Homily delivered by Fr Elu during the first night of the wake of Br. Elmer.
These past 28 hours for me have been heavy and ‘emotions-filled.’ I pride myself to be a man of action, who thrives in pressure. It comes in handy for the role I assume for the moment, but what have transpired since yesterday are slowly sinking in. And I sure find myself reflecting …
Last July 21, 2017, I was in Makati Med to be with a confrere who has cancer to meet his doctor for a conference. We wished to be enlightened about his condition and to see what could be the best course of action to take. Before going to Makati Med, Fr. Provincial reminded me to take time to visit Bro. Elmer Rodriguez who was in the ICU and also Fr. Jun Inocencio, who was recuperating from his knee replacement operation. The conference was set at 4:30 pm at the doctor’s clinic.
We arrived at Makati Med at 4:20 pm. At the lobby, we met the relatives of the priest who was sick. They, too, wanted to attend the conference. Janren, the Zatti nurse assigned to Bro. Elmer that day was with them. Lhen, the head nurse of the Zatti clinic, came with us and she proceeded to gather the medical reports of the sick priest. Janren and I proceeded to the doctor’s clinic. After learning that we would not be accommodated at exactly 4:30 pm but much later, I asked Janren to bring me to Bro. Elmer’s ICU unit.
MICU 15 was Bro. Elmer’s room at the ICU. For the past four years, I have gotten used to this part of Makati Med: visiting sick confreres and being a patient myself. Bro. Elmer was sitting on his bed – with all those tubes connected to his body and to various gadgets. If I remember it right, there were no less than five gadgets standing next to his bed each with its own monitor. And that means, he was taking in thru IV no less than five medicines. He had an oxygen mask, but one could see clearly his smile when he saw us coming in. The Ampon assigned to him that day was sitting on the chair at the corner of the room.
“Hello there!” was his usual greeting to me, but when he was getting sickly these past these years, it was my turn to greet him that way. On that day, I greeted him first and he responded back with the same greeting – “Hello there!”
For Bro. Elmer, everyone truly felt welcomed! Lahat tinatanggap, lahat welcomed!
He was sitting on the bed holding his electronic tablet on his bed table. Nanonood po siya ng “Ang Probinsyano.” Ayaw po nya daw ma-miss yung mga episodes at naghahabol sya (ganyan katindi ang palabas na yan – nangangamamatay na ang mga faithful viewers nya, sya buhay pa rin!)
“Kumusta na?” I asked him. With a smile, he said, “Ok na ako.” I looked at his main monitor hanging in the room – his vital signs were all okay. His blood pressure was 117/70, his oxygen intake was 98, his pulse rate was 80. His wounds, the main reason why he got into the hospital this time, was neatly dressed. “Patuyo na sugat ko.” I told him “Brods, magdadala ako balut mamaya pagbalik ko. Sabay tayo kain dito, pambinata naman yung BP mo.” He just smiled.
His aura was different – he was happy and handsome. I have been together with Bro. Elmer for a number of years already – in Canlubang and in Makati. I have seen him when he was much younger and full of energy, but I also have seen him when he was sickly, pressured and somehow depressed. Kita mo lahat yon sa balat at sa tindig nya. That day I joked him, “Brods namumuti ka dito ha, mas ok ata sayo ng di naaarawan.” “Bumabalik na rin yung taba mo ha, hiyang ka ata sadextrose?”
He signaled to the ampon and told him to go back to Don Bosco so that he could attend his night classes.
Naglokohan lang kami ni Brods after that. He set aside his tablet and chatted with Janren and me. But he always saying “OK nako. Puede nako umuwi.”
After a while, he reminded us that we might already being called for the conference. I told him to take time to rest, gamitin yung pagkakataong makapagpahinga. I told him, that the Ampon scheduled for the night is already on the way.
While I was about to leave and close the sliding door, I uttered the usual parting phrase he used to tell me when I was younger and to all of you too, “Brods, Pakabait ka!” (at least sakin ‘pakabait’ ha (that means medyo mabait nako) sa iba kasi ang sinasabi niya “Magbagong buhay ka na!”) I was about five meters away already from his bed, kasi nga palabas nako. I heard clearly his response – and probably those were the last words he uttered, “Holy na ako!” I laughed, and I knew narinig nya yung tawa ko for I saw him smiled.
