Actress Ina Feleo always remembers the words that Fr. James Reuter, SJ, told her mom Laurice Guillen on the day her dad Johnny Delgado died two years ago: "Depression is unhealthy. Make sure not to go there."
Although grief and depression still linger in their household, Ina fights them off by keeping busy with work.
"Everything about Daddy is still fresh to me… It's like the body remembers even though the mind tries very hard to forget," Ina told Inquirer Entertainment, adding that she cried while guesting in "Showtime" when a contestant said his mom has cancer.
She has involved herself in a number of TV and film projects. She's in the cast of "Guns N' Roses" which stars Robin Padilla and Bea Alonzo. Ina has also written and appeared in the drama film "Maskara," which Laurice directed as a tribute to Johnny.
Ina's most recent work is the religious family-drama "Ikaw ang Pag-ibig," directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya and distributed by Star Cinema.
Her mom, Ina said, is doing OK because she has also plunged into work. Laurice is in the cast of the afternoon drama "Reputasyon." She was also seen portraying an oppressive mother-in-law character, Ofelia, in a recent episode of the drama anthology "Maalaala Mo Kaya."
However, Ina pointed out, sadness sets in whenever Laurice is left alone at home. "I don't think it will ever go away. She and Daddy had been inseparable. They enjoyed watching movies or hanging out at home."
Laurice, Ina and elder sister Ana started sleeping in one bedroom when Johnny died. "We still share one up to now, although I sometimes wish I have my own room especially when I come home late from work. It's hard to sleep because I wake up the moment they start stirring," Ina said.
"On the other hand, it's good because I never feel alone. It's in the house where we really feel Daddy's presence. It was where he spent his last days."
Johnny died at 61 after a long battle with lymphoma.
Johnny's father, veteran filmmaker and scriptwriter Ben Feleo, joined him on Sept. 21. He passed away at 85, after directing over 50 films since the 1950s.
Ina said she couldn't stay out late on "gimmick" days anymore. "Daddy used to check on me. Now it's Mommy who does it-11 pm pa lang she would already send a text message to ask, 'Nasaan ka na?'"
Ina said this could also be the reason she and Ana (a soprano and also an actress) are still single. "Daddy was strict. He gave us a tough time whenever we introduced guys to him. It's funny because now that he's gone, the suitors have disappeared, too. Ana and I are convinced that he's manipulating things in heaven," Ina quipped. "We're praying for it. We're counting on Dad to show signs that Mr. Right is nearby."
Ina said Johnny discovered his illness about the same time director Marilou found out about hers. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. "Like Daddy, Direk Marilou didn't take the news negatively. I guess to her, it meant that God is already calling her but is still giving her time to fix her life."
She said Marilou wrote the script for "Ikaw ang Pag-ibig" thinking she wouldn't be well enough to direct it. "That's why the script was very detailed, down to my character's bags and accessories," Ina explained. "But when it was time to make the film, Direk had remission. It was like God really wanted her to do this. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it."
Back in full force
Sadly, the cancer was back in full force in January, about the time the film was being edited, Ina said. "It was already in stage 4. Direk refused to undergo another round of chemotherapy, but her family requested for it to extend her life. She said she's not expecting to be cured anymore. The hardest thing to accept about cancer is the idea of leaving your loved ones to themselves."
Ina added: "I see the agony in Direk now, just like what I saw in Daddy… I guess that's why she made this film, which is really about her. She is a devotee of Mama Mary."
The film is never preachy, Ina clarified. "Its focus is really the conflict within the family. Even someone who is not a Marian devotee can relate."
In the film, Ina plays Vangie, a video editor tasked by her brother, who happens to be a priest, to edit the documentary he made about Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
"Ikaw ang Pag-ibig" also features Jomari Yllana, Marvin Agustin and Shamaine Buencamino. It premiered in local theaters on Sept. 14.