As if this pandemic wasn’t personal enough, I received heartbreaking news on Monday that my dear Uncle Rumar Tan Andanar, my dad’s youngest sibling, succumbed to COVID-19. Just last Sunday, I had written about how hopeful we, the entire clan, were that he would pull through.
He was, after all, my beloved doctor-uncle who was kidnapped by the New People’s Army (NPA) in the early 1990s, became quite ill from the month-and-a-half-long ordeal and lived to tell the tale.
Not only did he survive it, he went on to serve the Philippine National Police for many years as a medical practitioner and police major. He continued to work as a doctor until he fell ill as September 2020 came to a close.
On the 30th of September, I received a call from my uncle’s wife, Auntie Agnes. She is a doctor herself, a pediatrician. She told me about his condition and discussed with me the best options for his treatment. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, and one of his physicians was concerned that the chest x-ray findings were consistent with that of those with COVID. We were all prayerfully awaiting the results of my uncle and auntie’s respective COVID swab tests. The findings came back soon enough. Sadly, they were both found COVID-positive.
While my aunt was experiencing much milder symptoms and deemed clinically asymptomatic days after, it was not the same with my uncle. He was having difficulty breathing. Last 4 October when I had a video call with them, Uncle Rumar was in high spirits in spite of all he was going through. He waved at me and gave me his trademark cheerful greeting, “Hi, Li!” I will cherish that exchange and precious chance to tell him that I love him. It was to be our last.
In the succeeding days, he requested a few of his favorite food, and I am grateful I was able to grant him his requests when he asked for them. A few days after, my aunt advised us in our group chat that he lost his appetite as he developed ageusia, loss of taste, and anosmia, loss of the sense of smell.
I am left stunned with the speed at which his condition deteriorated in his last few days. It was only a matter of hours from when all indications were that his condition was stabilizing to a sudden turn for the worse.
One of the hardest things about grieving in these uniquely challenging times is that we cannot even physically come together to embrace and comfort each other. In the deeply moving nightly “pangadji” or prayers for my uncle and said in deep Bisaya language, all I can do to show my relatives that I’m one with them is to click on a crying face emoji or one with hands in prayer. One of my aunts shared this quote, “When my arms can’t reach people who are close to my heart, I always hug them with my prayers.”
Fervently saying a prayer for all of us.