We went back to the line for the conference, but we were still told to wait for our turn. After around 10 minutes, Janren came to me and told me that I was being called at the ICU for Bro. Elmer. Somebody has to sign the waiver for “intubation.” I am not a nurse nor a doctor, but being in-charge of the Zatti Clinic and attending to health needs of my confreres lately, I knew that that term is not good. I aksed Janren, “Bakit ganun? Eh di ba okay na okay naman siya just a few minutes ago?”
We immediately proceeded back to the ICU, and the site I saw would remain in me for a long time. As the provincial economer of the FIN province, I have gotten used to seeing my confreres immediately after they expire. It has been my role to arrange things in the hospital, at the funeral services, and the burial. I used to volunteer back then to dig graves for my dead confreres. Usually, I volunteer during the graveyard shift (between 2 – 4 am). I think I have buried almost all those died in the 90’s until the present time. Ngayon, dahil maymausoleum na kami, hindi ko na kailangan maghukay.
There were a lot of people already surrounding Bro. Elmer on his bed. Somebody was already pumping his heart. The looks in the eyes of the nurses were not encouraging. There was tension in the room. The attending doctor went to me and told me they are doing everything they can to revive Bro. Elmer. Nagcardiac arrest si Brods, around five minutes ago – nag flat-line sya. They will do that for 15 minutes as a hospital protocol. Turok ng gamot – pump sa puso nya – buga sa bibig– pagbigay ng electric shock – lahat ginawa kay Brods. Parang pelikula – pero eto totoo.
I was just quietly looking at all these things, trusting that all these people around Bro Elmer know what they were doing. Being a person who thrives in pressure, I was not really feeling emotional (di ko alam bakit – maybe nasa denial pa ko na mamatay na si Brods – o kaya kasiI know I need to be strong for me to know the right thing to do.) I found myself calling the persons who needed to know what is happening here – Fr. Provincial and Fr. Favie, Bro. Elmer’s Rector. Good that both answered immediately and both agreed to come to Makati Med right away.
The first 15 minutes ended. The head physician came to me: “Father, nagkaroon si Brods ng konting response – umangat ng konti ang BP at meron syang heartbeat. Pero wala pa rin syang pulso, eh ayun po yung mahalaga. Technically he is clinically dead na po. We have done the hospital protocol of reviving him for 15 minutes. But we give the option to the relatives if you want, we can give it a try for another 15 minutes.” “Sige po, go for another try.” I responded. “But I would need to inform you din po, usually if a person does not have a pulse rate, oxygen does not flow through the brain. If that happens po, there is a big possibility that he would become comatose po even if he regains the pulse rate.” “Go pa rin po.” Matigas ulo niyang si Brods, fighter yan!
After a few minutes, Dr. Claver Ramos, our main physician in Makati Med came. You could sense he was highly revered in this hospital. All the nurses and doctors gave way to him. He took over in trying to revive Bro. Elmer. You could sense Dr. Ramos didn’t want to surrender either.
Fr. Paul came and I explained to him what has been transpiring for the past 30 minutes or so. Medyo naaawa na ko sa katawan ni Brods. Bugbog na – lamog na, but the nurses were continuously taking turns to pump his heart. At first we stayed at the corridor looking at all the actions in the room, we didn’t want to get on the way of the nurses running in and out of the room. Dr. Ramos was giving instructions and asking questions left and right. Fr. Favie came also. Niyakag ko na siFr. Provincial to get in front of the bed of Bro. Elmer. Awa na talaga ko kay Brods.
When we came in front of the bed, Dr. Ramos glanced at us. I saw surrender in his eyes. He has done his best – the team of doctors and nurses there have done their best. He shook his head and Fr. Paul and I understood and we nodded. Dr. Ramos calmly told the nurse who was about to inject another dose of medicine: “No more.” He went to Fr. Provincial and said “He has died.”
Fr. Provincial asked Dr. Ramos for official time of Bro. Elmer’s death – “5:58 pm cause of death: Cardiac arrest due to pulmonary embolism”. Hindi ko naman naintindihan yon, pero malinaw – patay na si Bro. Elmer.
In this 16th Sunday of Ordinary time we get to hear the parable of wheat and the weeds. These two plants appear so similar that it would be hard to distinguish them from each other, until the wheat produces some grain. The liturgy speaks of the Lord’s challenge not to be judgmental and discriminating of other people. It is about giving opportunities for people to change and do good. It is about giving equal chances to everyone, especially the poor and marginalized to maximize their potentials and fulfill their dreams.
