FACES AND VOICES OF COVID 19: Will a mother die 11 times if she has 11 children? 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /02 October) —  I can feel an overpowering presence like the lone giant jackfruit tree towering imposingly over the graveyard of Ma-a cemetery. Under the sweltering heat in February, not even the coolest cirrus clouds against the backdrop of bluest canopied skies could soothe my eyes squinting against the glaring brilliance of sunlight.

Visiting the grave is for me being reminded of the resonating truth that every soul shall taste death — that to Almighty God we all belong and to Him we shall return.

Where I am sitting, mulling over my grief  of what might have beens, is where our second to the eldest sibling is laid to rest. It is not an ordinary spot because it was a special spot where a piece of our mother’s heart was shred to pieces. I can imagine her agony not seeing her son’s face for the last time; not even a glimpse of the silhouette  of his body in that black body bag. The very black bag that prevented us from bringing him home for the last time.

Yet, three days after the demise of my brother, Tutuh Gams, his swab test for COVID-19 read negative.

Only his wife was given the honor to be with him during his last 17 to 18 hours because of the pandemic.

Black body bag (R) outside the emergency room of the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. MINDANEWS file photo

I dread the black bag and what it connotes prior to the swab result. It means we cannot personally attend to his purification personally. His four children in Davao — aged  12, 9, 7 and 4 — cannot hug and kiss him for the last time. It was agonizing but we had to be circumspect to put the interest of everyone over our filial devotion to a dear departed.

Our patience was tested when we had to protect our community, our home, our 78-year old Inah, his immediate family on the premise that not until the result comes out can we 100% say he is untainted by COVID-19, and when we had to sacrifice how we feel because we are obligated to uphold public interest and public safety.

Almighty God decreed that he passed away quietly. Perhaps it was because he was a very low profile person, subdued, gentle, a conformist and a law-abiding citizen. He would prefer silence and calmness than indignation. As he lived quietly, Allah made him leave quietly. Almost unnoticed except for us who love him.

The tragic consequences of the black bag also brought us relief over how to break the morbid news to our own mother. We dread the thought how heartbroken she could be once we let her know. It was really tough putting up a facade as if he were still in comatose in front of our mother. We all resolved to be strong for our mother oblivious to the fact that our combined strength as her remaining children can neither match nor even come close to her resilience as a formidable mother of eleven. Only her sixth child, Wadrayna, is aware of it.

Is There Such A Thing as Installment Grieving?

LESSON: Alhamdulillahi alaa kulli haal. (All Praise is due to Allah in all circumstances)

It is indeed a process and must not be preempted.

Only when the process goes back down do we realize the sabar  (patience) was just an instinctual defense mechanism and not really felt at the core of the heart. Verily we shall be tested, it’s not enough that we say we “believe.” If we indeed surrendered why do we intermittently slide down back to Step 1 after completing the process? Fa Inna maal usri yusra. Inna maal usri yusra. (Verily with every difficulty comes ease; with every difficulty comes ease.-(Surah Inshirah Qur’an)

“Patience is at the first strike of calamity.” Even as I quaked inwardly, this Hadith calmed me outwardly. I gushed out Alhamdulillah…inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. (Verily we belong to Allah and verily to Him do we return). Like a mantra, I kept on uttering La ilaha illallah as I breathed in and out.

Focus!

I  enunciated my brother’s name, spelling it using phonetic alphabet to the 911 operator. Specified exact location: NHA Bangkal Muslim Village. As instructed, I turned my brother’s prone body to left side recovery position. He was breathing; no need for CPR. I touched his soles and the back of his right hand. Warm. Alhamdulillah.

When 911 ambulance arrived, two men in PPE (personal protective equipment) alighted. Everything was swift. Gripped with anxiety and dread, I managed to voice out reminders in a firm voice: dentures that might obstruct airway. History of asthma since childhood. Never been hospitalized at all except as an infant at Brokenshire. Not under any maintenance meds at 59. Philhealth cards. IDs. Documents. Cash.

I went out. Some cops were there. One cop demanded in an aggressive voice and intimidating stance: “If as you say he’s not sick, why did he collapse in the CR?”

In indignant reflex, I inched towards him and equalized in a firm tone: “Yes, Sir! You are right! Let’s find out! That’s why 911 is here. He needs medical attention and only a doctor can give diagnosis. He has never been hospitalized. No maintenance meds whatsoever except history of asthma since childhood!”

Dead air.

