Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The promise for Lazarus

It has been three weeks since Philip passed away. One of the hardest challenges now is finding the answer to the question "How are you?". Honestly, if I said I'm fine, it would be a lie really. And if I said I'm not, it will leave both of us (you more so) in a very awkward position. So I'm often quiet when I get that question, to which they will ask the poor mister how I am. 

But in case you still wonder if I am fine, I am fine enough to run the household, to still look pretty (ownself say ownself), to eat my meals and even laugh too. But no, I am not okay yet, which I had learnt just within weeks of P's death, that this grieving may continue till the day I die. Meeting up with more than 2 people (me included) may make me feel anxious. Even doing routine things I did before P's birth, feels different and empty. Almost everyday, there will be moments where I sit down and wallow in the void and just cry.
In short, my days are basically grouped into two - a bad day with some good moments or a good day with many bad moments.

It didn't help that it was my birthday a few days back (which left most of my friends in an awkward position whether to wish me a happy birthday or not). So just within weeks of sharing Philip's passing, my Facebook wall came to live once again with friends wishing me a Happy Birthday. My phone would buzz every few minutes with greetings from friends far and near. I would usually have acknowledged the greeting and just indulge in the attention given for that day. This year though, I just kept quiet.

The greetings I received from my Facebook were left unread, the messages I got from my phone were left unanswered. I was not interested in any of the messages related to my birthday. So yes, I had chosen misery over joy on my birthday. Or rather I didn't allow myself to find joy. After all, since Philip (whom I named after the patron saints of joy and hope) is gone, where is my joy and hope now?

I remembered when Philip was dying, I had asked a wise priest before if God had thought if I was going to screw up and that's why He took Philip away. But that priest reminded me that it will be an insult to God for He who is generous in His love, doesn't give only to see us fail. 

On the night after Philip's first surgery, I was somehow prompted to read the passage on the raising of Lazarus. And because I hardly have any inspirations to read the Bible, I thought it was God telling me that Philip would be okay, even if the odds seemed bad. But Philip died and there's no way now that P will come back to life (especially when his remains are really in an urn). Then why give such hope, I asked. 

Unfortunately or otherwise, hope is often used as synonyms as desire or wish. My wish was that Philip would be here with me but that isn't the hope that God had promised me from the beginning. God just told me to hold on to the truth that He won't fail. 
For He who knows the agony of hoping against all odds that things could change, will understand the depth of grief when they didn't.
And for He who chose the most painful human experience to sacrifice His Son for my salvation, will also weep when mine died. 
And for He who knows how much I can and will love my son, knows that that is only a fraction of how much He already loves me.
That has been the Hope that was promised to me since Day 1.

We managed to do a small
celebration for IZ
It is unfortunate that henceforth my birthday month will always remind me of P's passing (which means I won't know if I would acknowledge next year's greetings. Actually, anything in any day will do so too). Whilst birthdays focuses on the person, I chose then to focus on the pain since it was very much of me now. The "Happy" in Happy Birthday (and no.. the word "Blessed" also won't make a difference) seems to be ironic since I am far from that.
But birthdays, as the very wise priest pointed out, serve as a reminder that God hasn't forgotten about me and has spent is still spending time on me to work on me. (Such wisdom... What am I to do when this priest passes on?!?!) And a birthday should not be the only day we celebrate and remember that fact, but the evil one is always trying to tell me otherwise.  

In all tombs, including the one which Lazarus laid, life stopped. Truth be told, though not physically, a part of my heart had died and I had retreated to a tomb when P left me. While it may not be today or tomorrow, the Hope I have been assured of, promised me that it will resurrect one day. Many have told me before that with time, things will get better. I may be wrong, but time doesn't make the hurt go away. It will however, teach me lessons to put my hope and joy on the giver rather than on His gifts and patience to continue to wait in awe for that something great that is waiting to happen.

As for now, allow Jesus to sit with this "Lazarus" in the tomb to weep and to pray together with. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Dear Philip... With Love - Dad

How does one even begin to fathom what we have been through? Any parent who has lost a child will tell you their heart breaks 100%, even if they have other children.

How can we even begin to understand what suffering is? I am sure by now you would have known all the technical details about what Philip had to go through.

In suffering, there are two ways we can respond. We can always be inward looking and wallow in self-pity and despair; or we can choose to be life-giving, be outward looking and offer up our sufferings in exchange for graces for others who are hurting.

A wise priest once told Michelle and I that the strongest and most powerful prayers come from those who are hurting. Contrary to popular belief, we are not strong, like many of you claim us to be. We are just as weak, we cry uncontrollably and we often feel like we cannot carry on.
But it is when we are weakest and most helpless that we offer ourselves up to God to let him take over and direct our lives.

