Justin B. Talaban, 17 years old, passed away last Wednesday (March 5) after a two-year fight against leukemia. In the last three weeks or so, Justin’s downward spiral into the abyss had become unstoppable.
For about a week, he had been under hospice care. And at 6 a.m. Wednesday (which was Ash Wednesday), he finally kicked the bucket.
The search for a donor of bone marrow that matched that of Justin was conducted for two years but the effort proved futile.
His parents – professional photographer Richard Talaban and registered nurse Cely Talaban – suffered untold agony over their helplessness to save Justin.
A few days before his death, Justin seemed aware of his tragic fate and ready to meet his Creator. One night, he bid farewell to his mother.
In her Facebook account, Cely recounted: “Justin patted my shoulder at 1 a.m. and told me, ‘Goodbye!’ So I asked him, ‘Are you going now (to Heaven)?’ ‘Not right now,’ he answered. Then he asked ‘what time Uncle Renzie (Richard’s brother) is coming?’ I answered, ‘this morning.’ ‘This morning? Like right now?’ he asked. Realizing it is already morning, I said ‘yes, but I’m not sure what is the exact time.’ ‘Okay,’ he said as he gasped for breath. (He had a hard time breathing) despite the oxygen tube he is on. ‘I could wait for him, I’ll try but if I can’t just tell him that I love him.’ It’s now almost 3 p.m., and he is still hanging on. His Uncle Renzie will be touching down (at the airport) at 4:24 p.m. from California. Even in death my son is so resilient.”
Richard said that when Justin met his Uncle Renzie later that day, he had somehow regained strength and asked for food. “We gave him smoothie and ice cream,” Richard said.
Many friends of the family visited Justin in the hospital and in their home in St. Claire Shores to lend moral support for the Talabans as they awaited the inevitable. Many more offered prayers for Justin.
I first met Justin in 2010. He was then 13 years old. He was a vivacious, energetic kid, helping his father setting up photography equipment and taking pictures at venues of Filipino-American events. That his health had deteriorated so fast since he was diagnosed to have leukemia rankles the mind.
For the love of Justin, his family had done its level best in its search for bone marrow that fit that of his, but the efforts ended in disappointment after disappointment.
For a time, the bone morrow of his six-year-old sister, Isabelle, was transplanted in Justin’s bone, and this halted somehow the progress of the disease. Later, however, Isabelle’s cells proved too weak to fight Justin’s destructive cells as she is still very young, and this made the treatment ineffective.
When Justin was under hospice care, the family lost all hope of saving him from death. But Richard refused to lose hope, saying miracles do happen, and God’s act may still pull Justin from the claws of death. He had requested his friends to storm Heaven with their prayers.
We express our deepest sympathy to Richard and Cely. The four-day period before Justin’s death seemed like an eternity to them as it was a particularly agonizing time for them,
The anticipation of something morbid to happen in the next few days imposed a heavy emotional and physical burden on Richard and Cely as well as his grandmother and two sisters. The fear of how things would turn out the next day was the reason they looked haggard, tired and harassed. In those days, how we wished we could somehow lighten the family’s burden.
But in God they entrusted their fate. Accepting one’s fate somehow lessened the impact of dreadful things that were certain to happen.
As he was suffering unbearable pain, Justin might have welcomed death as a much awaited relief for death ends all pain.
Richard and Cely may take consolation from the prayer of Saint Francis of Asisi which partly states, “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Farewell, Justin, farewell! May God give you eternal rest in His kingdom.