I spoke of Bro. Elmer’s last moments not just because he recently died, but more so because he reminds us of our Lord’s challenge in this liturgy. He exemplified that challenge of giving everyone the opportunity to change. He lived that life of providing the poor young men and women who came to Don Bosco the equal chances of achieving their dreams and being holy.
Lahat tayo tinanggap niya. Walang syang tinaboy. Kasi wala syang hinusgahan. He never judged anyone – by our looks, educational background, place of origin. Basta lahat welcomed! Kung titingnan nga naman natin ang mga mukha natin ngayon, magkakatakutan lang tayo. Tingnan niyo katabi niyo pagkakatiwalaan mo ba yan? Pero siBro. Elmer nagtiwala sa atin. Tinanggap niya tayo – ikaw at ako.
Imagine if from the very beginning, eh kasi mukha kang damo, eh husgahan ka na wala kang kinabukasan. Ang hirap di ba? Eto siguro naranasan niyo dati bago niyo nakilala si Bro. Elmer.
Bro. Elmer gave each aspiring young men or women the opportunity to prove themselves. He gave them equal chances that each young person should receive compared those who more blessed materially.
I have been with him for a number of years, and I found some of his ways unorthodox, or the least questionable. Education textbooks would never subscribe to some of his ways. But I know, many of you here, especially those who were under his Ampon ministry, would say that his methods have taught you a lot about how to make it good in life.
I learned a lot from him. I admit I was never really a prayerful person. When I was a young college seminarian in Canlubang, Bro. Elmer used to assist in our dorm at bed time. I used to lie down immediately and sleep, but I observed that my other fellow seminarians used to kneel down first at bedside to pray before sleeping. Bro. Elmer asked to do the same. Siya pala nag-utos sa lahat. I argued “Brods nagdasal nako at mas feel ko magdasal ng nakahiga.” But Bro. Elmer would always remind me everytime we would meet: “Pakabait ka! Lumuhod at magdasal bago matulog.”
I did try his suggestion. Nung simula awkward, pero unti-unti I began enjoying it. I did find myself enjoying praying while kneeling. Yung sapilitan na isang minutong pagdarasal na nakaluhod soon became 15 minutes. I did keep that practice for a long time. Huminto na lang ako nung medyo ramdam ko na ang pagtanda ko. That quiet contemplation became a habit for me. And I learned not from any theologian but from a simple Salesian Lay Brother.
Bro Elmer saw the wheat within us, kahit mukha tayong weed sa simula, he saw the goodness within us and nurtured that until we bore fruit.
Kahit nga siguro ang damo, pagdumaan kay Bro. Elmer, nagiging trigo. He can be demanding. Lahat tayo dito alam yan. Sino ba hindi nakatanggap ng “McDo” na galing kay Brods. Sino ba dito “nakulong na sa labas?” Di ka pa ba sawa sa kalabasa? O kaya sa miswa at sardinas? Lahat ng eto dinaanan ng marami na nakasama ni Bro. Elmer. Mahirap, pero pag si Bro. Elmer nagpagawa napapatawa na lang tayo – para kasing nagiging joke lang. Kasi pagdating sa dulo, tayo ang panalo.
Kahit mahirap minsan ang pinapagawa niya, ginagawa natin kasi he would always remind us of our dreams and plans. He would challenge us. But the good thing is, he is always present to challenge us, yes, but also encouraging and supporting us.
Hinahamon tayo ngayon ni Brods, lahat tayong dumaan sa kanya – lahat tayong tinanggap niya: let us be like him, ready to welcome everyone, especially those poorest of the poor. It is time for us to pay forward the help we received from him.
Sinabi sakin ni Bro Elmer “Ok na ako, Puede na akong umuwi.” Tama ba Brods, ok ka na! You have done much already. You have done your share in building the Kingdom of God. You have done so much to make this world, a better place to live in. you have done your damn best to help the underprivileged youth who come knocking at your door. Puede ka na nga umuwi – kasi welcome ka na kay Lord.
Magpahinga ka na Brods. Pagod ka na rin. Ang dami mo na ring nagawa!
Tama Brods! Hindi mo na kailangan pakabait! Kasi Holy ka na! Kaya ka siguro kinuha ni Lord ng biglaan, kasi Holy ka na!