She enters the room sporting a contagious smile as she pushes a wheelchair with an immobile man sitting on it. She is his caregiver. She’s welcomed and responded positively by the people in the room all the time. She must be somebody, I whisper to myself.
True enough, this couple are known personalities in the Filipino community, the late activist/journalist Ruben Cusipag and wife Tess Cusipag, publisher of Balita Newspaper. As we met a few times in different gatherings, I saw how Tess tends to him and talks fondly of him. She introduces him to other people in the crowd or reminds Mr. Cusipag of the person in front of him. He usually moves his eyes quickly and give a happy sound, that shows an attempt to respond.
Through her actions, Tess Cusipag had inspired and taught many people about the true meaning of the marriage vows: Through thick and thin, in health and in sickness…
The couple met through their common friend Councillor Alex Chiu of Markham, during the latter’s birthday party. They got married in 1992, four years later a terrible accident happened that disabled Mr. Cusipag.
“He was ran over by a pick up truck at Midland and Elllesmere while waiting for me to pick him up,” relates Tess.
Since the accident until he passed away on July 9, 2013, three days before his 75th birthday, Tess was by her husband’s side showering him with love and care.
For 18 years, Tess kept her promise as a loyal wife and stayed with her husband in every step of the way in his bedridden lifetime.
She is a woman of strength, it takes a strong character for such selfless act within that length of time. I was curious how she lived through it.
Riza Khamal: Did you ever feel like your life was put on hold when his condition started? How did you cope?
Tess Cusipag: “No, never, my concentration was on his recovery and I never looked at it any other way. We spent so much time travelling and joining pilgrimages looking for miracles because doctors have given up on getting him back to normal. I really feel that those pilgrimages and prayers prolonged his life. Doctors told me he would not last and twice they told me to make funeral arrangements that I just ignored. I gave him more love so he never felt he was useless and different.”
R.K: Besides caring for him, did you have any other ongoing projects/ programs in the community?
T.C.: “I am a director of the Fiesta Filipina Dance Troupe and chairperson of the Miss Manila pageant that pays for our building’s mortgage, the Fiesta Center for the Arts in Mississauga. I am now the editor and publisher of Ruben’s Balita that has the largest circulation in the community.”
R.K.: How did you manage your time caring for him along with your other commitments?
T.C.: “I took him with me everywhere and he enjoyed every minute of it. besides I did not have anybody to look after him at home. My children were university students then. Thanks to the government and insurance that we were given a disabled van to go anywhere.”
R.K.: Where did you get your strength?
T.C.: “I guess constant praying, and from family and friends, all with the same goals, to make him back to normal.”
R.K.: What would you advice those who are in similar circumstances?
T.C.: “Just don’t give up and pray harder. Value every moment together and try to enjoy the journey and never make him feel inadequate. We created priceless memories and I always felt more blessed. Ruben did not lose the respect of people even when he was on a wheelchair. There were organizations that still recognized his achievements.”
R.K.: What should they do to not get burnt out?
T.C.: “I never felt any burnt out. I guess your inner strength activates without you knowing, when you are confronted with that kind of challenge. Ruben and I traveled a lot and we continued our lives as if he was normal and walking. I feel more exhausted now that I don’t have Ruben, maybe it is my age too.”
Almost four years since she became a widow, Tess got two more grand children, whom she spends time once a week along with her other children. She is still among the faces and brain behind Fiesta Filipina Dancers, taking the group to festivals around the world. As the publisher of Balita, she is busy bringing the 80-page community newspaper into circulation twice a month. Under her management, Balita has become the largest and most read newspaper in the community.
“We still visit Ruben in the cemetery and I talk to him like he is still around,” adds Tess.
Besides enjoying time with her family, Balita and other commitments in the community, Tess looks forward to joining pilgrimages around the world.
She adds, “And see places that I have not been and pray for peace and contentment.”
Her positive outlook in life emanates and spreads to the people around her. But what matter for Tess is that: “I did my best as a wife, to look after my husband that needed me badly. As a mom to my kids, to make them proud of me. For others I am always the Tita Tess, accommodating, helpful and I welcome everyone.”
In a world where divorce rate is continuously increasing, and loyalty is almost a thing of the past, Tess Cusipag, is a living example that there are still people with values and true to their wedding vows… “In sickness and in health, till death do us part.”