Family reunion turns into wake in Cagayan de Oro
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—The Felicilda children were supposed to have a reunion to celebrate the 88th birthday of their mother, Herminia, in Barangay Balulang on December 17.
Two of Lola Herminia’s younger children, Naomi Felicilda, 46, and Sarah Benegildo, 50, who were living with her, had in fact been busy that Friday evening preparing food for the party. Their other siblings from nearby towns were set to arrive in this city to celebrate the occasion with them.
Little did they know that the gathering would turn out to be a funeral wake for Naomi and Sarah.
The two-bedroom home of the Felicilda sisters was damaged by raging flood waters on the evening of December 16.
Lola Herminia recalled that it was already 11 p.m. when the electricity went out in their village.
“I heard a loud explosion coming from outside so I asked my daughters what it was,” she said.
Before any of them could check, muddy water started to flood their house.
“It was pitch dark when the flood came in so we had to feel our way to one of the bedrooms,” Lola Herminia said.
The water inside the house rose so fast so they immediately looked for some furniture to climb on to. Her daughters hoisted her to a toppled wooden bed but had to make her stand up and hold on to the railings of the window so she would not slip.
Lola Herminia said she thought the ceiling had collapsed because she could feel it on her head.
But Naomi and Sarah could not climb up the bed with their mother because they had to make sure that she would not fall.
“They were trying to hold the bed for me. They just held on to the railings of the window so they would not drown, but the water was already too deep,” she said.
In less than an hour, the water almost reached the ceiling, but Lola Herminia remained calm because she knew her daughters would take care of her.
Her eyes brimming with tears, she said, she believed Naomi was the first to drown.
“Sar, I cannot breathe anymore” were the last words she heard from Naomi.
A few moments later, she heard Sarah say: “Ma, don”t be afraid… I”m here.”
Then everything went silent.
She called for her daughters but she could only hear the sound of the floodwaters splashing against the wall.
It was around 5 a.m. when Lola Herminia was rescued by a group of neighbors passing in front of their house. And as she waded through the muddy water, she felt Sarah’s thigh brush against her.
She saw the bodies of her daughters only after neighbors brought them out of the house.
Naomi and Sarah’s remains were among the first few taken to the Bollozos Memorial Homes.
Another daughter, Letty, who was living with them, survived the flood only because she was not able to come home that evening due to the downpour.
Letty, however, does not feel lucky to be alive.
“How can I feel lucky when two of my sisters died?” she said.
It has been a week since Naomi and Sarah lost their lives, but the Felicildas could not set a date for their burial because they are still waiting for another family member, Fe Chisley, who is still stranded in New York. She has been residing in Maryland, USA for the past 12 years and is waiting for a flight to the Philippines as a chance passenger.
According to Letty, she and her siblings had a close-knit relationship. But it was always Fe, Naomi and Sarah who were extremely close. They often spoke on the phone to catch up on each other”s lives. In fact, it was Fe who was financially supporting her mother and sisters.
Joe Felicilda, an older brother, recalls that Naomi and Sarah were always excited when he dropped by to visit them in their Balulang home.
“Though we live far from each other, we were very close,” he said.
Looking at the coffins of his sisters, he said, “They were both very loving aunts to my children.”
Naomi, Sarah and Letty were the ones living with their mother since all three women were single. Sarah had been a widow for the past two years and shuttled back and forth between Cagayan de Oro and Santiago, Agusan del Norte, where she regularly visited her husband’s grave.
Lola Herminia said her daughters would take turns getting up in the middle of the night whenever she had to use the bathroom. “They never allowed me to go alone. They were that caring toward me,” she said.
The matriarch of the Felicilda family has 12 children, two of whom passed away several years ago. With the loss of Naomi and Sarah, she now only has eight surviving children.
The Felicilda family will be reunited once more. This time, to bury Naomi and Sarah.