November 1

All roads lead to the cemetery. This year, it’s a very long weekend.

In the Philippines, I remember that during the growing up years, All Saints and All Souls Days are a mini reunion at the cemeteries. Family members would gather in droves, staying overnight, bringing food, mahjong tables, books, tents, and other recreational stuff. We would walk the whole cemetery reading epitaphs of other people, say a little prayer for our deceased relatives, and spend the day(s) binging on food and stories.

As we grew older, the number of family members going to the cemetery. A few were too busy with work and began chasing careers. The others had passed away and the cemetery eventually became their home. Others migrated and never came home again. I guess the changes in life has changed the way we celebrate the way we commemorate the day of the dead.

While people move on, there is a part of us that will never forget how important some memories are. Some day, we will all meet our maker. In the meantime, life goes on.

We’re all going to die

…but what you do before that happens is what matters most.

I am writing this for a friend whose mother was diagnosed to have cancer. The family wanted her to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. After two cups of tea and a cup of tears, she asked my opinion.

I told her I had none.

I was sad. And wouldn’t want the same kind of situation where one would have to decide on matters where the heart and the mind collide.

As healers we want what is best for our patients. We offer the best treatment options, health care and assurance. Medicine, after all, is not a perfect science. We work with odds, weighing benefits over risk. We work against odds, with scarce resources and that will to survive.

I told my friend if she had asked her mother, what her wishes are. After all, her mother is educated and should be informed at the options available to her. Unlike many Filipinos, their family does not need to hurdle the financial obstacle. Cancer therapy today has made strides in not only minimizing side effects, but in improving survival rate as well. Cutting edge technology in medical science has altered the landscape on how we address diseases today.

She told me that her brothers and sisters wanted the best care and that the doctors had explained to them the outcome. In spite of the poor prognosis, her mother would probably have 6-12 months more. Or longer. The outcomes were unpredictable and based on various variables. She would have to contend with some side effects with treatment. Without treatment, the outcome was grim. But the children wanted their mother to receive the best treatment. And to be given that chance to battle her disease.

It would be another day before I saw the family. It was a somber meeting. Because I was the pediatrician of all her kids, her mother wanted to hear my opinion.

I told her I wasn’t sure of what to say except echo what the doctors already confirmed. Held her hand and asked her, what would you like to happen?

She smiled back and told me, she was ready.

The quality of life would be intolerable. She was tired. And she had seen other members of the family go through cancer treatment. She told me that she would just be procrastinating the inevitable. There would be time. To make amends. To enjoy life as life should be. To be able to finally fulfill her bucket list. To go with dignity and peace. Then she asked me, “if you were in my shoes, would you still pursue the treatment options”?

I smiled. Held her hands. Then hugged her. And she knew my answer.

That was a year ago. Without any treatment she lived another year. Battling pain and living life. They buried her a week ago. A celebration of life, love, and the choice to live …and die with dignity.

You see, we’re all going to die. But what you do before that, matters most.

What if?

What if a drug or an app or a seer could tell where, when, and how we would die, would we live our lives differently?

Where would the challenges in life be if we lived each day laden with anxiety and regrets? It’s probably the reason why there’s no such things as being able to see the future.

We can, however, prepare for it. To live and love each day without regrets. After all, preparing to die is painful to live. But living each day as if it were your last makes you ready for the worst without regrets.

God always brings in the storm of our lives so that we can enjoy the sunshine afterwards.

God’s hand is upon us today and everyday. Good or bad. Sunshine and rain.

– touching our life with joy

– blessing our heart with love

– comforting our soul with peace

What if I can wipe away the tears in your eyes? I will. But I can’t take you back to yesterday. Nor help you see your future. Or prepare you for the storms or sunshines of our lives. So I’m writing this for you… because only we can live the ‘what ifs’ of our lives.

Too busy to remember and enjoy life? Have you hugged lately the ones you will miss most when you or they are gone?