These last few weeks, I have been struggling with the thought of writing about the death of my maternal grandmother, whom I fondly call Lulay, and how it all happened. Where do I even begin? Can I handle looking back at those moments that led to her death? What would be the point? The last thing people would want to read at the start of 2016 would be about loss and sadness and someone dying. Then I look back at all that transpired up until the death of the closest living person I had in my life, and I realize this post needs to be written — and I must try my best to tell it clearly, fully, and bravely — not because it does not touch on loss and sadness, but because the story also contains something so beautiful and glorious amidst it, something that must not go unpublished nor unsaid.
Lulay died last November 29, on an early Sunday morning, the sun having just risen, with my mom and I the only ones inside her hospital room, my mom softly singing her a song and both of us holding onto each of her still warm, gentle hands. It had often been like this, just the three of us, my dad always traveling for work, my mom an only child, being an only child myself, and Lulay living with us. Prior to that Sunday it had been a rollercoaster ride of emotions that transpired over a span of just a week, but adding to the heaviness of it all was that from our point of view, there was nothing wrong with Lulay before then. She was witty and sharp, with her memory even better than mine most days, and her penchant for strolling and eating so evident in the fact that in the last few months, mom, Lulay, and I, (plus papa on Sundays) had eaten at likely every known restaurant there is in Kapitolyo and The Podium. Then it happened, all in a blur: she felt a numbness in her leg, which turned out to be a mild stroke — treatable with 90% chance of recovering her leg’s feeling and function — but was then followed by a sudden brain bleed and her needing immediate neurosurgery for it — that was further complicated by another clot bursting, which ultimately led to that fateful day where we waited with her as she took her final breath on earth, at the age of 77.
Looking back on the morning she left us and the days leading to it, it was not that she had gone that had me in disbelief — her doctors had expected it would happen sooner, once the medication was depleted — but it was that there was so much gratefulness, comfort, and peace that overcame the painful reality of saying goodbye to someone we loved so dearly. In the entirety of what was seemingly a devastating, soul-crushing week, I had actually felt that the LORD was so real and personal — the most real I had ever gotten to experiencing Him thus far — speaking and making His presence felt in ways I never even thought was possible.
It sounds so mystical to say I “felt” the LORD and heard Him “speak”during Lulay’s final days, but there is no other way to put it, and no other explanation for it.
With her vitals stabilizing, mom and I were on shifts and she had just gone home for her turn to sleep. This led me to being alone when, a few hours shortly, Lulay started vomiting and going unconscious, and had to be intubated. We found out after a rush CT scan that this was due to the clot in her brain that had suddenly burst. I didn’t have anyone with me too when I was told that she had to be operated on as quickly as possible to bleed out the clot, and that she may otherwise die if we did not act right away. I was alone in the midst of these terrifying turn of events, yet I never felt that I was — I could feel a surge of unfathomable comfort, and was provided with clarity and strength that could not have been just mine to muster — to figure out what to do next and which questions to ask whom, instead of just crying and lashing out in helplessness in that ICU room, where just minutes ago I was already signing papers for her transfer to a regular room.
I felt His presence too in the tiny suite my mom and I were held in after Lulay’s neurosurgery. The head surgeon informed us that the surgery was perfect from the operating room, and was backed by a 99% success rate. All that was left to do was to wait until she woke up in four to five hours. Yet what I was dwelling on was that 1% — that however tiny it was, there was still a remaining percentage of those who do not wake up afterward, and a thought came to me that the 1% was room for the LORD to demonstrate that HE was still the maker and taker of our lives, despite all the technological and scientific advancement we could ever hope to achieve. It was this little thought on that little percentage that led my mom and I to pray for strength and surrender to His will in that room that night, instead of praying for healing for Lulay. We wanted her to wake up, to see her conscious and back to her old self again, there was no doubt in that. But in hindsight, that instance was the LORD already reminding us that He is still and will always be sovereign, and that our lives and our loved ones’ lives are not ours to give or take away. I also believe He was graciously preparing our hearts then for all that was still just about to unfold.
