This is the most partygenous month of the year. Since December 1, Christmas parties have begun. Last night, I was supposed to go to four parties but I just went to one. Today I’m hosting one myself. Actually, this is my eldest son Michael's party, as he wants to celebrate the fact that he is now a member of the Filipino working class, as clinical instructor at the Foundation University School of Nursing. He looks mighty smart in his uniform, by the way.
Yet amidst the revelry, the reality of death intrudes. At yet another party this week, at the Physical Therapy Program, the medical and paramedical community was abuzz regarding the baffling death of a nineteen year old junior nursing student in Silliman. There are several theories but none can be proven unless an autopsy is done and somehow I doubt that the family will consent to that.
There are a lot of nursing students rotating at the hospital so it was very possible that we knew or perhaps have encountered this particular student already. We were discussing the medical aspects of the case when I just needed to ask the name of the student. And nearly choked on the answer because this student was my classmate in Philippine Literature two summers ago. Our teacher, Ian Casocot, set very high standards for our class and rising to the challenge, our group met at her boarding house after school almost everyday, as it was a summer session, to prepare, study, discuss, rehearse, make props and give-aways for our report on “The Writings of Filipino Women.”
I remember her as a tall, slim, wisp of a girl, eager to learn and discuss ambiguities about her assigned topic. She patiently taught me how to make crepe paper roses which we used to decorate the stage during our report. We wore fairy costumes with flowing skirts and glittery wings for that report. I also remember that she was often sick but still, even though feverish, she would putter about checking what we needed before she would lie down at our behest.
Yesterday morning, I went to the Udarbe Chapel beside the Silliman Church where I thought her remains would be laid. But when I got there, I only found children having choir practice. Her body had been brought back by her parents to Mindanao already, earlier in the day.
As doctors we try to steel ourselves from emotional involvement in the death and dying process. Necessarily so, as otherwise we would be wrecks at the end of each week. Of course everybody dies. Albeit in different ways. Just have to accept that and deal with it. Next patient please. But this particular passing, of one so young and forward facing, made me listen more keenly and look more closely at the other young people in my life. Surely we do not know when.
Somehow I am glad the wake was no longer in the chapel yesterday. So my last memory of my classmate was the smile on her face when Sir Casocot gave us a perfect score for our report.
Farewell, Alzen Joy.