Two weeks ago, I was restless for several nights. As in I kept on tossing and turning in bed, and even though I had tiring days I just could not sleep. That was because on Monday (two weeks ago), Randy and I went to the wake of our former student, Joyce Kristine Canta. Joyce was our student when she reviewed for her high school entrance exam.
Remember when I was promoting a stage play by Theater Horse? Aside from its being a splendid play, I was fully supportive of it because its proceeds were for the benefit of Joyce Canta. See, when Joyce was a freshman at UP Rural High School (UPRHS), she was diagnosed with cancer. She had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer common in 30-year old and above males. But Joyce, a 13-year old girl, had it. Unfortunately, she had a tumor in between her heart and lungs; the tumor invaded her heart’s right ventricle, which made that part of her heart to stop beating.
I remember during the summer that my colleague Pong Garcia told me about his friend JV who joined a game show to pursue his dreams of being a true-blue fashion designer. But right after collecting his winnings from the game show, the friend learned that his younger sister had cancer. I thought little of it.
Fast forward to June when I learned about Joyce, and that she was the younger sister of JV (Pong’s friend).
In the past months, I was happy to see Joyce’s positive posts on Facebook. Except for her almost bald head, there was almost no symptom of her being seriously ill; a casual passerby would not think that the young girl who radiate so much positivity on her Facebook page was suffering. In December to January, I even often see her liking my posts on Facebook. So how was I to know she wasn’t on her way to full recovery?!?
Then two Sundays ago as I was taking an afternoon nap, Randy said, “SHIT! Oh no…Patay na si Joyce!” Even though I was still sleepy, I woke up speechless. How can that be?!? I’ve been continually looking at Joyce’s Facebook page ever since I learned of her affliction, and almost all her posts radiated positivity! Walang paawa-awa, walang hate messages, walang galit sa mundo o sa Diyos!
The following day, Randy and I decided to go to Joyce’s wake. Mrs. Lani Canta (Joyce’s mom), greeted us and said, “Ma’am, Sir, wala na po ang student n’yo.” Right there and then, I wanted to cry. I do not even want to imagine how much pain the Canta family was in. But what surprised me was the Cantas’ expression of peace and acceptance.
Mrs. Canta related to us that the wake we were attending was actually planned by Joyce, as Joyce knew her days were numbered—she was told that she only had two weeks to live. But Joyce planned it like a birthday party: she said she wanted to wear a red dress; wanted her wake’s “guests” to wear white; and wanted her funeral song to be “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.
I was told that she even suggested ways by which her family could save on her wake and funeral costs: she suggested just renting a coffin for her, or to donate the coffin if her parents buy it. What a selfless girl. But that was just Joyce—every time she would have chemotherapy, her worries were always, “May pera pa po ba tayo?” And just after she had her last chemotherapy when her dad also had a bypass operation, Joyce was more worried about her dad’s welfare.
So young and so in pain, yet so selfless!
That’s why I did what I could to keep myself from crying (for fear that if a tear from my eye rolled, the Cantas would start crying too) especially when Ms. Lani related Joyce’s last moments: how she was singing and crying as she was closing her daughter’s eye, when she felt that Joyce was already dying. Ang sakit-sakit sa dibdib! JV also mentioned that earlier that day (when Joyce died), Joyce seemed perfectly fine: she greeted everyone jovially and even smelled of roses. I mentioned watching something like that on Grey’s Anatomy, and JV had apparently seen that episode too (What happened to Joyce is called “the surge,”; it’s when a terminally ill person seems back to his usual self, usually taking that time to say goodbye or share important things).
In the course of our conversation, Joyce’s mom mentioned how grateful she was to God for letting them experience having Joyce in their lives. She said that Joyce left several people with wonderful memories in such a brief period of time she spent here on earth. I guess that was why, despite the obviously painful event in their lives, the Cantas still radiated with inner peace. After all, Joyce gave them 13 years of joy.
JOYCE, wherever you may be, I want to thank you for the legacy of, well, “joys” you left behind. You know, I first heard a personal story about you when your Ate/Ma’am Reg told me what your Kuya JV asked her prior to your enrollment to Brain Train: “Reg, magkano ba sa Brain Train? Igagapang ko ang ipapang-review ni Joyce! Dapat sa UP Rural siya mag-high school!” or something akin to that. And true enough, you made it to UPRHS! So when you died and Reg reminded me of that story, I said, “Naku sayang naman. Natupad niya ‘yung pangarap ng kuya niya kaso namatay siya nang maaga…” But Reg said, “Ma’am, hindi po sayang kasi sobrang mahal na mahal niya ang Rural. As in sobrang happy niya nung naging student siya sa Rural.” Somehow, the thought made me happy because I’d like to think that by doing our best in what we do, we have contributed to your happiness.
Now, I won’t pretend as though we were ever close in the more or less 20 meetings we shared at Brain Train. But hearing how you made the most out of your last days–however grim and bleak they may have been–makes me realize what truly are important in life. It also shames me how I would complain about the most mundane things whenever I remember how once upon a time there lived a young girl who had every right to rant yet instead chose always put on a brave smile and radiate positivity.
Joyce, you have shown us that whatever happens, life is beautiful when when we choose to consciously look at the bright side. That kind of positivity is contagious. Truly, you personify your name.
It is now I who am learning a lot from you. And the things you’re teaching me are a whole lot more important than grammar or reading comprehension.
Rest in peace, Joyce. Again, thank you.
All photos lifted from Joyce Canta’s Facebook account, with permission from his mother and older brother.
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