Monday, July 27, 2009

Farewell, Tara Santelices, 23

Her heart finally gave up at 4AM today.

After being rushed to the ICU two days ago, Tara Santelices, 23 passed away at The Medical City due to cardiac arrest.

It has been almost a year-long struggle for Tara and her family - parents, Larry and Anne; her sisters Iya and Gita and all her friends who loved her dearly. Through this tragic event she had inspired so many people - both young and old - to pull together for a common cause. Brief though her life may have been, it was a life that touched so many, mine included, teaching me once more of the possibilities of love and hope, reminding me about how one should never put things off, or leave anything unsaid.

I went to visit her two weeks ago because something inside of me was drawn to re-visiting her story, to see how life had changed for her and her family in the year since the accident. I expected to be depressed and so I prepared myself mentally and emotionally for the encounter. Instead, I found a miracle and was blessed to have a front-row seat to one family's devotion, unconditional love and hope.

I read somewhere that, "We are conditioned to think that our lives revolvearound great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one." I was gifted with the chance to look and be with Tara up close. To hold her and tell her to give it a fight, to thank her for touching all our lives so deeply in the way that she did. I held her hand, and she gripped it firmly back. Doctors will say that it was probably reflex, it really doesn't matter now, it is one moment that I shall treasure all my life.

Tara's loss reminds us of the brevity of life, of how we need to live fully each day, never setting aside for tomorrow what we can do in the moment. I thank God for giving me the privilige to write her story, from beginning to end. I had hesitated on visiting her but chose instead to heed my inner voice, and I am grateful that I did because now I have no regrets. I thank HIM too for hiw wisdom and guidance, had I sent in the story a day later, it would have been too late. I will miss Tara but I am thankful for that moment that I shared with her before she died, and to be able to do that one last thing for her and her parents.

We pray now for the loved ones she has left behind and that in her leaving, justice may be served - for her and all other victims of heinous crime.

There is nothing like loss to remind you to embrace life ever so tightly. "Grief, breaks down the barriers of ego, to open up the spirit." We thank God for Tara's brief but full life. May her leaving remind us all of how we must not take things for granted, of how important it is to show love, kindness and affection whenever we can because tomorrow is never guaranteed to us.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tara Santelices, One Year After The Accident

Hope and love were so thick the afternoon I entered Tara Santelices bright green bedroom.

“It is the one thing we hold on to, and so we cannot let it go,” Larry Santelices, Tara’s father, tells me that rainy day I came to visit. Outside, the small, simply furnished townhouse where Tara lay, attended to by her midwife, Babes, rain was pouring hard. It’s almost been a year now, August 9, 2008 -- the evening Tara was shot in the head by an unknown assailant inside a jeepney somewhere in Cainta. It was also the eve of her 23rd birthday.

The young woman had just graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University the year before with a degree in Political Science and was active in the band circuit while at the same time working for Upland Marketing , an NGO. “She had many dreams. She wanted to go to law school someday…” Santelices says, his voice trailing off as he gazes far into the distance. He bears no bitterness for what has happened and instead says that the whole family has come to an acceptance of the way things are. “We choose to be thankful for the 23 years that we were given, when she was healthy and so full of life.”

Nowadays, Tara lies fast asleep on most hours of the day, her brain has incurred permanent damage, the many shrapnels remain floating in her head. When I went to see her, it did look like she was just sleeping yet opening her dark brown eyes once in a while. Very fair, her hair tied into a neat ponytail, she looked much healthier than the last time I saw her at the hospital. Larry and Anne say that once in a while, she gifts them with a miracle. “I’d like to believe that she can see,” Anne says. “She looks at us intently using her good eye (her left eye is blind and totally damaged), and every now and then, when she is awake, she grips my hand firmly or blinks her eyes. I know she is there, somewhere…” Anne Santelices relates.

The couple and their two daughters, Iya and Gita shuttle between their home in Cainta and the small townhouse in Quezon City owned by Anne’s brother who works overseas. Tara lives with her grandmother and the two midwives who rotate on 12-hour shifts and look after her needs. The Santelices family is happier and more settled now that she has been brought home after an eight-month confinement at The Medical City where their bill reached a whopping 4M pesos. Santelices says that the hospital was kind enough to give them time to pay for the bill, a huge part of which was subsidized by the PCSO. However, the balance of around 1.3M pesos is something that they continue to struggle with on a day-to-day basis. This is in addition to spending roughly 90,000 pesos a month for Tara’s care and the family’s other needs. Tara’s milk alone, Peptamen, costs them at least a thousand pesos per can each day.

The couple say that once in a while they do break down and wonder how much longer they will be able to sustain Tara. “Her heart is strong now, but what do we do when the organs start to fail?“ Yet, they continue to be buoyed by their faith and their hope for a miracle. “Nothing in this life is really under our control. Not once did we question God,” Anne says. I am momentarily floored by her statement, but amazed by her unswerving faith. “There must be a reason for all of this. Always, there is a reason for the pain.”

Unfortunately, the wheels of justice have turned so slowly. The Cainta police declared the case closed and are staunch in saying that they had already caught the culprit and shot him down. However, Larry refutes this and says that two witnesses from the scene said that the man the police caught was not the same one who shot Tara that fateful night.

“That is the difficult part of this journey. Knowing that the man who shot our daughter continues to roam the streets…” Larry Santelices says. But rather than focus on being angry, the couple choose to focus their energies on work, on caring for Tara, and on “Tara’s Theme” a benefit concert they hope to put up in October to help raise funds to pay off the debts incurred in Tara’s hospitalization. “It’s amazing how people have come together, to perform the songs and the music that Tara loved while she was growing up. Jose Mari Chan , Karylle and Bloomfields are some of the performers who have so far given their nod to perform at the benefit show.

