I just really need to take this off my chest.

When the lockdown started, like many of you, my schedule was disturbed, plans altered, projects thwarted.

Then it felt like it was a providential vacation; I needed one, I told myself. Plus, I can use the solitude to pray, read, write, reflect.

When work-at-home became the fad, I understood why many call center workers get sick with mysterious illnesses. Online working can be very stressful since you cannot talk to people, call meetings, and discuss things immediately and with the personal touch you are accustomed to. Anyway, the scheme lightened up after a few weeks…

You hear and read of the politics of the lockdown everyday – from the news, from the internet, from the social media. There are things laudable, many others irksome, at the way they imposed, implemented and sustained the effort.

You also get a dose of daily tally of the infected, the tested, the PUIs, the PUMs, the frontliners, and the casualty. It’s worldwide, not just local. Just protect yourself and in four weeks, you are out of this mess.

Then your world unexpectedly turns around. From a spectator, you become an involved advocate for someone allegedly down with the virus. My first cousin was rushed to the hospital due to breathing difficulties after some on-and-off fever.

That first night in the hospital, my cousin was animatedly chatting with another cousin and laughing off their troubles through video chat. The second day, he was hard of breathing and had to be given double dose of oxygen supply. In a matter of days, doctors found him with progressing pneumonia and intubated him to aid his lungs.

Imagine the fear and shock in the family. My cousin is 41 years old, doting husband, dutiful father, ever the good and jolly son, cousin, friend, and co-worker. Where did he get this? How come he was infected? If confirmed, what are his chances?

The daily reports on growing casualty made things worse. His parents went sleepless with worry, crying to the heavens for a miracle. The wife summoned every inch of courage to inspire him and lessen his fear. Relatives from both sides of his family called each other, discussed, prayed, and hoped for the best.

I am the eldest among cousins and I am their spiritual support, too. Normally I rush to the side of any family member who needs to be ministered to, with prayers, with encouragement, with a listening ear. Our relatives do the same. But now, how can we console our cousin when no one can leave the house? And if ever, will we be able to approach him in the hospital when he needs to be quarantined?

It was the first time in a long time that I wept as I prayed during my adoration; that I bathe my rosary beads in tears asking the Lord to overturn any untoward event. At Mass, I found myself more fervent, very sedulous in concentrating on the prayers knowing that I offer these for his healing and recovery. I had sleepless nights just thinking of my cousin or was I awake because he was thinking of me and asking me, his kuya Father, to pray for him?

Covid was no longer just a news item. The lockdown was no longer just a government imposition. If found positive (because the results came too delayed), covid is my cousin and lockdown is his tortuous Calvary in this very unique Lenten season.

Getting the hint from a cousin, I formed a chat group. The members increased almost immediately. I was glad all my cousins felt involved and concerned. It was good to hear from cousins and their spouses after what, two Christmases ago, on our last reunion? There were cousins too, from abroad, who suddenly felt so close to us again.

We exchanged pleasantries. We asked questions. We shared information. We expressed alarm ad concern, even emotions. Most important of all, we asked for prayers for our cousin. Covid has brought us together like when we were little kids growing up in the province. Soon a page on Facebook was started to share more thoughts, prayers, old pictures and other memories. The family came together, as expected, in the time of great crisis.

Meanwhile our cousin’s condition was a dilemma to the doctors. Because the test results had not arrived after days in the hospital, they did not know how to treat him. They had to be sure in order to administer the appropriate medicine. Besides, he had been days in the ER since the ICU was full and he was on the waiting list.

When his wife showed us photos or videos of him in heavy sedation and with tubes on his body, it broke our hearts. We know his shy smile, his generous laughter, his animated stories and conversations. We are not used to seeing him in hospital bed with all these medical gadgets attached to his body. It was simply crushing to see his pain and imagine it, to feel sadness for him.

My cousin’s wife is our inspiration. She has courage, commitment, pure love. For seven days she stayed by his side at the ER and refused to go home until her husband had a slot in the ICU. She is a real picture of fidelity, making her even more beautiful and tender in our eyes. Our tito and tita too, the parents, and my cousin’s two other siblings are very brave in confronting this challenging will of God.

One morning, my cousin’s wife shared a new video clip. This time, my cousin was half-awake from sedation. When urged to make the Sign of the Cross, he obliged. When asked to greet his family and friends praying for him, he waved to the camera. What joy it brought all of us. The promise of recovery buoyed our spirits.

That proved to be a short, deceptive gesture. Within a few hours, our cousin was back in stupor again, needing more oxygen, his blood pressure unimaginably up, his heart beat rapid. And he had tremulous movement of the head.  Our joy that morning turned to grief and alarm once again. We realized it is not easy to trust brief moments of respite from his suffering. We need to pray for him more intensely, if we want more cheerful videos of him. Our goal is not in fact, to have those videos but to have him back home healthy and safe with his family.

On the evening of his seventh day in the hospital, my cousin finally had his turn to get into the ICU. We were relieved that finally, the proper environment and more focused attention will be given him there. Of course, we will have no quick updates from his wife, since my cousin is allowed no visitor. All the updates will come through information doctors wish to share to his wife.

As of now, Palm Sunday of 2020, my cousin’s situation has not dramatically improved. The rising blood pressure and rapid heart beat necessitates the attention of a cardiologist. A bacteria was found in the blood and he needs dialysis three times a week to purify his system. We do not know if he still has fevers, tremors, or pneumonia. Plus, we are not doctors to predict any outcome.

As cousins in our chat group, we have stepped up our efforts. Aside from the regular greetings, we decided to connect by group call daily to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Rosary in the morning and in the evening. While we cannot come together in the hospital chapel to do this, it is great to see faces of real people and hear familiar, caring voices utter prayers of supplication, praise, intercession, and hope for a person we love.

I thought this pandemic episode will just be a rare opportunity for me to experience a historical worldwide phenomenon. I thought I will merely pray generically for the sick, the frontliners and those who perish. I thought all will just be the same after this event passes us by.

The Lord decided otherwise. Covid suddenly became a personal journey into loving, caring and praying for a concrete and intimate family member. It evolved into the face of a real person, a true experience, a tangible challenge.

My family and I are still praying for my cousin. And we believe in miracles. Just like Our Lord Jesus, who had to go through the Cross, our cousin is now carrying his burden of suffering. But this week ends in glory, in rejoicing, in light. The Resurrected Lord will heal and restore him, as he will do to so many others, if only people continue to love them and support them through their prayers.

Even if you do not know anyone personally afflicted with the disease, please take the time this Holy Week to pray for our wounded world. Please muster more generosity from your heart to reach out and care. Please be more kind, forgiving, understanding and compassionate to those around you. Life has many surprises and our world can change in an instant.

We celebrate Holy Week at home this year because Jesus visits us there to bless us, not through our friends, cliques, classmates or co-workers, but through our families, who provide us with the warmest support in times of need. God bless you all! Towards a Happy Easter…!!!