By Arlene Abuel-Ariston (philstar.com) Updated March 09, 2010 09:43 AM
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arlene Abuel-Ariston, 53, is a retired bank employee.
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Twenty years. A heartbeat. A lifetime.
And the years in between were a bit hazy, but full of memories that a whole family would treasure, relish and think about. It was in March 1987 that my husband ventured out of the country to work as an interior designer/estimator in an architectural firm in Saihat, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Back then, they were known as OCW (overseas contract workers) not as OFW as they are called nowadays.
We were about seven years into the marriage, with two kids, a girl of five and a boy of three. You might say, they were a bit too young to be left behind without the guidance of a father, and they were still too young too to understand why he has to go and seek greener pastures. Days before that — months actually — we were both deliberating if he would accept the job offer or not. We both had good jobs and can afford to hire two helpers to take care of our children without one of us leaving for a job abroad. But thinking of the future of our children prompted us to make that sudden leap and allowed us to rationalize that it was the best way we could save and plan. Didn’t we call it, the Kingdom of Dreams?
The first two years were the hardest. We survived on weekly letters and occasional overseas calls. Our two kids learned to use a cassette tape recorder so we could record what they had to say. It was more of the “I love you, Papa.” “we miss you Papa” or “ingat po Papa” and several doodles and drawings inserted in bulky letters. They were years of learning how to cope with and be strong in times of crisis, and how to be more loving to our two kids — with me playing the role of both father and mother aside of course from the pressure of a nine-to-five job. Faced with a situation like this, which I am sure most Filipinos with family members abroad experienced too, I was proud that we survived the more than twenty years of separation with just only two or three months of my husband’s vacations in between contracts, which was every eighteen months.
There were times when you feel like giving up. There were times when I end up crying in a corner, feeling helpless with a situation that does not have to be there. But you have to face the situation alone because your partner was 4,600 miles afar. Yet the dreams egg you on to endure and have enough faith in each other.
There were times when just hearing each other’s voice was enough to last for a few months, for a year at most. Back then, cell phones were unheard of, and the Internet was just starting to pick up. Lucky are those who now have access to modern communications to get through a life of being incomplete as a family.
Twenty years. A lot of things happened in those twenty long years of being apart. But I am proud to say that both our two kids grew up to be responsible individuals. They were both consistent honor students. My daughter graduated Magna Cum Laude, AB Communication Arts from UST in 2003, and she is now working as an Assistant Manager in the oldest bank in our country. My son has a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from the same university. I accepted an optional retirement offer ten years ago and spent my time watching the kids grow up.
Finally, my husband went home for good on December 17, 2008. It was a major decision for all of us. Finally, we are now complete as a family. June of last year, however, I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer and underwent surgery on July 18, 2009 at the Chinese General Hospital under the care of Dr. Samuel Ang. I have completed six cycles of chemotherapy at the Benavidez Cancer Institute in UST last December.
And all those times that I was having my treatment, I felt God’s hands. It would have been more difficult for us to cope if my husband was not around. He was my caregiver, my driver, my companion at the hospital while I was having my treatment. God is so good to allow us to share the pain of undergoing these lifetime changes. God is so good to allow us to be together again after all these years of being apart from each other. God is so good to make us realize that one’s family after all is surely a safe anchor for every trials and tribulations in our lives.