Instead of wallowing in self pity, we channel our energy to pray for that couple we know who are undergoing chemotherapy, that couple who have marital problems and are always quarrelling, that dear friend of ours who just had a bypass or a heart stent, that dear friend who is angry with God and doesn’t want anything to do with God anymore, our friends and family who are having some trouble with their work, their family problems or are in depression. It is not easy, but somehow it gets better when you pray for them and you know that God will make a difference in their lives.

We want to thank some people who have been on this difficult journey with us. Our dearest parents, who have been our pillars of strength to help us hold the fort at home and take care of our four kids.
Our helpers who also without complaining help to take care of the home and our children when we are away.

Philip’s godparents, Nick and Noeline and their beautiful family. We know you love him as much as we do, and pain must be like a sword that cuts through your hearts. My godson Daryl for helping me with all the behind the scene work.

Leo and Olivia who have been our pillars of emotional strength. Khay Guan, thank you for arranging all the medical stuff for me at NUH, going out of your way to connect us so that we could give Philip the best fighting chance he had. Dr Miriam, the only oncologist who believed in us. Brian and Coni, Fr JP, Fr Jude, Shawn and Petrina, Andrew and Pam and Mrs Tan, Elaine and Eugene, Le Peng and Barrie, who journeyed with us and made it a little more bearable along the way. Felicia and Terry, Daniel Ong, Kelvin and Yvonne, Mark and Noelle, our pillars of strength and dependability. Lilly and Steven and Fr Aloy for always keeping us in prayer.

Bernard and Ying, thank you for that initial conversation we had which totally changed our perspective of suffering from an inward looking one to a life-giving mentality. Your unshakable faith is the only reason we are here surviving today!

Last but not least, the very wise priest Msgr Ambrose Vaz. Thank you for listening to me and journeying with us. I reckon I still believe in God only because of what you said. It is always easy to get what you want, it takes great faith to want what you get, because God is the author of life and he has a greater plan for us all, even though we do not understand it at this moment in time.

Philip was named after the patron saint of joy, St Philip Neri. He was meant for great things, to bring joy to the people he met. I believe he had that charming effect on people and brought joy to all who interacted with him.

Philip is by far the bravest boy I’ve ever met! I have never met such a small boy who had to undergo two 5 hour surgeries, come out of it and still try his best to smile for you because he is genuinely happy to see you. His smile would melt a thousand hearts.

Today and henceforth I want you all to remember him as the happy baby whom you have met. It may be our physical loss that we can no longer hold and cuddle him, but it is for the greater good of all of you that we now have an angel in heaven who can help to convey your hurts and joys, your desires and your prayers to the Almighty one who is with Philip in heaven now.

My dearest darling boy, you did it. You beat us all to heaven. You are the best athlete I know. Now that you are with God, remember to intercede for us in our prayers. Remember to pray for your mummy and me and your siblings. Keep us on the straight and narrow path so that we will be able to be reunited again with you one day in heaven.

Meanwhile have fun exploring heaven with so many of your friends who are already there, while we on earth who have lost a child seek comfort in each other and hold on to the promise of a reunion in heaven when we eventually finish our race on earth.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Till we meet again, Philip

Two months ago, we discovered a lump in Philip's abdomen. Initially the doctors thought that it was the typical Wilm's tumor and assured us that his chance for recovery would be 98%.
Unfortunately, when they removed it, they found it to be a rare and malignant tumor called Rabdhoid Tumor. They had measured it to be 10cm long and told us then that we were looking at a 20-40% chance of success with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The next day they did a full body scan and found another 1cm tumor next to his brain stem. He needed to undergo another surgery two weeks later to remove that tumor but now his chance of success with chemotherapy would drop to 8% or less.
Just after 3 weeks from the second surgery, we felt another lump at his back. We went back to the Doctors and the ultrasound scan showed that the 10cm tumor which we had removed had returned and grown to 5cm. The scan also showed that the cancer has now spread to his liver. A week ago, Philip woke up coughing and wheezing in the middle of the night and we rushed him down to the hospital. They did a chest x-ray and found a 2.5cm tumor in his left lung.

I have thus far mentioned only all the bad news. Where is the Good news in all this then? For one, from now on, no one will dare to ask us if we are going to have another baby. (And yes after 5 kids, they still ask us to try for more kids.... I also don't know why)
But more importantly, the good news which I had learnt were all inspired by Philip.

After his first surgery, Philip needed to take medications orally. Not all of them tasted nice, but Philip would obediently take them whenever it is time. The teenager boy opposite him on the other hand would refuse his medication and just take them when he decides them to. Growing up makes us more independent but with that we choose to be our own God. We decide it's our time, our way and our life, we tell others that we don't need their help and with the little that we know, we put others down and refuse to listen to them.
Philip didn't. He didn't understand what was going on, but he just did what he was asked to do whether he liked it or not.

