Basey, Western Samar –
“For nights, I could not sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I could see my father clutching his chest, falling into the waters as it churned and swallowed him up.”
Rodelia Gaddi, 44, retells that fateful November day with a tremulous voice and tears, then beams a beautiful smile. “I learned a lot from the experience of Yolanda, and I am so blessed. I am convinced that I still have a mission. Even if there are problems now, I just smile. I have surrendered my life to God. Bahala na siya sa akin.”
Rodelia is the sixth of nine children. From childhood she has been sickly and her parents doted on her. Her brothers and sisters eventually married and had their own families. She took care of her sickly and aging parents, never married, and was happy managing a kind of general merchandise store at home. Her siblings would come to visit their parents and would assist her in whatever she needed.
On November 8, 2013, she started to bring some of their things to the second floor, in case of a flood. Her mother had died in January that year, and was living only with her father. They were advised about the oncoming typhoon but thought it was like the previous ones. There was no explanation from the authorities or the media what a typhoon surge is.
She told her father to go up after her and was busy putting the things in order on the second floor that morning when suddenly she heard her father call her and shout: “Water!”
She went to her father but the water has entered the house. She tried to get to him, saw him clutch his chest and fell into the water out of her reach. Then the water churned. She tried to go up again, but their house has become a sea. She let herself out of the second floor window and swam, clutching on an electric cable so as not to be carried away by the strong current. She eventually found shelter in a neighbor’s house on higher ground.
The waters subsided. She was safe. But her father was gone. Nothing was left of their ancestral house except the floor. Even the electric posts and cables she clung to have been washed away. The only thing she had were the pyjamas she was wearing. Still grieving from the loss of her mother, she now had to endure this nightmare. It was just too much.
Her older brother brought her to his home where she stayed until she could find her feet. After four days, they dug her father’s body under the rubble, 500 meters from the house. Thanks to Tyson, his pet dog, who kept on howling as it circled the area where his body was.
Her brother rebuilt the house with the help of her other siblings and relatives. Slowly it is becoming a home. She said everything she has is a gift from her family, relatives and friends. She now lives alone with Tyson, and has a small sari-sari store that keeps her busy. She saved the money she received from friends and family and used it as capital for her store.
Rodelia said the experience deepened her faith in God. She took care of her parents all these years, and now she thinks this is God’s gift to her – that he takes care of her through her brothers and sisters, her neighbors, relatives and friends. They would come just to check on her. Sometimes they bring her meals or invite her to dine with them, or they come simply to be with her.
She also sees material things as transitory – in a blink of an eye, it can disappear. “My father’s entire savings were gone, swallowed up by the sea. Not even a photograph of the house was left.”
“What remains is pakikipagkapwa – magandang pakikisama.” These words can be translated as: being one with others, solidarity, fellowship, establishing good relationships, camaraderie, neighborliness, etc. “I still weep from time to time but I was able to move on because I know I am not alone,” Rodelia said with a smile. This encourages her to face each day, and extend a helping hand to others who are also in need.
In Rodelia’s life mercy and compassion has come full circle. And in the midst of the tragedy of Yolanda, she has found a piece of heaven. For as Pope Francis said: “Mercy towards all is the key to heaven.” Through the mercy and love of God, her nightmare has turned into a blessing.