Grief, in stages
During the taxi ride last Sunday, I asked the driver how he was faring so far. "Wala talagang pasahero 'pag Linggo (There are really no passengers on Sundays)," he said. I noticed a familiar Ilonggo accent in the response—a habit I got from my father who has the uncanny ability to geographically and culturally place people based on how they speak—and from then on I talked to the driver in the Hiligaynon vernacular.
He told me he has four children. All girls. One was in college. The rest were either in high school or elementary. And how was his wife, were they going strong, I asked. "Patay na siya. Mag-one year na subong nga September," he said. She had succumbed to breast cancer. I noted a pang of loneliness in his voice.
"Pero bata pa siya (But she was still so young)," he said. He couldn't let go of his grief.
Having heard that I'm studying medicine, he asked me if it was because the wife had tired herself too much. She used to be a labandera (laundrywoman). Probably not, I said. Although we know a lot more today about breast cancer, we still don't know it completely.
"Sino na ang nagabantay sa mga bata? (Who's taking care of the children now?)" I asked.
"Ako na ang tatay kag nanay nila. Amo gani, dapat aga pa ko makapuli. (I stand as their father and mother. That's why I have to go home early.)"
How would I explain God's love to this man? The world had not been kind to him. I had a hard time inserting the topic into the conversation.
And then it occurred to me that I had to somehow encourage him through the Gospel. I explained to him that, although we many not understand why bad things happen to us, we must recall how God, because He so loved the world, gave His only Son to die for our sins. It was painful for God, and yet He still did so. If God, though Christ, gave that ultimate sacrifice, how much more would he see us through?
When I got to the meeting place, I thanked him and promised him that I'd be praying for him. While walking towards the restaurant minutes after the ride, I remembered, with shame, that I hadn't even bothered to ask for his name.