“In times of extreme shock, one is carried along by reflexes. Crises reveals what one has been trained to do by habit.” ~ Esther, daughter of Jonathan Edwards
Last March 21, a good friend, churchmate, and brother in faith — died suddenly of heat stroke and dehydration during a basketball game hosted by his company. At age 40, Bro. Bhong left behind his lovely wife Lyn, and daughter JL, and all of us in church who will miss his presence.
After I heard the news from Sis. Punze, my first reaction was to hug my son and pray with him for JL and Ate Lyn. Next instinct was to contact my husband who wasn’t home with us then. But he left his cellphone, so my son and I prayed that he would be safe from the noonday heat. Then I called Ptr. Ching, but our conversation was cut short because the phone lost battery charge. I tried to call Ptr. Francis, but he wasn’t answering, so together with my son (who was at that time recovering from a slight fever) I went back to praying and crying out to God. I wanted to call Ate Lyn but was too emotionally weak, so I just sent a text message first.
Once strength had been regained a little bit, I called Ate Lyn. After hearing her say “Hello”, all I could say was “We love you Ate,” and we cried on the phone together. I wished I could go to her immediately but she was still in Cavite at the hospital waiting for Bro. Bhong’s body to be taken to Nueva Ecija. Her first response to me was amazing – she was concerned for me and the baby in my womb, and told me that Kuya Bhong would understand if I couldn’t travel to Nueva Ecija. She and Bro. Bhong always had this habit of putting others’ concerns first before their own.
When hubby came back, I told him the news and he went pale, too. At that time I wanted to call and tell all the fathers and brothers I know in my life to please, please, please drink lots of water, especially in this summer heat. Hubby’s first reaction was to try and gather all the photos and videos he had of Kuya Bhong, including the ones they took together in Israel last year. Then he went down to the worship hall to listen to arrange the songs, some praise and worship songs that Bro. Bhong liked.
Looking back now on those initial hours after the news of Kuya Bhong’s sudden death, I saw so many reactions and realized that we each have our own ways to cope with such shocking news. Some looked for someone to blame, some questioned Why, some quietly went about to prepare help for Kuya Bhong’s family. I wanted to reach out and hug each one of my brothers and sisters in church, and thankfully, a few allowed me to hug them. My dad often paraphrased Gandhi to us, saying, “Thoughts lead to Actions. Actions lead to Habits. Habits form our Character, and Character determines our destiny.”
In times of grief, I have known from experience that Traditions play an important role: they help clear our minds from shock for a while, and allow us to move and function through the shock. Traditions are like habit, they can be done automatically even when our brains seem to be on hold. So I was grateful to God that Ptr. Ching agreed to still have a Shabbat service on Friday night. During the short Erev Shabbat service with the elders, we felt God’s loving comfort and presence, as we prayed for Sis. Lyn and JL. I asked God to show me a Scripture to help comfort Sis. Lyn. The Holy Spirit reminded me of Isaiah 57, which we read with Bro. Bhong and his family just the Wednesday before he died. The first verse jumped at me:
Isaiah 57:1 – “Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.” (NLT)
So for me, that settled the question of why Kuya Bhong went home to our Creator early. He was a good and godly man. Hubby and I continued to meditate on Isaiah 57 and 58 during Shabbat, and chose not to worry about the coming church activities where Kuya Bhong will be missed so much (such as the Youth Camp next week, where he was supposed to be a Dorm Parent). Our little boy’s fever was on and off, too, so we had no choice really but to stay in church while the elders went to Nueva Ecija. I called Ate Lyn and she agreed. I thanked God for my parents who helped us build the habit of keeping Shabbat. During our reflections, we asked God to help us prepare for whatever is to come. He once more reminded us of Philippians 2:12-14: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.”
Indeed, may our habits reflect God’s light and love, even more in times of darkness. With God’s help, may we hold each other up in prayer, especially Sis. Lyn and J.L. who need our love and support.