A Reflection and a Tribute: On Death and Dying

15 July 2010. Today supposed to be marks the birthday of one of my dearest friends I met during my Junior year, when I was just Vice President for Publications of the Philippine Association of Chemistry Students (PACS), Inc. As I look back, I can’t believe that she’s been gone for almost two years already (20 October 2008).

Junior year college is the point in one’s life where the biggest of all crazy dreams are realized and the hardest of all tough decisions are molded. I am a really carefree person, so for me then, I had this mentality of just letting the tides of life take me where they want to. However, during the late part of my Junior year, I was very much exposed to my fellow chemist-wanna-bes from other schools and made friends with them. It was the point in my life where my skills in student leadership were honed. Through other leaders, I was trained to become a good one. Step by step, my dream of inspiring and mentoring other people and of course, doing my best in everything slowly materialized.

But student leadership is never an easy chore. You cannot really please everyone — even yourself. Yet, there are people who you manage to understand you; who touch your life as much as you have touched theirs. They are the ones who constantly look up to you, always cheering for you in everything you struggle to do.

Those kinds of people are the ones I treasure as my life-long friends. As we age, I share my crazy dreams with them, my sanity, basically my entire true self.

It’s just sad however that at a young age (and just months after another classmate died), that friend was forced to abandon you because her mission on Earth is already done. Come on, I don’t believe in that. She’s so young, she even wants to take further medical studies!

— What follows is a repost from my Multiply account dated 27 October 2008. I know you’re happy up there, Erika! 🙂 —

Martin Heidegger is easily my most favorite philosopher during my Social Philosophy (Ph102) class last year. Of all his topics in Being and Time, I find his discussion on death highly interesting and appealing. Heidegger explains to us that we, as beings-towards-death must not fear death for its tragic aftermath, but rather, see it as an opportunity to actualize ourselves in the exercise of our freedom. Dr. Manny Dy perfectly summarizes Heidegger’s phenomenology of death with Troifontaines’s as last year’s thesis statement 13, which reads:

Thesis statement number 13: In being-towards-death, I come to grips with my wholeness in advance and thereby live an authentic existence (Heidegger). Death is a test of love and the condition of freedom (Troifontaines).

To which I do a ranty preliminary-interpretation as (see 22nd blog):

In accepting the possibility of death, a person becomes totally free, that is, he fully actualizes himself. Now that he knows that he is about to die, he can choose whether to live a crappy life of a criminal or a praised vocation of a saint. In relation to this, the human person then is free as to whether extend his love to others or be egoistic. Okay. I know I’ll die, my chemistry says so, no need to stress the point. I then will continue flooding my excretory system with sodium, since I get to live this life only once, and therefore, I want to enjoy it. No one, not even my mother, is really in command in my life. You cannot dictate at me. You cannot change me by your criticisms. I am what I am and if I disappoint you, I do not give a damn. I hear your attacks, but I won’t thank you for it. They are yes, means to bring me up, but never will they be means to bring me down. Go and try. You’ll end up brawling in defeat and frustration. Why don’t you mind your life instead? Stop your stupidity and get real. There is death in life, as much as life is present in death. Have a surgeon implant you neurons if you do not understand the meaning of this. Huh? So much for rants. Bottomline: YOU CHOOSE YOUR OWN LIFE, AND IN DOING SUCH, YOU CHOOSE/SCULPT YOUR OWN DEATH.

And my mother used to tell me when I was young that I need to be good so that when I face the Good Lord come my personal Judgment Day, I will be among the lamb sitting comfortably to His right. But then again, I grew up and witnessed the horrifying terrors of this world, observing that the death toll has been incessantly increasing for those who “do everything according to His will.” On the contrary, those with seemingly dark hearts seem to live for long decades. (Compare St. Tarcisius and Osama Bin Laden.) I then told my mother that I will live my life in evil instead, so that like Moses or that oldest living woman in Japan, I can fully live up to my 120th year on Earth (or so does Genesis say). With those words escaping my mouth, my mother will go out of the house, snatch a long banana stem, ask me to lie down facing the floor, and reveal my buttocks. What I then experience is death in a mild way.

