I grew up in a big family with five brothers and a sister. From my childhood days at our old house along Visayas Avenue, Project 6 in Quezon City to where I currently live with my only daughter and a bunch of dogs, my mother and six siblings have always been around. Until recently, that is.After being diagnosed with lymphoma cancer less than a year ago, my 59-year old brother, Raoul, passed away last month. His wonderful wife, Dolly, gave the phrase “tender loving care” an altogether different meaning – she was cheerleader-caregiver to Raoul and their kids, keeping the lows of the lows away from those made of less stronger stuff. Their children, Marc, Carlo, Danielle and Faith stood by their parents particularly when the cancer went on overdrive, sucking the fight out of their dad.
I write this column to remind everyone that life is finite, and relationships that are important must be nurtured consciously, lovingly. What we can save, we should save; whom we can forgive, we should forgive, including ourselves. Family ties are important because your parents and siblings are part of who you are, and you are part of what and how they have become.
My brother, Raoul, was our “Switzerland.” Neutral to the core, he would welcome any of us in the family to his home and listen to the gripes and whines, the gossip and the jokes. Humble was his trademark and laughter was his gift. He loved the Beatles and to the end, he would listen to anthologies of Beatle songs as his anthems against pain. He also loved politics and did his best to serve the province of Bulacan as senior board member and vice-governor. Best of all, he cared for my father and became his eyes, ears, and legs especially during the twilight of Ka Blas Ople’s years.
During his courting days, Raoul held parties at our house and music played well into the night while my parents slept. His friends wore psychedelic shirts, big-buckled belts and flared pants with the men tossing around their long manes like women. My sister-in-law, Dolly, was his constant date, and as a nursing student, she had her own chorus line of beautiful and sexy friends. Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple rocked their generation, and everyone with a landline had a partyline. Those were such good times.
During those days, my father was very conservative but not outwardly strict. As the youngest, the whole street block was my playground and I would often sneak into the house way past the unspoken curfew. Raoul would be in our living room waiting so he could open the door for me. It turned out that my father instructed him not to sleep until I was home. That became nearly a nightly ritual especially because I was part of the neighborhood’s volleyball and basketball teams and village play-offs occupied my after-school hours. Despite our age differences, Raoul was very much involved in my life. As big brother, he was confidante, protector, friend, and adviser all rolled into one.Big brothers are a blessing in life. They keep an eye out on the youngest members of the family. When a parent or both parents pass away, the older brothers step up to the plate, dispensing advice and constant reminders like veterans in the battlefield of life. My oldest brother is Luis who works for the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Blas Ople Jr. or “June” is the artist in our family. Raoul was next, followed by our resident family lawyer, Atty. Dalisay Ople-San Jose of PECABAR. Closer to my age are Toti, who is seeking re-election as board member in Bulacan, and Bulos, a banker who leads a quiet and simple life in Los Angeles, California.
We all mourn the loss of Raoul. But you know, grief can also be a beautiful thing. You set cynicism aside when you grieve. You look at the inner beauty of the human soul, when you grieve. You learn to forgive and wake up with a kinder expression on your face, when you grieve. We are at our most vulnerable when we grieve; and when vulnerable, the inner light shines in its purest form. God is the prayer that we utter when we grieve.
Thank God for big brothers who lift the younger ones on their shoulders so that they can be high enough to see the world. I will always miss my brother, Raoul. Cancer is such a bastard disease. It eats from within, and munches away until all the luxurious fat is gone. In its place is a body wracked with pain, crying out for deliverance. I commend those who fought the battle of cancer and won. Their survival teaches us lessons in faith, courage, and forgiveness. For families who are now incomplete due to cancer, I commiserate and recognize the struggles that come with this life-sucking disease.
God, please bless all of our big brothers and be there for them so they can stand up for the rest of us. (Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)