Next, he was taken out of his home on a stretcher and into the 911 ambulance without any delay. Eerily, its flickering lights seemed to signal an ominous warning.

Silently, I quickly looked back to the doorway. My four-year old and nine-year old nieces were being led out of their home by my 22-year old niece. Taking the two kids by the hand, we locked the gate. We walked briskly back home to Inah as the kids trotted along while the ambulance slithered slowly behind us. It had to back up at the gym of Masjid Jami’un Nur. I turned to squint back at the glaring headlights. It is only his wife with my brother and the medical team. My heart ached. It was the first time in a family emergency where I am present but I cannot be with my own blood brother to take him to the hospital.

Consoling Inah

I had to be with my 78-year old partially disabled Inah, Tutuh Gams’ four kids and my two other nieces. Pandemic dilemma is real. It is not an ideal setting. Still, Alhamdulillahi alaa kulli haal.

When I got back, I consoled Inah. “Wayna tuud tawaran ta ha Tuhan, Inah, hangpu tag-isa kami magtaymanghud jukup katan. Kyawa Niya hi Amah sah yari ra kitanyu 25 tahun nag-aagad agad. Pyabus Nya pa kaw Inah ka’muh 21 tahun. Unu unu in paratungun sin Tuhan magtawakkal kitanyu. Magsarangsukul Kaniya.” (We have nothing to be ungrateful to Allah, Inah, all 11 of us are intact. He took away Amah yet for 25 years since he was gone we are still together. God still lent you to us for 21 long years now thus whatever is God’s Will let’s trust Him. Let’s all thank Him).

Looking back now, I was desperately consoling our Inah because I dreaded she would be heartbroken losing a child at age 78 after suffering a fatal stroke which she miraculously survived.

I was saying those words to pacify her, to calm her down out of dread of what may befall her; processing it all, preparing her for the worst to come.  Including Tutuh Gams’ eldest daughter, too, Riamalnie. After she led the Fatihah, it lightened the heaviness in my heart. She and Aishah Dianedra prayed Tahajjud for Tutuh Gams while sleepless I was monitoring closely Indahyam via phone call vigilantly.

She called me up to tell me that I had to contact some hospital because they were denied admission at Davao Doctors Hospital because it was full. They ended up at the SPMC (Southern Philippines Medical Center) makeshift-tent ER just outside the main entrance of the Trauma Center building.

Her next call was to tell me between sobs that Tutuh Gams needed to be intubated. She was clearly breaking down, torn apart, seeing him in critical condition but had to consult me. My answer was let us exhaust all means and surrender everything to Allah. I reminded her and myself if we were to go against intubation, we shouldn’t have dialed 911 and just all stayed home. Hasbun’Allaahu wa nih’mal wakeel (Sufficient for us is Allah, and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs).

I was too preoccupied in pacifying and consoling our Inah, Tutuh Gams’ wife and his kids that I forgot to console my own self. I must keep my composure, remain optimistic outwardly; even relaying news positively that nothing is impossible with Allah.

Inah said calmly to us all: “Ayaw kamu mugah. Tuhan in Sangat Kawasa. Way mahunit ha Tuhan.” (Have no fear. In Allah is The Absolute Power) Until 5 a.m. of February 4, Inah and I were awake except for my four nieces and nephew.

Our family group chat via FB messenger remained active. Alhamdulillah for interconnectivity.

Manual pumping

Next call was two hours later after intubation. We found out we lost contact from Indahyam because she had to manually pump at six counts interval for two hours pending arrival of a respirator machine.

On February 4, at around 9:30 a.m., I went to the  Trauma Center building to see my brother but first I had to meet up with my sister in law. Since 1:32 a.m., she had no sleep at all. She stayed at the Lingap Center waiting area across the Trauma Center building. Any moment Jukuy was called out, she had to cross the two-lane road to reach the white tent; at one time she was almost hit by a vehicle while crossing it. This pandemic is a tough tribulation under the circumstances. Alhamdulillahi alaa kulli haal.

By 11a.m., I was trying to see Tutuh Gams inside his white tent but it’s not allowed. The guard on the ramp leading to the entrance “tried” to push me away and to brush off my hand raised in muted appeal to let me in but failed. It seemed that there’s a flimsy barrier where it practically signaled “off limits” to him. He knew he couldn’t touch me. Alhamdulillah. I wasn’t offended at all. I know he had to do what he had to do as guard to ward off anyone as precautionary measures and to abide by hospital protocol and restrictions. I didn’t feel affronted at all. I was grateful that at least I was standing right next to the white tent where Tutuh Gams was. My compassion for the frontliners’ formidably stress-filled task consoled my desperation to see my poor brother. Sabr. Qadarullaahi wa ma shaa afaa Alaa.

