By Norma San Diego-Santos
It broke my heart to lose three brothers this 2021—two in February 2021 and another in April 2021. It’s so sad that a lot of us in Melbourne have lost family members during this pandemic. We were devastated not to be able to go home and say our last goodbyes to the family due to the Australian international travel ban. We were not able to be with our relatives to grieve with them. We were numbed from shock and grief.
First to go so suddenly in February 2021 was my eldest brother Engr Rufino San Diego who suffered from emphysema. He is survived by his widow Fely, two sons Alvin and Andrew, and seven grandchildren. He was a mechanical engineer who worked as an OFW in oil fields and gold mines worldwide from Norway to South Africa to Bougainville Copper in Papua New Guinea all his working life.
Although we are from Nueva Vizcaya, Rufino and his wife retired in his wife’s hometown in San Miguel, Leyte near Tacloban where he ran rice fields and a mango plantation supplying Cebu mango to exporters. I am now so lost as he was the only one I could talk to about the family now that our parents are gone. It comforts me that I was able to visit him before Covid. He talked about his love for his family, his plans and his dreams for his children and grandchildren. I hope that one day I will be blessed to help with some of these dreams to come true.
When he passed away, his two sons had to fly from Manila to Tacloban and comply with so many requirements to travel. During those days, the Philippines was in Covid hard lockdowns and Tacloban borders were closed to the rest of the country and surrounding regions. They would not have been able to travel from Tacloban to San Miguel Leyte if not for the compassionate help of the mayor. Because of Covid Regional Lockdowns none of our family could attend his funeral.
In a span of 10 days, my youngest brother Engr Eduardo San Diego also left for heaven after a heartbreaking battle with cancer. He left behind his wife Lorna, a son Bjorn, daughters Lynette and Kitkat. A mechanical engineer, Eduardo worked for 15 years with FLUOR Canada as Deputy Quality Manager in Saudi Arabia as an OFW. Sadly, his cancer came back and was operated on in Saudi.
Although his firm gave him a 24/7 personal nurse during his recuperation, he needed to be with his family for love and support. So I moved heaven and earth to repatriate him from Saudi Arabia to Manila with the full support of Philippine Airlines (PAL). Those were difficult times as Saudi Arabia too had strict Covid lockdown restrictions and limited flights. To this day, I thank PAL who had all hands on deck to get him home. The Overseas Filipino Worker assisted arrival process in Ninoy Aquino International Airport was excellent. I thank Atty Anthony Mandap and the Philippine Consulate General in Melbourne for their help in expediting Eduardo’s youngest daughter Andrei Lynette’s dual citizenship so she will be allowed to enter the Philippines as only citizens could enter Philippines during those Covid hard lockdowns. Those days were very precious to my niece Lynette as it turned out she was with her Papa during those heartbreaking times. Eduardo continued his health battle with the love and care of his Batangas family. We did all we could to save my little brother but God must have said, you can rest now in his beautiful peaceful garden.
Still grieving from the loss of my two brothers, a third brother, Engr Ceferino San Diego went to heaven so suddenly too in April 2021. He is survived by his wife Sonia, daughters Ellah, Geraldine and Glydel. He and his wife had a shoe store Bellemoto in our hometown in Nueva Vizcaya. Ceferino had underlying health issues and his system shut down from severe dehydration. He was rushed to the hospital next town on a firetruck but we lost him after a few hours. Our hometown was in lockdown and wakes were not allowed. Burial must be done on the same day so our family and friends could not even say our proper goodbyes.
The pain that we had to go through was almost unbearable. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my parents and all my siblings who had left us. We were 10 siblings and with the departure of my youngest sister Popoh a few years earlier and a most loved brother Jaime before this third brother’s passing this year, now there are only five of us left. I used to love shopping filling Balikbayan boxes for them. Now I feel sad and sometimes in tears when I go shopping to Costco and shopping malls. I see all their favourite items and I cry. Shopping makes me sad now. I think of them all the time and at night before I go to bed, I pray that all of them are at peace. Now that I am 77, I wonder at times, is there really life after death? Will I see you all again? If so, then death may not be so bad after all.
The Philippine Times sends our condolences to our fellow Filipino-Australians whose loved ones have recently passed away. There are no words to describe the unbearable pain knowing their loved ones are gone and they could not go home to pay their last tribute due to the Covid-19 pandemic.Again, our hearts are with you and may their souls rest in peace.