I have a story.
I’m looking at the dust floating in the sunlight that beamed through my room’s curtain. I’m home. My cousin, who just lost his newborn kid this morning, is not.
He called last night, telling me that his wife was about to give birth, one week in advance. I didn’t hear fear in his voice, because mine was louder. Mine was an outpour of congratulations. Mine was all joy, because, a baby. The baby! 9 months of waiting, and here he is. He was premature, but my so was my brother. He made it. Jett is 28 years old now. When Jon called, I didn’t sense there was a problem. Maybe I wasn’t the right person to be told so.
My mom was.
Mom called me at 8 o’clock, just as when I have decided to leave for the hospital to check on the new baby. That’s when I knew something was off. Giving birth, as they say, was one foot in the grave. Much more, a premature one. Fifteen minutes later their car was by the gate, and off we go. That’s when I finally realized what I didn’t hear from Jon’s voice last night. Fear, anxiety, stress, a clinging to a thin rope of 30 to 40 percent survival.
All my bubbles burst.
We didn’t stay long in the room. When we got there, Lyn was already crying. We heard the news. We were too late. Joshua Finley didn’t make it. And Joshua Finley’s dad rushed to be beside him.
Dad, who has just parked, was told to bring the car around because we’re going to where Jon is. Hold this scene, because this will happen several times today.
We got to the Provincial Hospital with no clue where Jon was. Mom was already stressed. She’s always like that, emotionally and physically beat. All eyes were strained where the pediatrics could be. We have asked at least three people and we never got there, because in the middle of our flurry, Jon found us, carrying a box, and the moment he put his head on mom’s shoulders, he cried.He cried heartbreakingly, clinging to a carton box. “Hindi ko po alam kung saan ko siya ilalagay.”
That box was for Joshua Finley.
We finally got to where Joshua Finley is, an end-room of the first building where we asked an intern for directions. It was somewhat rundown, Tito Boy would point out. And unsanitary. Slippers were left by the entrance, all askew. Anyone could steal anybody’s footwear if they got the chance. Even though the instruction by the door plainly states, “Leave your slippers behind,” the nurses would drag in their immaculate white shoes with milk tea in their hand.
It took a while for mom to get a container for Josua Finley. I knew her. She’d be nervous to find the best tub, so she’d look and look and look around. But she didn’t find out. I, who stayed behind and just made sure Jon wasn’t alone, held on to the box, little knowing that it would be the same box that would carry the baby away.
I saw Joshua Finley when they were folding the flaps of the carton to a close. He was laid cozily, with a blanket wrapped around him. He wouldn’t feel cold. He was already cold. But somehow, maybe, we hope that the warmth of the people who loved him would get to him. That we were here, and like all aunts and uncles, grandpas and grandmas, wanted the best for him.
Jon was still in a daze when he left the room. The next thing we had to do was to plan for Joshua Finley’s goodbye. We would say goodbye to him soon. If it could be done today, that would be good. Lyn wouldn’t see Joshua Finley now. Not when her body was torn and breaking from the inside. She wasn’t ready. Who would be? After carrying this precious angel for almost nine months, seeing him go was the last thing she’d want.
And so, Jon asked what was the best way to send Joshua Finley home. In heaven.
It was a conversation we never thought we would have. A conversation about death, all in a day. A story in this bigger story: cremation was mentioned, and was considered an option. After standing like trees for a long time, dad and I hopped in our car and drove off to see the nearest crematorium. Himlayan ng Kalikasan is just behind Barasoain Church. The lady whom I talked to on the phone was eating when I got to the office. If anyone is reading this and wonders how much is a bone-dust worth, it’s within 12k. For babies. They said that I wasn’t the only one who asked for a baby’s cremation today. They don’t sell urns, but we trod along the road to Barasoain and found three shops of Lapida Makers, one of which sold marble urns (and pestle and mortar, if you need them). 1.7k for the small one. The one I saw was made out of gray marble.
While heading back, mom texted us that Jon and Lyn decided they’d want to bury Joshua.
We got back to their room and spirits were lighter now. Many hands pushed the boulder. Maan and Tita Nenet was there. Tito Boy was also there. Lyn’s mom and brother were there. We were all there, watching, waiting, praying, listening.
I took it upon myself to walk the short, hot road to Chowking to buy them lunch, which was a failure because when I got there fifteen minutes later, they were eating. That’s good. At least they’d have something for dinner. Lyn’s OB was there, talking to her, explaining what happened in a chatty voice, which would make Lyn smile, and somehow made acceptance easier, at least, at that moment. I just stood by the bins, because there’s no place for me to sit, and I wouldn’t, not with the ladies left standing. Jon looked exhausted. But Jon pulled it off.
Tito Dan, if you’re reading this, you have to be proud of your son. 24 hours of no sleep, occasionally breaking down, but he’d swallow it all up and move forward, finish what had to be done, and make decisions. Like a true dad.
Jon was a true dad, Joshua Finley. And you were a true gift. You were conceived at a time that your dad was going through so much stress. So many leaps. So many risks. You probably have felt it too, in your mom’s belly. And I know that you had to say goodbye, maybe because you want your dad to know he can overcome his challenges. And he could start anew.
But not without you. You’d always be a part of them. They thought hard of your name.
I watched it all unravel with new eyes, for the pain of newborn death has never kissed this family. Until now. It was strange, a creeping feeling in my spine, a knowledge that these are the things I might never experience as a woman. But I was a human, and I feel hearts, and for this day, room 405 swelled with love and prayers, of secret tears and unspoken sadness, but we looked at each other with the hopes that we find the beauty in brokenness, and that the couple rises through it all, for they are never alone.