Leaving the townhouse under an overcast sky and the fading afternoon light, I was reminded of what Dr. Jerome Groopman, professor of Immunology at Harvard Medical School and chief of Experimental Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center wrote in his best-selling book, “The Anatomy of Hope” -- “To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that, permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Father's Love

A wonderful gift was given to me this year and I have my Heavenly Father to thank for it.

For many years I was searching for my father whom I lost when I was 16. This year, that search has been put to rest. And on this day, I remember him with fondness and honor his memory with this song that is so beautiful. Thank you dad, and Abba Father for your gifts of comfort and grace...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Back To The Seventies

I entered my teen years in the late seventies. A period which one could probably qualify as the golden age of OPM (Original Pilipino Music). It's been raining giant cats and dogs in Manila and I found myself searching for the songs that I used to love as a teener. Here are just a couple of songs that I love to this day...

I love the lyrics of this song and the melody is just as beautiful :)

This next one is a classic that I also never tire listening to, especially on a rainy day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Are You Raising A Pervert?

sex education cartoon Pictures, Images and PhotosAll this talk about sex, lies and videotapes hogging the news on a daily basis was enough to get parents like myself paranoid about the values or attitudes we teach our children regarding healthy sexuality.

But how do you protect one's child from being victimized by perverts?

Although there is no fool-proof way I guess it all begins with education, at the right time and the right place, and discussing these issues in the context of love, marriage and a healthy respect for one’s body and the opposite sex.

Discussions such as these best take place in the tween years, before a son or daughter enters the age of puberty, when suddenly all these raging hormones can send them into a tailspin. I remember reading a book during those highly confusing early teen-age years, entitled, “Why I Am I So Miserable If These Are The Best Years of My Life?” written by Andrea Boroff Eagan. Teen-age angst to the max if you judge a book by it’s cover, but it was the classic on puberty in the 1980s and a survival handbook of sorts for young girls like me back then.

Today, there are countless books and websites available to help parents discuss puberty and sexuality issues and topics with their children and adolescents. I did a quick survey over the week-end among parents and a group of 17 and 18 year old young men and women and I was surprised about what I found. Here are some of the more important points that I discovered…

Many mothers (and fathers) from upper and upper-middle class families remain ill-equipped or feel awkward about discussing the issues of puberty with their children. Median age, if and when the subject was discussed was around 11 or 12 years of age, at the onset of menstruation. Some progressive mothers and fathers would often take the lead in discussing topics such as boy-girl relationships, physical and emotional changes, in a casual manner which the children seemed to appreciate very much.

Most of the young people I surveyed (7 out of 10) preferred to hear the discussion regarding “sex and all that” from their parents but suggested that in order for the talks to go smoothly, “The parents must have a close relationship to the child prior to talking about these topics otherwise it will be very awkward.” The young men and women also would have preferred that the parents be open to their questions and not be judgmental in the “I know better, so listen to me, type of way.” It was also important for them that the topic be discussed in private away from the ears of younger siblings.

Current situations, such as a pet dog or cat giving birth, meeting a single mother or father, watching a movie together where relationship issues are being tackled, or even the latest news about the Kho-Belo-Halili scandal can provide teachable moments. In the car the other night, while my husband, 18-year daughter and I were discussing the possibility of stripping Haydn Kho of his medical license because of the un-gentlemanly and dastardly deed he had done, our 10-year old cut into the conversation and asked worriedly, “Are you supposed to be discussing this in front of me?!” We all laughed and told him that yes, he was old enough to hear what we had to say about the issues. Of course the gory details were left out for his 10-year old ears.

4. Conversations regarding puberty and sex are best supplemented by books -- “The Care and Keeping of You - The Body Book for Girls” and “The Feelings Book - the care and keeping of your emotions” published by the American Girl library are excellent resources. “The Pink Locker Society” -- is a new novel and website for tween girls that provides sought-after puberty information within a fictional storyline and plot. Pink Locker is part of the excellent children’s website was recently launched to help young girls understand their bodies and emotions better. The same website has a wealth of information, written both for children and parents on many health topics and issues. For young boys, one of the best books available is “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle (yes, the famous Peter Mayle) and it is a book that can be read even at the age of nine, or way before any kind of malice (as many little boys are won’t to develop often because of peer pressure) sets in. Mayle has a gift for translating adult experiences into child-level concepts that really make the book a good read. You must be open-minded though and ready to answer your son or daughter’s questions on some of the topics he discusses in the book.

5. Sharing stories about one’s own puberty is better appreciated by girls rather than boys. The girls I surveyed said that as long as their mothers were comfortable and not giddy or queasy, they loved hearing stories of how they were at that age. The boys said they would find hearing those stories from their parents “weird”. Some boys said that maybe a general story would be okay but felt that they would not want the gory details because they might feel embarrassed for their parents.

Many parents are unfortunately still of the mind-set that “if you don’t talk about it, it won’t happen.” Look at your own attitudes regarding sexuality and be careful about what you say and do, because these send signals to your children. Role-modeling and limit setting is just as important when discussing issues such as puberty, sex, love and marriage. Your family’s standards and values system must be made clear to the child, concrete enough for him or her to feel and know it even if he or she is far away from you. The values of respecting one’s body, the avoidance of risk-taking behaviors need to be firmly set in his or her psyche so that in the middle of the cacophony of the temptations -- of power, fame, wealth, sex, drugs and what have you later on, it is something that he or she can grab on to as they stand their ground against a crazy world.