There will be moments in life when we will have to make decisions to questions we do not even wish to be asked. I experienced this the moment Lulay did not wake up after surgery, because her brain had been found to have a new clot that burst, and with very weakened vessels surrounding it. We had the option to pursue another neurosurgery with only a 50% to 60% chance of survival, but with Lulay coming out in a vegetative state if she managed to even get through it. We also were given another option — to skip the neurosurgery and get her on interventional medication, but with the knowledge that her heart and nervous system would eventually give out after the medicine was used up. My parents gave me the right to make that decision, and we were informed that the window for providing Lulay a second surgery, was closing by the minute.
The events that transpired next was beyond what this world can make of.
In that state of utter helplessness and confusion, God’s greatness shone through. Two weeks before that day I got a call from my good friend in dance ministry, Geri, who was back then in the ICU of the exact same hospital we were in, having to make a similar decision regarding the life of her brother. She too was asked by her own family to decide, to push on with treatment despite a 90% chance of death or to let him go. She called me during her own window for decision, to seek counsel and prayer. To be perfectly honest, when I received the call I felt so undeserving and scared of being chosen to be that person she wanted to speak to, at such a pivotal point in her and her brother’s lives. Nevertheless, I shared with her a lesson I learned from my Bible reading that week that I thought was applicable to the situation, and prayed for her. After the conversation, she spent time with the LORD, and He led her to choosing the option that caused her brother to survive. Recalling Geri and this instance, I called her up, clock ticking. In a heartbeat, she testified of His power, and reminded me of what I had told her that day: that I needed to go directly to the LORD, just Him and me, and be authentic with exactly what I was feeling, no matter how ugly it had to get, because He would surely answer.
There will be times, often due to faltering faith and a logic dictated by the world’s standards, that we brush off divine intervention as mere coincidence. That instance with Geri? It was not one of those moments. God was showing me He was capable of working in our lives and in others’ in ways we clearly do not even know about — so He could show that His infinite glory is beyond what our finite minds can comprehend, and yet that He is REAL.
There was something I could not reconcile in my mind before going to God that time: All the doctors we had consulted with believed the second option was the best course of action; yet I did not want to bear the guilt of choosing it, recalling the day I chose it, and thinking over and over again that I might have killed my grandmother instead of having given her the second surgery and a chance to survive this.
Then an emotional wreck, and with barely a few minutes left to decide, I told my parents of all these things and excused myself to have a moment with God in a corner of the ICU. It was then I poured my heart out to my LORD and savior, crying and calling out to Him as I never had before. I will not be able to recount everything that I said, but it included questioning why He was letting me go through all of this when I had resolved to love and serve Him with all that I am. I had left my job at His leading, devoted much time to my family and the underprivileged, and joined both CCF’s Singles and Dance ministry this year. I had gone, I felt back then, all out for Him — and now I was walking around at a loss, burdened with the thought that I would be responsible for my Lulay dying that day, and that I would be carrying this guilt with me forever. Then I opened my Bible, which I had not yet done that morning, and went to the first chapter I was scheduled to read that day from the book of Deuteronomy. What I read then and what I felt after is something I truly believe I will never forget for the rest of my life. This is the most striking verse from the passage:
Deuteronomy 21: 7 and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8 Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, 9 and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
Until then, there were doubts in my mind if the LORD was listening–at least if He was doing so all the time. In those few minutes leading to my prayer, I was even being tempted to believe all over again the lie that He was not real even though He had already proven otherwise, countless times. But after reading the passage and looking back in awe at how faithful He was amidst my unfaithfulness, having revealed so much of Himself within just the last half hour, every negative emotion I was feeling was completely washed away. It was replaced with the greatest kind of peace I have ever come to know, because I had the assurance that Lulay, whether in a few hours or days, was going to be in the amazing hands of the one true God–the one who SPEAKS, the one who LOVES, the one who’s REAL — because it was what was right in HIS eyes.
I did a little research as of this writing, and there are 1,189 chapters in the entire NIV Bible version that I was then reading. I read my Bible each morning not at random but starting from the first book, Genesis, and onwards to the following books until I would finish with Revelation, the last book. That the day’s reading started with that chapter, contained that passage, in the exact time I inquired of the LORD on His will for Lulay and due to my own selfish considerations — I can never find another moment in my life thus far that can match that instance to testify that the God I worshipped was not only real, but was a PERSONAL GOD who reveals His power IN HIS PERFECT TIME.
