Faith and tragedy
by Jon Joaquin
Ruel, 3-year-old Elma, and Beth holding a photo of Zai
The author, Jon Joaquin, with the family
I’m writing this piece on Valentine’s Day, exactly one year since a little girl named Zai left this world in a tragic accident. Her father Ruel is a very close friend, one of the people who made it possible for me to move to Davao City. Because of that move we have lived far away from each other for almost three decades, but we have remained in contact over the distance.
Ruel married Beth about 14 years ago, but they had to wait 10 years before God blessed them with a daughter, Zai. Soon after, he and Beth were appointed to work as missionaries in Hong Kong to serve the spiritual and other needs of overseas Filipino workers there.
Valentine’s Day 2016 fell on a Sunday, and as usual, they gathered with other Filipinos for a worship service at the 16th floor of the Sunbeam Commercial Building, which acted both as an employment office and as a fellowship area. Ruel was there for a while but left for another speaking engagement. Unknown to Beth, little Zai went out of the fellowship hall to look for her dad. She entered the men’s room and searched for him there. She entered a cubicle, climbed up the toilet, opened a small window, and fell to the fourth floor concrete awning.
At first no one knew what had happened. When Beth realized Zai was missing she assumed she was lost somewhere. When a friend called Ruel to tell him no one could find Zai, he simply said that she was just there somewhere. But a few minutes later he received a call telling him to return to the Sunbeam building.
“I was in denial,” he shared with me the other day (we were both in Manila at the same time). When he arrived he sensed something terrible had happened but he still did not consider the possibility that Zai could have died. It probably didn’t help that friends and church mates wouldn’t tell him anything, and it was only all the crying that made him conclude that Zai was gone. “So, wala na si Zai,” he told the group. It wasn’t a question; it was an acceptance of what had happened.
News of what happened quickly spread. I learned about if from a friend’s Facebook post, and I immediately sent a message to Ruel to ask him what had happened. “She fell,” was his simple reply. Not wanting to burden him any more, I searched for news online and found several newspapers that had reported on it. One line was particularly disconcerting:
“Police arrested a 41-year-old mother on suspicion of negligence after her three-year-old daughter plunged to her death from a commercial building in Yau Ma Tei on Sunday.”
Beth was immediately released, but over the course of a year she and Ruel would both face the police several times for the investigation. It was only on January 18 this year that the police informed them that the investigation of Zai’s case had been closed.
It was a year of difficulty for Ruel and Beth. Ruel said the initial shock had left him numb, but when it wore off he was overcome by grief at the loss of a daughter he and Beth had waiter for so long.
These days Ruel is doing better, and he is able to tell the story without crying. Beth is also trying to cope, although admittedly she is the one who is now grieving more — probably because the investigation had forced her to be strong, and now, without such pressure, she has the time to be more introspective.
In all of this Ruel and Beth believe the Lord has been with them. They acknowledge the reality of what Job said: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Ruel actually wrote a song about Zai, and how God has helped them through the tragedy. Here is the first verse:
Ikaw ang tugon sa dalanging kay tagal
Buhay mo’y Kanyang katapatan
Ika’y pagpapala sa aming lahat
Ngiti at tinig mo’y kasiyahan
You can hear the track at https://soundcloud.com/jon-joaquin/zai
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.