I grew in that way. The atmosphere in our place was strictly Roman Catholic such that any act I commit against the Decalogue, Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, Beatitudes, name them, will merit me another red discoloration of my back. Poor banana tree, I told myself. Poor small pillow underneath my briefs, I exclaimed (when I was already circumcised and I was too ashamed to pull my shorts down). In the end, my mother triumphed: by the end of Grade 1, I can recite the English and Tagalog versions of the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Gloria, Hosanna, Act of Contrition, Act of Penance, Hail Holy Queen, Angelus, Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Old and New Stations of the Cross, Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, Decalogue, and so the endless list goes on at a breath-taking speed.

But as they say, the only permanent thing in this world is change.

I was a semi-woman hater back in Grade School, and so I then seriously considered being a priest so that this girl classmate of mine would stop her whole-day-pinching-of-Troy’s-cheeks hobby. However, as I entered a school exclusive for my Secondary Education, I realized that girls make a boy’s world go round and without them life would in a sense be meaningless. That’s when I learned how to flirt and mingle with women from other school. Slowly then, my attention from religion has been shifted to something which I strongly believed then was more enjoyable.

But then again, much more than this is about to change.

I then progress to the highest level of my education, meeting people like Aristotle, Rene Des Cartes, Gabriel Marcel, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sarte, and many others. With some critical evaluation of my lessons and of what I was taught with, I seemed to see that some of those proclaimed to be true by my professors (and by my parish priests) are not really what I believe in. This means that I have this thing which the Church proclaims to be the universal dogma but I disagree with. I tell that to my mother, but this time, she cannot go out of the house to get some fresh banana stem because of the rheumatism building up inside her. I am old already to make my decisions, she would say as an excuse. I then give her some Bengay. By next day, I would see in the backyard some dead lizard and an empty Bengay container (haha just kidding).

But even though I do not believe in this and that canon of the Church, I still find myself believing in a Divine Absolute. I still see God in my life. I still can judge the sense and missense of my actions and inactions. I can say that my mother was still successful.

And that is how I chose to live. That is how I chose to actualize myself. That is how I chose to exercise my freedom. I live as the basic dogmas of my religion impose me to do so, but some teachings I refuse to observe.

(Does that make me evil enough to live long?)

Let me tell here that as a chemist, my most favorite metal is: SODIUM. I love sodium going down my throat, totally concentrating (as in chemical terms) my small intestines and liver. I have learned from high school chemistry enough that water is enough to dissolve sodium and thus, there is still a big chance not to have my kidneys do overtime job.

That is how I chose to exercise my freedom.

But then again, during sophomore year of my High School days, a classmate who also exercised his freedom in exactly the same way died. Two words: kidney failure. Too much packs of pancit canton a day. I have to admit, I then feared for my future then, more intimidated with my mother’s (who conveniently is a medical person) warnings of doom. Nevertheless, my sodium intake still was at 5+ grams a day, thinking in mind of two alternatives: saying hello to 15 glasses of ice-cold water a day and two, having my kidney stones (if ever I get one) subjected to high-strength L.A.S.E.R. for shattering. Until then, never mind those crystals appearing in my urine.

I also loved to play Ragnarok Online way back then, usually my maximum would be at 6 separate hours a day. Of course, my mother is greatly annoyed with this, as this eats up most of our electric bills (not to say missing a lot of important phone calls, way back when we were using Dial-up internet connection). She also reminded me that I was running for honors then, and in a Kantian manner, she constantly reminds me of what my duty was (although in a Kantian sense of a debate, this is not really a duty as it is oriented towards a goal). But then again, I grew tired or having my pathetic Level 60 Dexterity-based Hunter (with a wasted 9 skill points on the Strength attribute, to my ultimate dismay) kill all those stupid Hydras and Planktons down in Comodo. I then focused on my academics and reaped the fruits of my labor.