Philip did suffer the last two months. With each major surgery that he went through, he came out from the operating theatre with many tubes, needed to be suctioned at times and at many times, he needed to be poked. But when he had recovered and had felt better, he was ever ready to offer a smile even to the same nurse who had poked him not long ago.
Philip had put us adults to shame. When we had to go through something bad, we always choose to hang on to the pain. It was as if that pain was our justification to remain angry, to get another person's pity and attention and to make their lives miserable. Philip moved on, he cried when he was in pain, but he smiled too when things have improved. We, on the other hand, choose stay upset and cling on to our pains even when there was a reason to smile.

Make no mistake, Philip had really wanted to hang around and stay with us. Even at his deathbed, when his pulse slipped to 20, he had tried to climb it back to 120 twice before he gave up. Growing up screws us up real bad. We see the world with negativity and lose the meaning in life. We choose to give up and think that life can only be better if and when we go to the next world. While there was nothing wrong with heaven, Philip didn't see anything wrong being on earth. And honestly, what is so wrong and bad being here?

Philip had some difficulties peeing and pooping the last few days before his death. We were praying very hard and even encouraged him to pee at least, so that his abdomen wouldn't be so tight. Just half an hour before he died, he did it. It was as if he told God he needed to do this before he died because he needed us to know that he had heard our encouragement and more importantly God had heard our prayers.

A friend asked me recently at the wake what did I learn from the whole episode. I told her I learnt that in the past two months, faith aside, what carried me through was someone had offered us hope, like the doctor who respected and agreeable to our choice treatment. The result might have been the same but at least she helped us hope for a miracle.

Thank you sweetheart for choosing me to be your mummy. You were the gift in my life to teach me my life's mission - to give hope to someone else. Hope, faith, love and joy are very simple gifts that all of us have in us, yet because we "grew" up, we choose to downplay and devalue them.
We still feel the pain of the physical loss of Philip, but the hope that there's something to look forward to tomorrow, helps us through.

May all of you, choose to find the gifts in you and be the gift to those around you. I assure you, that's when you will find Good News.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

What my baby taught me about faith

Death can hit anyone and everyone regardless of their wealth, background or believes. Yet when it hits, the ones left behind are hit by the same wave of pain, grief and loss.

Though only six months, Philip has taught me more than I had taught him.

1. Have courage to live

Philip had to undergo two major surgeries in July. One was to remove a 10cm tumour with his left kidney and another was to remove a 1cm tumour beside his brain stem.
Yet despite the ardent recovery process of suctioning, poking and having tubes in him, he continued to remain positive and smile at those around him. 
image taken from dreamquote.com
While most around us continue each day just to survive, he fought on to live. Perhaps that’s the beauty of being a baby. He did not know what the medical statistics against him were or what is going to happen and he found the courage to do what he needed to do and to do it with faith that it will be okay.
Since the beginning of time, God’s message to Adam and Eve was to not worry because there will be a future. But knowing that there is a future was not enough for them, they needed to know what is going to happen in the future.
As we grew, we became more worried about the next day rather than the day itself. Our fear of tomorrow’s unknown crippled our desire and excitement that awaits us today. 
Have more faith in God. He’s settled tomorrow so just enjoy and be present today.

2. Comfort - The true gift of prayer

image taken from
We had many questions during the past few months. “Why give Philip a cancer with so dismal prognosis?”, “Why was the cancer spreading so fast?” or “Why can’t Philip be cured?”. We prayed very hard each day, hoping to find answers to our questions. 
We prayed to God, Mother Mary, St. Jude, St. Charpel, St. Raphael and many others. But no answers were given. Up till now, we still do not understand why it had happened. 
But we had learnt throughout the past few months, that whilst sometimes prayers offer solutions and even answers, prayers were meant to offer comfort.
We did pray very hard daily hoping for a chance of miracle. But if you had ever wondered how we managed to go around being normal, it was not because we were great actors, it was because with prayers comes a little strength to continue to chart on for the day. 
If our God is a God of the living and the dead then the privilege of being a Catholic is we don’t just need to ask those on earth to pray for us, but those who have made it to heaven. Praying with them and along them gave us comfort that we are not abandoned by God in this difficult time and He still loves us very much.

3. Death does not need to have the last say

image taken from tango.com
Where is hope in times like these then? It remains a fact that Philip is no longer physically with us. Our hearts still ache and we are still learning to cope with this. But we still take comfort from our faith that we will meet each other again in heaven. I won’t be able to imagine how much worse I would feel, if we were taught that after he died he had reincarnated to be a cockroach or a mosquito. 
Thinking that he is now in heaven praying and watching over us with the other angels gives us consolation that one day when our time on earth is done, he will personally escort us to meet the Heavenly Father. 

We definitely would have wanted and hoped for more time with him. But 6 months of him is a bonus as well. Like many parents who have buried their children, the pain is indescribable. But we will live, because the God who was here today is already there tomorrow.