As a child, I often thought about death. Not as a philosopher would, trying to make sense of life and living, but as a 12-year-old girl trying to make herself fall asleep. I thought about death then whenever I found myself in bouts of what I considered to be insomnia, and which hit me day after day. I would lay in bed, staring at our tattered ceiling while I heard the steady breathing of my parents with whom I shared the room – both soundly asleep after a day’s exhausting work. 

At first, I would count up to a hundred or two to try and fall asleep. If that did not work, I tried to recite this funny poem about the English language I had learned from school, which started with: “We’ll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes; but the plural of ox should be oxen, not oxes. I would recite it again and again until I grew tired of it, but I would often not be tired enough to finally have a shuteye. 

When the clock struck three or four o’clock, I would shift to a darker but effective way of falling asleep: I would think about death.  

The deaths I used to think about were of imagined strangers. I would make up persons in my head and create a story for them including a family they would leave, a set of friends who would grieve, the manner of death these imaginary people would go through, and the kind of void they would leave behind when they died. These people remained faceless. What was almost tangible for me was the hurt, the grief, and the hot streaming tears that would flow in the wake of these made-up stories. It was only after I had cried that I would finally be lulled to sleep, just before my parents would wake up to start another day. 

 It has been so long since I last conjured death stories just to fall asleep. 

 The onslaught of the covid-19 health crisis, however, brought me back to sleepless nights staring into the void. This time, I no longer need to imagine people and their stories. This time, although many remain strangers to me, they have names, faces, real stories, and actual families left in grief. 

 Maria Theresa Cruz, mother of three, died in July 2020 before receiving her hazard pay. She was intubated three days after going through a swab test which results were released three days after her death. When her children begged her to stay home, “Tess” gently reminded her family that working was her sworn duty. After her death, when her family went to collect their mother’s hazard pay – which could have been used as a safety blanket for their expenses – they found out that their mother died with only P60 per day for being exposed to danger at work. They received nothing near the fair amount that they had been promised, that their mother had been promised. 

I kept thinking about Tess’s children, grieving and contemplating their sudden loss, all the while having to make sense of what little premium was given for their mother’s sacrifices.

Tess and others like her – nurses, doctors, and other medical frontliners who served the Filipino people have died in the line of duty. Their deaths are not just results of biology or of their kind of work but also consequences of the inhumanity of the Philippine government toward our health workers.

Five months into the community quarantine, on August 10th of 2020, news broke of Ka Randy Echanis’ death. Initial reports stated that he died from a gunshot wound to his head, but investigation showed no gunshot wound – Ka Randy Echanis was tortured and murdered. 

After reading news reports detailing his torture, I found myself lying in bed at night, replaying the scenario in my head: I kept picturing a frail, old man surrounded by men probably half his age but twice as strong, alternately stabbing and hitting Ka Randy’s head while he lay too weak and too hurt to fight back or defend himself. Their final act: a stab at him that was strong enough to puncture his aorta, plow through his esophagus, and fatally nick a portion of his heart.

Ka Randy is just one of many who died merely for exercising the rights to free speech and assembly. There are leaders and organizers out there who are continually being harassed, shot to death, tortured, or forcibly disappeared by a government operating on iron fists, of men who hide behind their positions of power and their armed soldiers as they silence dissent. 

Then there is this story of a father being transported in and out of the metropolis in his family’s hopes of getting him admitted to an intensive care unit. He had collapsed after suffering mild symptoms of covid-19. After getting waitlisted, he died on a stretcher just outside the hospital which could have saved his life had it not been so packed.

A senior citizen lost his life while waiting to get free food from a community pantry, having lined up with hundreds of others. They risked their health in the hope of bringing home to their families supplies which would hopefully last for a day or two. What should have sustained him became the occasion for his demise.

Reports of deaths amid the pandemic show us numbers, a graph, or maybe red dots on a map. But these deaths are not merely statistics. They are real people with dreams cut short. They are real people with families and friends left behind to deal with their senseless, sudden departure.  

Covid-19 brought me back to sleepless nights staring into the void and thinking about death. But this time the people who die are real, and they share one story: of lives lost to the incompetence of this government.  

Thoughts of death used to be my lullaby. Now, they keep me up at night.