. I mean, wounds heal, but scars remain, whether or not people can see them.”

Looking back, I did keep the festering wound open since 2000. And there’s not a day that I don’t think about my Maningning. Clinical psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang said: “There will be sadness, a certain sadness that will never really go away. But with acceptance comes peace—there is peace in sadness. We accept, despite dreams and fantasies, that the dead will not return to us in life.”

Through acceptance, I think I was able to do things that mitigated the agony and trauma of death and made sense of what life is all about. The Maningning Miclat Art Foundation Mario and I and our like-minded friends founded to honor my daughter’s legacy and support artists and poets like her is now on its 20th year. I started a journal, a diary of my thoughts and emotional roller-coaster on the 40th day after Maningning’s passing. I revisited it after Mario passed away and it has become a friend again in my solitary grieving, musings, and intimate conversation with my two dearly beloveds.

I wrote essays and stories and published books. I traveled and ticked places off my bucket list. The last, at least most of what’s there, I thankfully made with my beloved husband. For soulmates such as we were had been joined at the hip, even as we also had contrary ideas which just spiced up our intellectual discourse. Mario was cerebral, a scholar, and an honest and truth-seeking intellectual. I think I became the best of me because of him and now I feel somewhat lost, like my intellectual growth has been nipped when he left.

In 2005, five years after Maningning’s death, Mario and I spent our Christmas alone in our empty nest when Banaue left to pursue her Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. I remember that night vividly because we danced. This Christmas, home will be without Mario, the first time in my 50 years of life with him. But I’m thinking of my nine-year-old grandson Raja. Perhaps I’ll ask him to dance with me.

The Miclats with grandson Raja at the Rizal Monument in Madrid, 2019

About author


Alma Cruz Miclat is a freelance writer and retired business executive. She is the author of Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles and Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II, and co-author with Mario I. Miclat, Maningning Miclat and Banaue Miclat of Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, a National Book Awardee for biography in 2007.

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