Sundowning – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Mark 1:29-39, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was in graduate school, I said weekly masses in a nursing facility of the Daughters of Mary. One sister there was Sr Teresa, a registered nurse and a Pinay. It was from her that I first heard the term, “sundowning.” In one of my last days there before I finally flew home for good, I said to her: “Itong buhay religious natin, Teresa. I wish it were just about arrivals and not departures.” I had fallen in love with the residents there, it was going to be painful to let go. Then I told Teresa that lately, it was towards evenings when I felt most wistful, thinking about leaving all my friends behind. When I said that, she looked at me and smiled, then said: “Ayy! Nagsa-sundowning ka, Arnel!” And she laughed.

Sundowning, Teresa explained, was typical of the elderly suffering from dementia. At sunset, some patients show increased confusion, anxiety and restlessness. Many possible causes: they’re exhausted at day’s end; they get confused when day-shift nurses disappear and a different set of faces comes for night-shift; their daytime medications wear off. But most heart-breaking for me was that some lolos and lolas believed they ought to be back home to check on their children for the night. “Kaya may mga bigla na lang mag-eempake,” Teresa said. Some go to the lobby and sit by the entrance to wait for their sundo. Others just wander off to look for the bus stop. Sundowning. Interesting, isn’t it? Of course, Teresa didn’t think I had dementia. But like her, I now believe that it doesn’t take to be a lolo or lola with dementia to experience some sort of sundowning, too; something analogous to sundowning.

When the lockdown was lifted, many of our stay-in security guards and construction workers could then go home. I can mentally name at least five who said that if they had a choice, they’d rather stay in campus with their buddies, instead of going home for the night. “Sa bahay kasi, Father,” one explained, “puro problema ang tumatambad sa akin pag-uwi ko.” A dear manang said, “Hirap na nga ako sa sarili kong pamilya, Father, tapos pag-uwi ko, ako pa ang magpapalamon sa mga bayaw kong saksakan ng tamad.” “Minsan, Father, kinakabahan ako pag dumidilim na. Uwian na naman,” a security guard said. “Pag-higa ko sa gabi, Father, kahit anong pagod ng katawan ko sa construction, hindi ako makatulog agad. Isip ko lagi kung paano ko itatawid ang buhay namin sa hirap,” a manong said. I felt him, you know. There was a point in my life when I also dreaded retiring for the night. I knew that as soon as I switched off my lamp, I’d have to brave the shadows, too: like the face of someone who hurt my reputation, or the feeling of having been misrepresented then judged; the sadness of being singled out, held to a different standard, sidelined—shadows that would keep me up for longer than they were really worth my worry. You know what I’m saying, sisters and brothers? That’s why I think sundowning isn’t just for lolos and lolas with dementia. There’s something about dusk that triggers our interior dusks. In our sundowning, we’ve all yearned for a better day, a safer place, and kinder people.

Sisters and brothers, picture today’s Gospel, for it’s a very heartwarming scene: the ill and the possessed, akay-akay by their loved ones, papunta lahat kay Hesussa dapit-hapon. The desert was cooler at sundown, that’s for sure; and their loved ones were freer to assist them after a day’s work. Best of all, no need to turn their faces away from the glare, not so much of the sun, but the glare of hierarchs who regarded them impure, immoral, and God-cursed. For a change, the darkening desert had promise: someone who could finally soothe away their illnesses and banish their demons. With desperate hope, never again would they fear a sleepless night. But even better: never again would their loved ones dread coming home to them at every sundown. There must’ve been many occasions like that, when Jesus stayed up all night with all of them, healing and comforting them, making tomorrow a really new day.

Have you ever seen your aging parents sundown, sisters and brothers? How about you, have you ever sundowned? What were you yearning for, or whom? What did you fear for your loved ones? Was there ever a time when you dreaded coming home at the end of the day because you couldn’t bear seeing your family suffer, or because you couldn’t bear seeing them see you suffer? If only we were back in Nazareth. I’m sure we’d be in that heartwarming procession of the ill, the possessed, the world-weary, towards where Jesus of Nazareth was, desperate for even just a sliver of dawn. And our Lord would stay up all night if he had to; he’d make sure we’d never dread going home again when darkness set it. He’d make sure we were no longer anxious and scared.

Fr Nono Alfonso of Jesuit Communications told me that the number of views for Sunday online masses go up to as much as 67K views. So, I’m grabbing this opportunity for a shout-out, especially to you, dear sisters and brothers. If your company hires agencies and construction outfits for your security guards, janitors, or laborers, I respectfully, politely suggest that you chat with some of them once in a while, as fellow Christians, as fellow human beings. You might discover that many of them are paid less than the already pitiful 537 pesos that our feckless laws stipulate. Think of it: if you and I were to live on 537 pesos a day, or less, we wouldn’t just be sundowning. We’d be in sheer darkness. If I may beg you, sisters and brothers: please find out if your workers really get what they should from the agencies that you pay to pay them. Otherwise, please have it in your heart to do something about it as a Christian, in whatever way, large or small. Your gesture will be that of Christ at dusk with the ill and the possessed. You’ll be helping make their sundowning just a bit more bearable, and their much-needed sleep a little less elusive. God bless you.

*image from the Internet

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