It was a usual cold night in Baguio City. After a long, tiring day of work, our host treated us to a night out in The Barn, a nice restaurant situated in the hilly outskirts of the city.
After having steaks and fries and while others enjoy the fellowship night, I went outside to the view deck to catch some fresh air and down the dark lager I ordered. I was in no mood to mingle. The day was so exhausting that I just wanted to go back to my hotel room and sleep.
He went outside too, with an iced tea at hand, and sat next right to me.
“Why are you not drinking?” one of our peers asked him from inside the restaurant, teasing why he’s only having iced tea while all of us drink beer.
“No, I’m fine with this!” he pointed to his glass. He then turned to me.
“How long was your father under dialysis?” he asked.
I turned my gaze on him. Three years, I answered then turned back my gaze to the city lights from afar.
“You?” I asked.
“I’m going on 5.”
I nodded and returned my gaze to the view before us.
Earlier that day at Burnham Park where our media event was being conducted, I saw him, busy coordinating things for a press con, talking to people, and asking if we need anything else.
I was about to ask him something when I saw his arm. A familiar, swelling arm caused by fistula, a common for people undergoing dialysis treatment.
“Your undergoing dialysis?” I asked without thinking. He was taken aback. He slightly pulled his arm and hide it with his bag but realized it was too late.
I felt embarrassed for a moment. I wanted to pinch my stupid self. I shouldn’t have asked him out of anywhere while he was busy working. I know there is nothing wrong with being a dialysis patient. But I didn’t know if he is comfortable with the question or not, besides, we’ve only been introduced that morning.
“I am sorry about earlier,” I apologized, awkwardly sipping my beer, my gaze still following the dark horizon.
He smiled and said, “No. It’s okay.”
We were silent for a moment before I finally was able to tell my story.
I felt like it was a go signal to talk to him about the things that have been going in my mind and heart for the past months. Without any hesitation, I told him about my Papa.
We tried all our might to extend his life. That I was praying to God to not take his life this early. I wanted to drive to the province with him. Plant in a farm with him. Share endless cups of coffee with him and accompany him in his check-ups and regular treatments. I want more selfies with him, more conversations about our dreams and life in general, and all the things we’ll do in the next years. I still want more years with Papa, I prayed hard for that. But then I realized that the time God allotted was already over. That was it, and that it is something I should accept.
I was trying to hold back tears. But they just fell down my eyes and I can’t help it. He was shedding a tear too, I know. His voice cracking while agreeing and nodding on what I was trying to say.
He was right there, listening intently like an old friend. His iced tea remained untouched. I felt at ease knowing how this person understands.
He told me his story. A dialysis patient who is waiting for his kidney transplant. He was waiting for years and years, looking for a donor that would match his, advocating for awareness among his colleagues, and somehow hoping that he would meet his donor through his efforts.
There were moments he questioned God, he said, for the times when he was about to receive the kidney transplantation he was praying for, but all of a sudden the odds turned against him. His donor backed out and he found himself back to square one.
“Sometimes I ask Him, of all people, why this has to happen to me?” he said.
He’s a hard worker, I surmised. For someone who goes to treatment twice a week in Manila, working out-of-towns on a regular basis is indeed a challenge. But he’s right here, beating the odds and proving that he can.
I saw many dialysis patients who are fighting their own battles. They are all brave. And this person next to me is just one of them. There were a lot of sacrifices and adjustments, he said. That he has to maintain his health during work. That the reason he’s only having iced tea he won’t even drink is that he had to avoid too much liquid. I should know that.
He told me about his family. How it was difficult for him to accept the fate his father also suffered from. And how he wanted to give up.
I felt like I was able to release the emotions I have kept months after my father’s passing. While I already cried my heart out to people I am close to, it was different when it was with a stranger. To someone who coincidentally knows the feeling, it was heartwarming. It was as if God has talked to me through him—and it saved me.
As we end our conversation, we said prayers for each other.
“You know what, you’ll be blessed. I see a future where all your dreams will come true—because you were a good daughter who loves his father so much,” he said.
These words saved me from the brink of just breaking down. It lifted me up and helped me remain okay during the times I felt like I just wanted to surrender. The pain and longingness were made bearable simply by his words of encouragement.
I told him I’ll keep on praying that he’ll find a donor soon and that he’ll live long enough to reach his goals, spend more time with his family, and just be an ordinary millennial trying to win adulting and life. I prayed that God gives him the strength to hold on. There was one thing I learned during my father’s journey as a dialysis patient is to keep holding on because there are people who are willing to take on the journey with you.
It was a couple of minutes before midnight. Our team decided to go back to our hotel. I drank what’s left from my bottle, his iced tea remained untouched.
I looked on a starry night for the last time. Somewhere out there my Papa is resting. In a place where there is no pain. Where everything is perfect. Where he is enjoying eternal life.
I miss my papa so much. Every night I’ll cry myself to sleep, wondering what am I doing with all the hard work I am burying myself into when the person I wanted to offer all these is already gone.
But this brief encounter taught me to keep going on. It saved me.
I was a grieving daughter. He was a hopeful kidney transplant patient. We were strangers to each other but it was as if our paths crossed for just a single day, to remind us that whatever the circumstances we are in, no matter what we are going through and the emotions that are in our hearts, we just have to keep going and wake up a new day with renewed strength and hope.
It was a night a cried with a stranger. A night I will always remember.