Until We Meet Again, Riza-san!

We make so many great memories with our friends that we sometimes find it hard to choose the fondest one but we do have favorite stories we recall from time to time — heartbreaks that make us laugh, and good times that make us cry.

These are our good times.

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On September 23rd, we lost a dear friend to cancer. It was one of life’s worst surprises. The past few months had been exhausting but I still think things happened way too fast. I still believe she deserved to live longer.

Riza was one of the strongest people I know. I was one of those who heard about bits of her life story growing up and I always admired how she weathered storms that came her way. I loved listening to her stories because they have valuable lessons tucked in them. I loved talking to her because she never failed to talk some sense into me. She was always willing to listen and give sound advice. She was very thoughtful and supportive. I could probably list a lot of adjectives but even the English dictionary doesn’t have enough words to describe her.

Riza taught me a lot of things about Japan (her favorite) but I also particularly loved our conversations about astrology. She made me believe in signs. She made me realize a lot of things. She questioned my desires (in a good way). She taught me that there’s always something left to love.

I once told her the story on how a rat destroyed my kokeshi-adorned slippers (my favorite pair!) The next day, she gave me a new pair. I was surprised. But that’s just how she was. She knew how to make people feel better even her own simple ways.

She used to call me “baby girl.”

‘Wag ka na sad baby girl,” she’d say, and then she’d proceed on doing one of my favorite things: massage. I loved the way she’d calm me by massaging my head. On particularly stressful days, she’d even try to lessen the tension by hugging me from the back. She was always the sweet one.

She loved massages, too. While still on her hospital bed, she’d ask us to massage her arms and legs. I could still hear her voice asking for that massage to help ease her pain and discomfort.

One night, I even asked her to massage me… again. She didn’t respond. She wasn’t so much into responding at that point but all I wanted was to see her smile and give in to my request. Because she always give in to that request. Always.

Before Riza, I never lost someone particularly close due to cancer so her battle became a real eye-opener for me, and a painful eye-opener at that.

A group of friends spent most of the days in the hospital, extending all kinds of support as she went through that battle. Because of that, we’ve grown closer to John — Riza’s partner — and John’s family. We were there since the day of her surgery, when she was moved to the intensive care unit, when she was moved to a regular room. We all tried to be there at least every weeknight. We wanted to be there for her, to make her feel that we were with her in that battle.

The first time I talked to her after the surgery, she asked me to visit her every day. Her situation, at that time, reminded me so much of my grandmother who passed away less than a year ago. But I knew then that Riza wasn’t bound to have the same fate. She was young, and she was a fighter. She was, after all, one of the bravest and strongest persons I know.

I was a believer and I believed in her even in her most trying times. She was trying so hard to get better. She’d cry out of frustration some days, but she’d show us she was determined to get well.

During one of my visits, she told me about the big possibility that she has cancer. I tried to hold my tears. .

On that particular day, she asked me to hold her close.

“Claire, please hug me,” she said.

“Let’s stay like this for a while.”

And I hugged her tight, held her hand, listened as she shared her fears. But being the optimistic that she was, she also told me about her plans to get whatever treatment she needed to make her better.

On that day, she asked me to pray for her and she thanked me one so many times.

I told her I love her and that we would always be there for her.

Two months in the hospital felt longer than the actual. 

There were good days, when she looked better than usual; but there were also bad days when she looked so frail. Those moments broke my heart and made me cry so many times. I told her story to my friends, to my family. I found comfort in letting people know that she was fighting. I found comfort knowing that they were also praying for her recovery. I was even beyond grateful to those who helped her in so many ways even they don’t personally know her. Because someone as good as Riza deserve all that and more. 

But halfway through her battle, my faith was shaken. She wasn’t getting any better. All I talk about was her. She occupied my heart and mind. I kept on telling her story. Some of my friends and my mom were keeping tabs on her,  regularly asking me how she was doing.

Some people also tried to tell me and my friends that it would be very hard for her after learning the details of her illness and the way her body reacted to it. 

Telling her to keep fighting was the easiest part. It was pretty easy to ask her to hold on, to let her know that we always had her back and that we’d be with her in this battle.

But the hardest part was seeing her in that state. She was always the happy one. She was the one with so many good stories. It was just so heartbreaking to her in so much pain and discomfort.

There were days I could barely contain the tears and I wonder why all these have to happen? Why God let a great person suffer that much?

A few days into her death, I was still hopeful. I wanted her to wake up, to open her eyes. I wanted to see her smile, to hear her voice. Hell, I even wanted hear her scream and shout and listen to her garbled words if only to make us feel that we still have her here, and she was fighting, no matter how hard it was. 

When I received a message that day, I couldn’t stop crying. I was in a hurry to leave work. I always feared that I’d receive a call one day, letting me know that she’d passed. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there when it happens.

So there I was, together with some friends, John and his family, and her colleagues. After all, we were her family. She was the older sister most of us never had.

The last moments were particularly heartbreaking. We whispered words we’re not sure she could hear. We held her one last time. I hope she felt our love. Staying with her through that battle was also our way of showing her how much we appreciate the love, the affection, the friendship — and all those things she shared with us.

She was a superhuman and she fought well.

Her entire battle taught me a lot of lessons in life. And I’m sure our friends also realized a thing or two. Iba ka, Ate Riza. Even in your hardest battle, pinabaunan mo pa rin kami ng lessons.

It still feels unreal to me sometimes and I know it’s particularly hard for John and her other close friends. There are days, like today, when I still ask God why it has to happen. But there’s also a certain kind of relief knowing that she’s no longer in pain. 

Ate Riza, you put up a brave fight for yourself and I’m sure you also did it for the people you left behind. 

I miss you and when I think about you, I couldn’t help but cry. I’d probably miss you for a long time. I want to see you again. I want you to massage my head the way you used to do. I want you to listen to my stories about BWorld, and zodiac signs. I want you to call me “baby girl” one last time. 

I love you Ate Riza. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I admired you from the beginning, and I admired you until the very end. 

Rest well, my friend. Our memories will be forever etched in my heart.  I wish we never have to say good bye, but you’re already on your next adventure. Show them what you’ve got!

Domo Arigatou Riza-san. Aishiteru!

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