Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet an incredibly brave woman. Nanay Celia Santiago just arrived about a week ago to be with her youngest child, a young man of twenty-seven, diagnosed with malignant brain and spinal tumors.
With warm clothes in tow (Leah had three bags of sweaters and other things that could keep Nanay warm), we went to the hospital to visit the Santiago family. Pushing back the curtain of their room, a petite lady with a purple prayer book tells us “Ako po yung nanay niya.” She cries as she gives us an update on her son’s health. The doctors say to prepare for the worst. As she cries in the arms of Karen and Leah, a lady passes by to hug her as well. “Do not listen to those doctors. Just pray. Only God can say whether he will go or not.” Nanay nods her head and says thank you.
Her son, John is a temporary foreign worker here in Canada and has been here for two years. His sisters are based in Singapore while his parents live in Bulacan. In between heavy sighs and choking back tears, Nanay tells us how wonderful a son John is. He has been sending money back home to help support her and Tatay Eddy.
It’s the typical story of your young OFW, sending hard earned money back home to the people he loves. This time the story is ever so real. Breathing, Crying, Praying real. This time the story has an added cross.
“Gusto pa niyang mabuhay.”
And he really looks it. He looked good when we took a peek. Probably very different from the time he was vomiting earlier this morning – but in the few minutes that we had with him in his room, he looked fine. A bit tired, but fine.
“Sabi niya sa akin – Gusto ko pang mabuhay. Gusto pa niyang magsilbi sa Diyos. Kumakanta ang anak ko. Choir siya sa church.”
And Nanay goes back into their room to quickly get a CD she wanted us to see. It was an album by B4G – Boys For God. John was part of a Christian boy band back home. She was so proud. “Magaling kumanta ang anak ko.”
What hit the hardest though was when she said…
“Gusto niyang maranasan magmahal. At mahalin siyang tunay.”
That broke my heart.
He is twenty-seven. Just a few months younger than me. He had a girlfriend, Nanay said. But things didn’t work out. And she doesn’t know of his condition. She is probably back home in the Philippines.
Here I am, happily enjoying my honeymoon stage, so thankful for the chance to feel what I am feeling, for experiencing this life that I was given. I could not even fathom being where he is right now. “Mga anak, alagaan niyo ang kalusugan niyo. Yan ang kayamanan niyo.” Karen, Leah and I were already holding back our own tears.
And she said all this in a dignified manner, still wanting of respect, still hopeful, still thankful for what was there. Her son was alive and she and her husband were there to comfort him. Much has been given.
Yesterday, when she said that John had yet to experience love, I felt a very deep sadness, almost an unfair amount of pity. Thinking it over now though, I see that there is much that he has experienced. The overwhelming love of a mother and father that have sold what they have, have incurred debts and are now braving the cold to be with him.
“Salamat mga anak. At nandito kayo.” Leah gave her a hug and said, “Naaay, sino pa bang magtutulungan kundi tayong kapwa Pilipino.”
That totally tugged at my heart.
John Santiago is experiencing love. A great, great love – the love of his family and the Filipino community that run the Vancouver General Hospital, the love and prayers of strangers who hear his story, people like Leah Gomez and Karen Azaña – nurses who will not be blasé to the everyday pains experienced by those who may be meeting our Lord sooner than later.
Maraming nagmamahal sa iyo John Santiago.