Herman Labay Jao (1937 - 1997)
I was a senior in high school just a couple of months from graduation. My dad had been in the hospital since Valentine’s Day 1997 in a coma from suffering a heart attack and a stroke in the matter of days. Being the youngest of four brothers and at the fragile age of 17 it was just all too much for me to handle. But I learned something extremely valuable those days and nights in the hospital. Being just a kid, I didn’t have my priorities straight when it came to my family. This was until my family was threatened with possibly losing my dad. Every day after school I would go to the hospital (which was right next to my high school) to spend time with my dad, who was unconscious and unable to talk most of the time. It was those moments of fear and silence with my dad that I remember most. Every minute with him I would fight tears so he didn’t hear or see me cry. I slipped up every now and then, but I wanted him to know I was at least trying to be strong.
There were ups and downs while he was in the hospital. One day it would seem like he was starting to snap out of it, then the next moment he would go into arrest. Worst roller coaster to be on. I came to realize that life would not be the same after this one. I knew either he would survive, but be completely different from what we knew, or he would be gone. That’s a tough realization for a 17 year old. But even at that young age, you end up having to face reality every now and then.
Every night for that month when I would leave him I said goodbye and hugged him not knowing if it was the last time. So I made sure I said it loud enough for him to hear, “I love you, Pa”. Mostly all of the nights he did not and could not respond. I knew he felt the same way too, but I just wasn’t lucky enough to hear it anymore. But as the days went on, I didn’t have to hear it...I actually felt it. And on one occasion he mustered up enough strength to actually hug me back. Obviously I was ecstatic with this action, because it meant he might recover, but once again realized that it might be his final goodbye to me. I laid in his arms crying in his chest for what felt like hours, but was probably only seconds.
My brother Tony decided to stay that night while the rest of us went home to sleep. I had gotten used to staying with my mom in her room because she was always so sad. Then around 12:30AM we got a call from my brother telling us to come back to the hospital. I knew it was time. I woke up my mom and told her we had to go back. She asked me what was going on but I just couldn’t tell her, and by my silence, she knew what it was. We rushed back to hospital once again in complete silence and fear. It was that same feeling I had on Valentine’s Day earlier that year when I found out he was in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. He had just got moved to a new room that week, so I was still kind of fuzzy on where to go but found our way. Outside my cousin Jim was there. Inside my brother Tony. And now gone, my dad. We had missed him by a matter of minutes. To this day I don’t know what I would have done if I actually saw him die. I just thank God that my brother had been by his side that night. My other two brothers arrived. And there we were...our family. Much like a family stands around you when you are born, they are there by your side when you die. I don’t remember what was said in the room anymore. I just remember tears. And I remember being in disbelief that my dad was actually gone. But I quickly was reminded of that final hug he gave me, and all of my possible good-byes. And I thanked God that I was fortunate enough to tell him every day that I loved him. There was no doubt.
I don’t pretend to be all knowing about how people maintain relationships with their family, but since that day in 1997, I started to truly understand what family means. It means life and love regardless of what you do. You will always have your family, in life and in death. But to truly enjoy your family, you must appreciate them every day. I find myself thinking of my family everyday, and feeling that is not even enough. But I know that is the most I can do.
We all held each other tighter that night...and since then, we have never let go.
Another year Pa...I miss you like you couldn’t believe. I know you are looking down and smiling on us, just know that all we have ever wanted to do was make you proud. Thank you for visiting in my dreams last week. I promise to love our family as much as you do...