In the afternoon I went back and had the chance to bend over and peep through the flap of the ICU tent. I looked at the monitor and the calm steady waves registering on the screen. I had a glimpse of his frame lain on a metallic bed without sheet. How cold must it have felt being exposed to the elemental winds. I talked to him from where  I was: “Tutuh Gams…Tutuh Gams…Indah Rina ini Tutuh Gams…dua sadja kaw Tutuh Gams  tawakkul Allah…yarira kami katan nanginduwaa kymu Kanda Inah pagpauli kaw… (Tutuh Gams…Tutuh Gams…it’s me Indah Rina, Tutuh Gams… just supplicate to Allah Tutuh Gams  trust Allah… we are all here with Inah praying for you  so please get well)

Suddenly, I saw his index finger move not only once where the oximeter was strapped. Too elated with hope, I broke into happy sobs of relief as I continued: “Karungugan mu aku Tutuh Gams?… Tutuh Gams Alhamdulillah…hi indahyam way kaw biniyn way sya minuwi pa bay yaun sya nagtatagad ha hansipak dan damagan mari kaymu sakaba siya tawagun sin doctor…! (Can you hear me Tutuh Gams? All Praise is due to Allah…Indah never left your side she had to wait at area across the road to run to you whenever the doctor calls out...)

Grieving in the “new normal”

Then, I had to step aside because the patient next to his bed suffered cardiac arrest and a woman was wailing loudly while the doctors frantically  moved into action.

Using voice clip, I promptly updated our family group chat via messenger in between sobs and laughs! Then, I saw my sister in law rushing to where I stood as I excitedly told her that Tutuh Gams heard me and his finger moved!  Surprised and in disbelief, she replied to me that the station called her up because  my brother was having a bout of cardiac arrest and needed to be revived. Dazed and confused, I refuted her.

I left when he was revived and I had to go home because it was almost 6 p.m. I needed to tend to the four kids, my nieces and my Inah.

By 7 p.m., his wife called me. She wept while telling me that doctors would no longer revive him after 14 attempts because it would collapse his ribcage. So, I relented and comforted her to let go and surrender to Allah’s Will. Inna lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un

Our dearest brother Tutuh Gams, second child out of 11 siblings, passed away at SPMC ER-ICU at 7 p.m. Friday night Feburary 4, 2021, due to cerebrovascular accident.  Shaykh Ampuan was the one authorized by SPMC as custodian of the Musallah, ablution area and Muslim mayt.

A fallen solitary leaf rests on the grave of Tutuh Gams Jukuy at the Ma-a cemetery on his 40th day on 16 March 2021. Photo by Warina Jukuy

He was buried an hour before Jumuah prayer and was bestowed  upon our request Salatul ghaib Janazah (Congregational funeral prayer for the corpse in absentia) at Masjidul Khayr and Masjidun Noor as well as in Makkah Masjidul Haramain in coordination with our  OFW nephew assigned there.

Had the swab test been done “upon admission”  and not post mortem, he would have been brought home and given a normal funeral attended not only by me with his wife, my younger sister, our nephew, and our two male kin. But it was decreed otherwise by Allah putting Shaykh Ampuan to the test to be the Ustadh who would administer it singlehandedly with the amanah (trust) to respect the sanctity of life as much as in the time of death.

The pandemic has impacted our lives painfully: feeling helpless while we watch our loved ones on the brink of death and adapting to the “new normal.” We have no choice but to adapt; even as to how we must mourn and grieve properly; moreso, even how to perform the obligatory funeral service; even how not to be indignant when our human dignity is infringed. Still, we Praise Allah at all circumstances. If you were to ask me: how does one mourn and grieve in the new normal “properly”? Honestly, I don’t know exactly how. But somehow our family survived it. Alhamdulillah.

Fa Qadarullaahi wa ma shaa afaa Alaa (Verily, Allah decrees what He Wills).

(Warina Sushil A. Jukuy describes herself as a” Muslim Tausug of Lupah Sug in diaspora, displaced twice from Sulu to Davao City in 1974 and again since 2009. She thrives as a Peace Warrior using mortar and pestle, pen and ink, colors and voice, and keyboard.”)

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