He showed His power too, in the way He prepared us for Lulay’s death without us even realizing it. Last April, I resigned from the company I had enjoyed working for in the last four years, and did not take any full-time work to replace the job I was leaving. Over and over during my morning Bible reading and prayer time, the LORD revealed that He had a different path for me and that first, I was to focus on my family. So beyond my own understanding, but with a clear leading and promise of His power and provision, I took the leap. It wasn’t long until the LORD displayed His power and showed me why His plans are always greater than mine: the company offered me a consultancy position, business opportunities came up, and, most importantly, my family had full Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays together, which led to astounding growth in our spiritual and family lives. Thursdays were spent attending an interfaith women’s Bible study class with mom and Lulay, Saturdays were for Glorious Hope, CCF’s program for spiritual and personal recovery, and Sundays were for attending church services together. It was the most time we had ever spent together as a family, and ours, as well as Lulay’s love for God grew even deeper, going past religious duty and developing a stronger, more personal relationship with Jesus. We may not have known it then, but those instances in our lives, and so much more, were so lovingly and gracefully directed by God so we would never have to regret the lack of time and love we could have given Lulay while she was with us.
I am grateful too for the way He took her home. My grandmother was all sorts of wonderful, but what ultimately set her apart was her pure heart. She would put others first, herself last. All her years were spent serving her LORD the best way she knew how, after she had survived breast cancer in her early 20s. Back then she was heavy on charity work, but as she aged it became service to her loved ones that she focused on — she would prepare our meals, talk to friends and relatives frequently to catch up, and would always be the first to ask me what was wrong or sense when I was hurting. I could not imagine how it would make her feel had she found out she was dying. Her heart would not be able to take the pain of having her loved ones grieve, and so the LORD spared her from this. He showed me in that moment that He knew His children perfectly well, in the way He chose to take her.
Lulay had also always said she wanted to die peacefully in her sleep, free from suffering and violence. How she left will always be a testament on how the LORD aligns His will with the prayers of those who deeply love and seek Him — Lulay, in her comatose state, looked so peaceful in her deep sleep as we waited for the LORD to call her home. She experienced no pain throughout the entire ordeal, and He prolonged her life longer than expected, too. Her pure heart was magnified in that instance — it lasted one full day more after her medication was finished, allowing for her family and loved ones to visit that beautiful woman one last time while she was alive, her strong, selfless heart still beating, so we could still be able to whisper to her whatever it was we wished to say.
Lulay died last November 29, on an early Sunday morning, the sun having just risen, with my mom and I the only ones inside her hospital room, my mom softly singing her a song and both of us holding onto each of her still warm, gentle hands. It was quiet peace that filled the room, overcoming our grief, because in that moment we had already been assured by the LORD Himself that it was His sovereign will to finally take His child home — on the day of her mother’s birth — so they can together worship and praise the all-powerful, all-loving, all knowing God who makes His presence felt even to a stubborn, sinful little girl who will see her grandmother again when her own time has come.
Romans 8: 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I might never be able to explain fully just how His presence can be felt in other people’s lives, nor on the many ways He can speak to others. That is an experience we each have to go through on our own 🙂 I do pray though that this story of Lulay’s final moments on earth—that which the LORD had ordained to happen before she was even born — gives you a glimpse of a truth that EVERYONE should know: that the God of the Bible is real, and He is alive and active. Our relationship with Him deepens when we get to know more about Him and experience life with Him, just like any relationship we have. The beautiful difference? In following Him we also are assured of eternal life despite our sinful past, and of a transformation in our earthly lives as we resolve to walk in His ways. In 1 John 5 we read:
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Lulay died on earth, but with Jesus in her life I know that she is now up there in heaven, with Him who made eternity possible for us all. In her earthly death, the LORD has showed me that He lives, and that He can use even the saddest, most gut-wrenching moments of our lives, and turn it around to become the most glorious and beautiful of memories wherein we can fully experience His power and love. May you start this year by finding it in your heart to heed His call and follow Him.
*If you’ve come across this post and you’re wondering about eternity, have read any statements I’ve made that interest or bother you, or just want to know more, please feel free to reach out!
I would also like to share one of my favorite videos, which sheds some light on the God I believe in, and how I’m sure Lulay’s in heaven and that I will see her again 🙂 Please view it here: Francis Chan: Stop and Think