Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In Loving Memory

Today is All Saints' Day, a holiday and traditionally a day when Filipinos trek to the cemeteries to visit their dearly departed. Because the crowds have become insane over the years, my family and I normally do our rounds a few days before.

It's said that people only really die when the ones they leave behind cease to remember them. While we were doing our cemetery run, I started to think about my loved ones who've moved on, and it scared me to think that I can barely remember some of their voices anymore. So today, allow me to tell you a little about the close relatives that have passed away, with an anecdote or two about each. This is me trying to keep their memory alive.

Tonton. I knew death before I was even born--my brother died while my mom was around seven months pregnant with me. He was six. People say I look like him. (I barely look like my other brothers.) Sometimes I think that the concept of death never had to be explained to me. I just somehow...knew.

Tatay. My paternal grandfather. I was around three when he died of lung cancer, so I don't really have any memories of him. I do remember having a picture of him with his arm around a toddler me.

Lolo. My maternal grandfather. The day he died, I witnessed one of the most heartbreaking things ever. My lola came home from the hospital, and went straight to my lolo's bed. She cried into the pillows, her hands caressing the sheets. I get teary-eyed whenever I remember it.

I cried a lot when he died. I remember, on summer days, he would be sitting in his favorite butaka chair and I would lie on the bed beside the chair. We would watch TV and I would fall asleep, holding my lolo's hand.

Ate Minnie. This cousin died after giving birth to her first child. We weren't close, but I remember her having a great sense of humor.

Kuya Ramon. My cousin, based in New York, died due to an aneurysm, so sudden. He was in a coma for a few days, and I remember praying, "Please God, save his life, as he once saved mine." See, one New Year's Day when they were in town (I was about six), at the stroke of midnight, I was standing in one spot, greeting everybody a happy new year. Kuya Ramon suddenly ran, picked me up, and carried me away. I was bewildered, confused--until a firecracker exploded near where I had been standing. Dude saved my life.

Tito Boy. I was in my senior year of high school, and I remember one of the teachers calling me to the principal's office over lunch. The principal went on to say that they got news reports that my uncle--who had been suffering an unknown illness and was confined at the hospital for a couple of days--had died. I had to call home to confirm. "Kamusta si Tito Boy?" ("How is Tito Boy?") I asked my yaya, who answered the phone. I can't forget the words and how she said it: "Ay--patay na." ("Oh--he's dead.") And I can't forget screaming in the principal's office. (Very similar to that scene in Gone with the Wind, where Scarlett comes home and finds her mother has died.) I broke down. I remember saying that, through everything that had happened in my family, this was the only time I asked God, "Why?" My uncle was a good man. He was my second father.

A year before his death, things at home (and in school) weren't great. I don't really blog about this period in my life because there are just some things I'm intensely private about. And I normally write about the happy stuff, because I'd rather spread positivity and sunshine. But anyway, things weren't great, and I wasn't doing great, but I wasn't really showing my immediate family that I was affected. But my tito--he really cared. It was only in his company that I allowed myself to really break down. And to have him taken away from me, from a family who loved him so dearly, on top of all the other stuff I had to deal with at that time...it was just too much.

His sickness, death, funeral, and burial received extensive media coverage. For a time, I hated the media because they kept printing rumors-disguised-as-fact about his sickness, and we couldn't even say goodbye to my uncle in peace because of the hordes of journalists and photogs surrounding his burial spot. I think that was the moment I decided that, even though I was most likely going to end up in media, I was never going to be a news reporter.

Tito Roger. Just a few weeks after Tito Boy's death, another beloved uncle passed away.:( I wasn't really close to him. But the closer I get to parenthood, the more I think about what a great parent he was. He and my tita made such a great team, and raised such awesome kids.

Jonathan. "Patay na si Jonathan." ("Jonathan's dead.") I remember my mom telling me that the minute I walked into her office when I came to pick her up. "Jonathan who?" I asked, confused. It couldn't be my cousin, I thought. He was my age! But indeed it was him. I was stunned. Jonathan was based in the US. We used to write letters to each other (before the age of email and Facebook), and he would ask me to translate lines to Filipino so he could use them on girls. He was shot to death.:(

Dada Flora. The yaya mentioned earlier was more than a yaya; she was family. She was with us for decades, and her relatives worked for us as well. Around 2003, she retired, went home to her province, and suddenly passed away a couple of weeks later.

Lola. My maternal grandmother. We lived together for years. She used to sit with her legs apart so that some cloth from her daster would dangle, and I could use it as a little swing. as we watched Jon en Marsha. She was a stickler for cleanliness and she was a great cook who made the best leche flan ever. Even in her 90s, when she was bedridden, her mind was still razor-sharp. She could remember things like how much a kilo of fish was in 1927!

Inay. My paternal grandmother passed away while I was in New York last November, and it devastated me that I wasn't able to say goodbye. Nor was I able to go to her funeral. I found out about her death right before I had to give a talk at Hearst. I cried in my hotel room, then had to get myself together. This was the grandma who, when I was around four, patiently removed bristles from my hair, one by one, when a brush got entangled.

They were all wonderful people, all sorely missed. But we look back on our time with them with fondness. And though they're no longer with us, our love for them stays strong. We won't forget.


  1. I've always hated thoughts of death and dying, ever since I was a little girl. Nine years ago, our family faced the biggest tragedy of losing my uncle to a freak accident right inside their home. I honestly think I haven't moved on up to now. Though I know that he's in a better place already.

    May they all rest in peace...

  2. Your loved ones live on. I'm sorry to say the cemetaries are only slightly more visited today versus any other in the US.

    My grandfather was called Clifford. After he died, my grandmother saw me looking through a flyer (from school) about books for sale. I was day-dreaming because we never had money for books. But she saw there was a "Clifford the Big Red Dog" book in the flyer and decided to buy it for me. I HATED that series, but I could see my grandmother's eyes misting, so I smiled and thanked her. It's important to honor the dead and the living.


Oh, so sweet of you to drop a line!:)