Oct. 27-28, 2006
ALL Saints’ Day is one holiday I often look forward to. This is only one of the few times in the year (the other being Holy Weekend) when the streets of Metro Manila are almost deserted, and traffic can be found in the expressways going to the provinces. This year I’m staying right at home and lighting up three big white candles—one for my Lola Ding, and the two for my brothers Monching and Eugene.
While everyone in my family may sound normal these days, it really has been a tough couple of years, after losing my brothers to the Grim Reaper. Grief gnaws at your heart until it’s all chewed up and ready to be spit out. And all there is, is a hollow cavity in your chest. At the most unlikeliest of times—when you’re hard at work trying to beat a deadline, while looking at dresses in a store, or just as you are about to fall asleep—the memories of your dead loved ones just come flooding your consciousness like a dam had just broken. You can’t stop them. You just have to quietly relive all of them, painful or otherwise.
The most difficult time is usually on Christmas Day, when all the family is supposed to be together enjoying the Noche Buena and watching everyone open their presents. At no other time of the year are the dearly departed more awfully missed.
My family and I have never talked about our loss with one another, at least not seriously. I think it’s because we can’t stand seeing each other in pain. We try to be strong, especially for our parents. We know that the minute one breaks down, everyone will follow. How can people, handicapped by pain and grief, comfort one another? So like me, I suppose they chose to talk about our loss with their friends who then comforted us as we cried our hearts out.
My family has basically dealt with our loss with humor. It is escapist, I know, but I’m glad that we are all funny people on our own and the jokes we crack have helped us ease our sadness. Otherwise, probably we all would be downing bottles of Lithium or Prozac by now. I cannot forget the first thing my mother said when we finally buried Eugene. As she gingerly dried her tears with her hanky, she squeaked, “Can I play mahjong now?” We all laughed and told her that that was what Eugene would have wanted her to do.
I’m pretty sure everyone in the family still cries, as I do, especially in the solitude of our respective bedrooms. We just don’t do it in front of each other. Because Monching’s death was so sudden, and there were many things left unsaid between us, I still find myself sometimes stopping in the middle of tapping away at my computer and just weeping. But crying is just something we have to do. It helps us get rid of all that pent-up feelings and seemingly forgotten sorrow. It is like our body’s built-in safety valve to release all that pressure building up inside of us.
Work also keeps you focused away from the aching sadness of losing the people you love. When Eugene finally passed away after being in a coma for about a week, I just went home to wash up, then went to the Bangko Sentral to cover the events of the day, after which I submitted my stories. Of course, I knew I was just going through the motions like an automaton, but at least I wasn’t wallowing in depression. Eugene, who had such a lust for life, would have not wanted me to drown in grief.
Then there is God. Prayers help a lot in riding out one’s grief, as you ask for strength and calm during a most distressing time. It is the most real relationship anyone can lean on for support. Believing in an afterlife, I have never badgered Him why Eugene and Monching were taken from us. It is a complete acceptance of how the way the world works. There is no one at fault. No one is to blame. There is a time and a place for birth and death. My brothers, and many others like them, have completed their journey on this earth and the mission the Lord had set them out to do. It was time for them to move on to the next.
It is in this spirit that we should all remember our departed ones this All Saints’ Day. We are ever so lucky to have known all these wonderful people, and to have had them in our lives. It is a gift that I thank the Lord each day as I look forward to the next journey when all of us shall meet again.
CLOSE to noon on Monday, I received a text message that Philippine Star editor Alex Fernando had passed away. It was shocking, to say the least, because I always thought of Alex as one of those permanent fixtures in our field. I had to double check with our editor Chuchay Fernandez if it was true, and to find out the cause of his death.
According to Chuchay, she and Alex had been close friends for about 30 years. The sense of loss was very palpable from her, considering that they had only toasted each other on her birthday last week. I never had the good fortune to have known Alex that long, but I had plenty of occasions to enjoy a few drinks with him at a journalists’ hangout in Malate. In the short time that I knew him, I can summon up only fun memories.
Alex was one of those typical male editors who had a gruff exterior but is really a softie inside, which was why I took to calling him “Swit,” as I dubbed a few of my male buddies. He had a heart for certain causes, and was one of the few editors I could count on to help in my environmental campaigns. He was always ready to lend a hand when he knew that what you were fighting for was right.
There was one birthday celebration of his I missed, so by way of an apology I sent him a pizza to his office nearby. But when he texted to thank me, he said that he didn’t eat pork. Ack! I never really found out if this was true or he was just kidding around as usual.
Because that, too, was typical of Alex. He always had a joke ready and would crack me up, sometimes in the middle of work, with the latest gag making the cell-phone rounds.
I don’t quite remember the last time I saw Alex. Perhaps it was still in that old bar in Malate, during someone’s birthday or despedida. We lost touch when I worked abroad for a year, and when I came back I failed to ring him as I had lost his number. I recall trying to get his number from a mutual friend because I had a feeling his birthday was coming up but wasn’t quite sure. I never got it. And I now feel awfully sad for not having been able to either text, call or just say hello.
Alex, I don’t like brandy, but whatever I’m drinking tonight, I drink to your memory.
(My column Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life Section of the BusinessMirror.)