Monday, February 15, 2016

(In memory of Ivan Rolfe A. Banaag, 2000-2013)

It took me three years to post the story of  Ivan's death here on my blog. Perhaps, it's more of me either not yet moving on with how Ivan died, or with my general busyness with teacher things. But I have to admit that until now, his story - and memory - remains in the hearts of those who believed in him, his family, friends and colleagues.

I personally believe that his story does not end with his death. It continues on, as long as people are continued to be inspired by his story. Thus, I re-post here my personal account on how Ivan died three years ago, on February 18, 2013. It served as a pivoting point in my life, and in the lives of many others. The story of my encounter would give a glimpse on it. Likewise, I added some information in italics, so that the story could be as whole and updated as possible.

This picture is the last I took of Ivan while he was still alive: this is the story of his hand holding mine on the final battle he faced.

The tight grip he gave would always remind me of the boy who never gave up.
That hold would be cherished all the days of my life.
His hands serve as a reminder for me to trust in God's loving will for me.
THE HANDS (The Last Days of Ivan)
An anecdote on Ivan's final hours, from the AM Moderator, Bro. Weldann Lester Panganiban
(Reposted from the AM Online Necrological Service - February 22, 2013.)

Since we began the advocacy of prayers for Ivan's recovery, a lot of people are asking us regarding his sickness. The same question came in when we made the official announcement of his death last Monday.

We tried our best to keep it hidden, with respect to Ivan and the Banaag Family, but eventually some individuals shared in the comments the reason of his demise. With this, I prayerfully decided to make a little account of Ivan's parting hours, particularly when I visited him the night before his death.

Ivan's Grade 6 Graduation Picture.
Had he been alive, he will be in Grade 9
this school year.
It was the New Year (January 01, 2013), as the family prepared to do their New Year custom of visiting the Minor Basilica of the Nazarene in Quiapo, he complained that he could not walk anymore. (I remember that as early as December 2012, he complained a certain pain at his back.) The next day, he was rushed to the Hospital, where they discovered a mass in his spine. It was immediately removed, and everyone thought that's the end of it.

But it is just the beginning.

January 19, 2013, when the doctors revealed Ivan's true situation: he incurred stage 4 Cancer of the Bone Marrow (Burkitt's Lymphoma, to be exact.). It was truly a shocking point for everyone, especially for his parents. Being a boy with lots of dreams, this would mean something very challenging for him.

He underwent chemotherapy, as everyone was still hoping for a miracle. He entertained visitors of different ages and places. He met friends, classmates, relatives. Everyone saw how brave Ivan was especially that he is undergoing the greatest fight of his life.

(He recounted to me on my first visit that he had four great fights in his recent life: One was in Tanza during the Flores de Mayo, another while he was defending Maribeth from the people who were not really pleased with its looks, the third was at a certain event at Saint James. THIS, according to him, WAS THE LAST.)

On the eve of his death, February 17, 2013, I felt the urge to visit Ivan, so I went from Holy Family Parish (actually, I came from UP Diliman, after serving in Mass) to the Hospital. There, I saw a very different Ivan, very far from the Ivan I got to know of in the past. I can still talk to him so I related to him (for one last time) our experience in the bus.

I can see the pain in his whole being; words could never describe the suffering Ivan underwent. I tried to touch him, but I don't know where. Right then, I noticed his left hand moving, like he wanted to hold to something. I did not hesitate, I gave my right hand for him to hold.

He held my hand tightly for a few minutes. I was confused, speechless. I felt so blank at that sight. I just let him touch my hand. It was like he was telling something to me but I can't determine what it is.

I took a deep breath and looked at the heavens. I know that God's will is at work at that moment. I said a little prayer, only for me to keep. I know that at one point, a miracle could still happen, but at the end of the day, His will would still be done.

The next day, February 18, 2013, he passed away. Mico (Pacheco, AM's Head Admin) relayed the news to me. (The doctors tried to revive him, but Tito Bok, seeing his son in great pain, decided not to push through with it.) The first thing that came to my mind was the moment that he was holding my hand, tightly, never letting me go. I broke in tears at physically losing a close buddy, a true friend who taught me in one way or another how to trust. I don't know how to continue with my work nor to keep myself well that night.

I was looking for consolation, for a reason behind everything. I was searching for the answer to my questions: What's with that tight grip? What does he want to say to me? Sino ba ako sa batang ito?

As I reflect on the events (with his help, I believe), I realized that I was not just an ordinary buddy to Ivan. I came into a conclusion: TRUST. Everything we had undergone, the experiences we had shared together, those taught us to stay strone despite the challenges. In a way, they taught us to stay strong against all odds and to trust the Ever-loving God in all that we do.

In pain, in suffering, Ivan saw a ray of hope, a reason to trust amid the trials. This was the same thing he taught me, the same thing I share with everyone who loved him and became a part of his life in one way or another.

In times of challenges, we always have one and ONE reason to hold on: God is there for us. He gives us people to share our ups and downs with, in good times and bad. We are invited now and always to cherish every moment, to extend our hand and give our trust to each other.

Is there a reason to mourn? Perhaps, because Ivan lived a very short life at twelve. But for me, I don't think there should be any more reason to be in sorrow after his cremation. With the smoke rises the boy who overcame the trials of his life for us to be taught how to trust God above all and in all.

And the tight grip he gave would always remind me of the boy who never gave up. That hold would be cherished all the days of my life. His hands serve as a reminder for me to trust in God's loving will for me.

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