Larry died on an early Thursday morning at his home with his wife and brother by his side. It was not a peaceful passing, I was later told. But it was quick. And for that, the two of them are very grateful. It was the 12th of July.
To say that I love the man is a gross understatement. LOOOOOOVE! - all caps with multiple Os and an exclamation point - would probably suffice, but I wouldn’t even bet a shirt I barely wear anymore on that.
He was my boss, my mentor, my ninong, my friend. And he’s gone.
When he first told me that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of last year, I didn’t know how to act or what to say. I was not a stranger to the powers of the pancreas and the havoc it could bring by its malfunction. I had already lost a friend to the same disease in may of 2011 after being diagnosed less than 6 months before. But my first education in pancreatic cancer came from Larry himself around three years ago. We were talking about death and how we would prefer to go if given a choice.
Kahit ano, wag lang pancreatic cancer. He said. Ang sakit at ang bilis non.
Pancreatic cancer only manifests itself on its late stages and, oftentimes, only because it had already spread to its neighboring organs. It kills quickly and torturously. And, according to statistics, it kills for sure.
But when someone you love is afflicted with an illness, you throw everything you know out the window. Statistics become as irrelevant as the possibility of heartbreak to a person madly and deeply in love. You lock every bit of knowledge you have about the illness away in a part of your brain you can easily ignore. And you keep it there despite what you see and what you hear.
So like a stereotypical dumb blond cheerleader, I would give him a wide grin and wave my imaginary pompoms in the air and say Kaya mo yan sir. You can beat this. Let’s do this!!! every chance I would get.
God he must have wanted to punch me everytime I did that. He would smile instead though. He would smile and say yeah, oo. I think I still have five more years. I ignore that the next time he would give me that same smile with a similar answer, he would lessen the number attached to it. Five became three, three became two, and then finally, his yeah, oo answer was not followed with a number anymore.
You noticed that. You ignored it.
The last time he reported for work was a Thursday. He just came to sign the payroll but I was very happy to see him just the same. It was the first time I saw him after the Corona verdict came out and he was the person I was most excited to talk to about it. Larry loved politics as much as I do and since he knew infinitely more about it than me, I loved talking to him about it. From the time I met him in 2000, I can’t even count with my body hair how many times I invaded his office with a question. It didn’t matter if it was local or international, current or old news, larry always knew something about whatever it was I wanted to talk about. He was also always willing to share what he knew. And what he had. He was generous in all ways possible.
That afternoon, I quickly followed him inside his office. I pulled a chair and sat down directly in front of him. We talked about the Corona trial briefly. He tried to look excited about it, but I could tell that he was tired. I asked him how he was, he said his shoulders, abdomen and back hurt. He was smiling a little when he said it. So I turned on my cheerleader again, pounded on his desk and cheerily said Sir, kaya nyo yan. Don’t give up. Let’s beat this!
He smiled, as usual, but you can tell his smile was a little defeated. I waited for the yeah, oo. It never came. And then for the first time since I heard the news, I started entertaining the possibility that he might not win this and all my cheerleader rah – rahs were drowned out by one question – was he ready?
The first friend I lost to pancreatic cancer was certainly sure he was. When I visited him a month before he died, he looked at peace. He just kept saying he was ready, that he had already said goodbye to the people that mattered to him and that he was just trying to cross off as many items in his bucket list as he could. He had already made his peace with God, he said. He was ready to go.
I don’t know if Larry ever reached that point. I was too busy telling him to fight this thing I never once talked to him about what he thought might happen if he would lose. And now I wonder if my responsibility as a friend to stay positive for him should have ended to allow the greater responsibility of preparing him for death to begin.
I am not a religious person and I will not presume to know what happens after we die but I know from losing enough people in my life that the possibility of ones mortality makes us cling tighter to whatever God we believe in and prepares us to accept death as graciously as humanly possible. I hope larry was at peace with death in the end.
The last time I ever saw Larry alive was a Thursday too, a week after I saw him at the office. He was confined in Makati Medical and he specifically told us he didn’t want visitors. I was there for a visit with my OB anyway and I thought it was a perfect excuse to drop by.
He looked older, weaker and smaller but he was wearing the goofiest morphine-induced grin too. Again, it was a situation I was not prepared for. It was awkward, almost wrong, to see him that way.
Still I managed to say to him, Sir buti naman bumalik na ang kulay mo. You look better than the last time I saw you. When I said that that time though, I knew I was lying.
There are people who had the opportunity to be closer to Larry but never took it. I’m glad I’m not one of them. I’m glad I never stopped myself EVER from barging into his office anytime I wanted to talk. I’m glad that I came back after resigning two times to work again for a man who happily took me back in like a devoted father would a prodigal daughter. And I am glad that when he first hesitated to accept my request to be our ninong at our wedding because he was afraid that he wouldn’t last long enough to attend it, I just shushed him and insisted that he just had to be my ninong. See, it was my only opportunity to officially make him my family, and I wasn’t about to pass that up.
Salamat sir sa lahat ng naging posible sa buhay ko dahil sa inyo. Salamat sa lahat ng naituro ninyo sa akin. Salamat sa lahat ng ibinigay ninyo sa akin. Kahit minsan hindi kayo nagdamot ng kahit ano sa kahit kanino. Totoo siguro ang sinasabi nila, maagang kinukuha ang mga mababait. It was my honor and my pleasure to take orders from you, to argue with you, and to laugh with you.
I wrote a blog entry about you in 2004. I will repost it now because i want to end this happy. http://compulsiveeating.blogspot.com/search?q=the+third+stooge