Two weeks ago. When my uncle passed away from lung failure brought on by a stroke. Which is the cause of death, but the cause of dying was grief. His wife, my Ninang Gee, had been diagnosed of cancer (which cancer—I don’t remember anymore, cancer in general just runs in the family) and she abruptly died a few months later. When I saw my uncle, Tito Roy, shortly after her funeral, seated on the old couch in my father’s music room, his body was so alarmingly shriveled—in weight, in the way he carried himself, in the tired expression of his face when he tensely stood up to greet me—that his grief was frightening. Part of what it does to you, my father said to me. Especially for older people, when a spouse becomes widowed, they tend to pass away shortly thereafter. Because grief makes death rapid, because while you can’t think of anything else, it is turning you into a body again. After the mass for Tito Roy’s cremation, my Tito Raul had hyperventilated—his head tilted upwards and shaking, and he was breathing into a paper bag with a crowd and nurse gathered around him, in need of water and a jacket from feeling too cold—simply from crying. He nearly died. The casket was being carried out. My father was born into a family of 11 children and six of them have died. Most of them from cancer, or a stroke. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was recently hospitalized from climbing up stairs. She and Tito Raul have moved to live in our house for a while. And each time I greet my grandmother as I come home in the evening from school she always mentions how difficult it is to be so old—91—that she’s forgotten the names of her grandchildren, sometimes her children, and the correct sequence of the mysteries of the rosary. She sits and prays most of the day; asks for directions for where she sleeps, where the bathroom is, and for water; complains about how she doesn’t want to go back to the house in Cavite, she’s not a parasite here, she wants company.
This morning. I didn’t know him very well but Doyle was my first cousin and he was 48. He had an aneurysm and a stroke. My father explained that even if he was still alive, he was surely just going to be a vegetable. And you shouldn’t take headaches lightly, he said. It’s a medical policy in the United States that if a patient has frequent headaches you need to do a CT scan right away, because an aneurysm can’t be traced and it all just happens suddenly. Your sister, for example, she has frequent headaches. My Tita Susan, who lives in the States, recently sent home 745 dollars for my grandmother and Tito Raul’s medical expenses—she lived with them before she moved there and married a Mexican-American—and for Tito Roy’s funeral, she had asked my cousin Sharon to document it. Send her pictures over Facebook. Make sure to get everyone. So Sharon took pictures of the casket, and the chapel’s empty space when the casket was no longer there, and Tito Raul and the crowd and nurse that gathered around him when he couldn’t breathe. My father said Tito Raul and Doyle were close. On the phone this morning, Tita Susan had placed an overseas call to my father, and he talked about how he planned to break the news of Doyle’s death to Tito Raul. He can’t go to funeral parlors anymore. Or he has to take a tranquilizer. My father in fact told Tito Raul he can’t go on like that, he can’t always let it happen, can’t just keep depending. I think Tito Raul has stopped drinking coffee. He said it acts a trigger sometimes.
August. This is considered a ghost month in Chinese superstition. My father read it in the newspaper. Accidents happen this time of year so don’t move into new offices. Don’t fly this month. When he read it he called my mother over the phone and told her she has to wear the bracelet of Turkish evil eyes they bought together in Istanbul the summer of last year. What the experts say fights it. And make sure to wear yours, my father said to me.