One of the underclassmen in our school, however, didn’t. He has this wild love for Ragnarok that he does not care if he is wasting all his money playing for 10 hours straight. He ignored the pain building in his back neck, a pain that he never felt again after a primary artery errupted there with the force of a speeding bullet from an Automat Kevlar-47 rifle. (I still say I love Counter Strike.) After that, he felt and saw no more. What he heard next was the irritating crow of St. Peter’s rooster, beckoning him.

And that is how we exercised our freedoms.

A classmate of mine way back Senior High School already has this lump in his foot, and thinking it was just a mosquito bite or something, he totally ignored it. As it grew to an alarming rate by the time we both entered Sophomore year of College, he still ignored it, thinking that maybe the hypothetical mosquito who bit him simply implanted a practically non-dangerous biochemical on him. By the time it was discovered that the real culprit for what he is experiencing is mutation of his DNA, he had his foot amputated for some precaution. By January this year, something he forgot to include in his calculations presented itself – cancer cells metastasized to his lungs, liver, etc. He never lived to see Valentine’s Day.

And that is how he exercised his freedom. He must really love his parents in doing such, not intending them to worry about him too much. Otherwise, I like getting my parents’ attention all of the time. With some small cough I fake, my parents would cart me off to the nearest roentgenologist and to my personal doctor.

Last year, I exercised my freedom by joining this nationwide organization for chemistry majors. I took the challenge to the next level by being a member of its Executive Committee. With that status, I met lots of people and mingled with them.

One of them was a woman, and she, along two others were assigned to my committee, the Publications Office. Though I wished that my members fully put their 200% effort in each work I demand from them, in her I saw the dedication to contribute to the betterment of the whole organization, not just of my department. She was very welcome to work with other people, she also carried out supplementary tasks assigned to her by other Vice Presidents. She knew her responsibility well and she was always punctual in each and every gathering of the organization.

But more than her hardworking spirit, she was a smiling creature. She never expressed stress amidst the Everest of tasks imposed by academics and extra-curriculars. She never failed to brighten up everyone’s day with a wide-toothed grin; her laughter was music to our ears. And in times that other people feel like giving up, she is the perfect person to run to. I recall at one time, when I can’t seem to find the perfect balance between academics and extra-curriculars, she would give me one simple advice:

You can do it. Maintain your focus. We’re all in this together. =) (This smiley is her trademark.)

And in her not only did I find a faithful orgmate, but a close friend.

That was how she exercised her freedom. And now, she has finally actualized herself fully. She must be happy now, wherever she is.

Life they say is full of surprises. As my mother would say, the formula for a prepared life was to treat every day as your last. Treat everyday as my last…

…It was so last late July or so when I recently bonded with her, a promise that we held on to each other. Though next year we will be of separate organizations and will each be having a busy schedule, we will still bond, as regularly as we do in our big organization. Never did I foresee that the last chance I will be meeting her will be that month. I failed to follow my mother’s orders. Treat everything as your last.

After that, I never heard from her. I did not mind bothering her to death, believing that like me, she is a thesis student as well, and thus must be very very occupied. I just then looked forward to another bonding with her probably on my semestral break or after graduation.

But then, October 26, at 10:30pm. I learned that she is already safe and problem-less with the Good Lord for a week.

Here she is, a very good person who I am very sure now is among those lambs seated to Jesus’ right. And here I am, a goat still alive, denying to march to Jesus’ left. Life is indeed strange.

At these times, I come to fully appreciate my religion. My mother should double my allowance haha.

She touched my life greatly. She participated our organization’s activities wholeheartedly. She is a truly wonderful person. She is Erika Lora Renosa Alba.

Erika, wherever you are, you have now fully actualized yourself, good job. We will never forget you. Though your human remains will find its way back to Earth and merge with it, your soul will never leave our hearts. Thank you for being a part of our lives.

We love you, Erika! 🙂

Theodore Emmanuel “Troy” Gatmaitan Alivio
III-BS Chemistry/BS Materials Science and Engineering
PACS, Inc. VP for Publications, A.Y. 2007-2008
PACS, Inc. Executive Board Member, A.Y. 2007-2010

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