“The Dignity of Death”, by Letty Jacinto-Lopez

It was one of those “when-women-lunch” affairs that brought together old and new friends alike. I saw an old acquaintance from school, Nini Valdez, so I waved at her and she approached my table. “Ay naku Letty, what’s happening to your batch? So many are dropping like flies!” I grinned sheepishly. It surely felt that way. When I made a statistical count, we were averaging 1.3 fatalities per month in a period of eight months. There was also a bizarre pattern where my late schoolmates suffered from illnesses that were undetected and no aggressive treatment could arrest or reverse their conditions. Wakes and funerals had become so common that like an old uniform, I was automatically reaching for the same black shirt or white dress in my closet.

I’ve noticed however, that our grief was cushioned by a consoling thought that made it easier to move on and begin the process of healing. Our departed friends had found the dignity in dying.

What is that? Father Domie Guzman of the Society of St Paul’s explained, “It was Jesus on the cross who taught us about death.” Father Domie gave three measures: “Death becomes meaningful IF –

*You have lived your mission. What is our mission in life before giving up the ghost? I still am wrestling with mine although the most obvious is my mission toward my children and those left under my care. We had been taught that every gift from God has its corresponding responsibility that moves us to nurture and put each one to good use.

If you are a mother like me, you try to raise your child to find his worth and use his beauty and strength to be the mirror of God’s grace. My mother raised us to have a healthy fear of God and spread love that reflected the love we have for God and each other. We should avoid a life of hate and envy, greed and injustice because they only lead to perdition.

What happens to those guilty of leading wicked lives full of treachery, indulgence and self-aggrandizement? Will they see the writing on the wall? What would it take to have a change of heart and let the goodness in them take control of their lives? When I hear comments like “He had three close calls yet he’s still alive! He cheated death again.” Is this person being given the chance to finish his mission? Should we not take stock of how far we’ve come to fulfilling our own missions?

*You have entrusted or you are leaving something beautiful behind. Father Domie said, “In death, Jesus left someone beautiful and most precious to him: his own mother, Mary.”

In our case, what legacy are we leaving behind? Do our children keep a healthy fear of God so that they will not do anything to hurt or offend God? This will include the value they set to follow God’s plans and how they treat others; is it with kindness and mercy? Do our children keep faith in God? No matter how much we fail, God will never give up on us. Hard as it seems, we must try our best to imitate Christ.

When loved ones talk and reminisce about you like in the good old days, would they remember you for the humility and child-like innocence that brought them closer to God? Definitely, not for any form of notoriety.

*You are coming home…to God, our Father. Lift the veil of gloom. Death is not frightening; it’s a celebration, a party and a song-and-dance extravaganza that one could not begin to imagine. That’s because our long journey on earth will culminate in a grand homecoming in heaven. That is God’s promise.

Remember too that in order for us to see and be with God, we need to become a spirit, like Him. This gives the most plausible explanation why the physical body needs to be left behind. It’s our spirit – invisible and free – that will enjoy a non-stop, permanent state of happiness.

For the one who died, it would be his reward; he is reaping honor and respect for living a life patterned after giving and spreading kindness. For those left behind, it’s a wake up call. Knowing that his dearly departed is now safe and happy in heaven will help ease the emptiness and take the sting out of letting go. Of course, you will continue to miss him but it’s a tiny sadness in this otherwise grand, victorious, and ticker-tape celebration.

Last December, a dear friend, Rosette Herrera-Hebron, succumbed to cancer. Before she died, I made a last and whimsical request. “Please Sette,” I begged, “Promise me you’ll come back and tell me what heaven is like.” She laughed and with a lilt in her voice replied, “If God would allow me.”

A few nights ago, I had a dream. Rosette and I were relaxing in lounging chairs facing the calm, blue ocean. I turned to her and asked, “Sette, how is your new home?” She raised her arms full of delight and cried out, “Ang ganda-ganda, ang sarap-sarap!” (It’s incredibly beautiful and so nice). Being lighthearted, I answered something gibberish, “The children will just have to like it, right?” Rosette laughed, “Oh yes! But not yet; in time, they will.”

That’s when she vanished and logic kicked in. Rosette couldn’t have been with me because she was dead. But, could it be? Did she return to give me a sneak preview of heaven?

I woke up crying.

Rosette kept her promise to me, and God allowed her. “Thank you God,” I whispered.

When my number is up, my loving family, as well as three darling amigas – Chiqui Recio, Jopee Gueco and Rosette – will be dancing and shrieking by the pearly gates creating a riot and making me blush. “Letty, see how we’ve kept your lounging chair warm?”

Yey! That is the life.

My seat warmers with wings: Rosette Hebron and Jopee Gueco

Letty's Seat Warmers

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Originally published at Philippine Star, December 2011. Other articles written by Letty>>>>>

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