November 02, 2007

Death and beyond

Something Like Life
BusinessMirror, Nov. 2, 2007

AS far back as I can remember, my life has been touched by death.

My first brush with it was when I was about six or seven years old, and one of my favorite grandaunts — a well-loved school teacher — passed away after an illness.

I don’t recall most of the details surrounding Lola Nena’s death, as I don’t remember anyone among my immediate family weeping nor visits to the funeral parlor for her wake. I figure I was probably shielded from much of the family’s grief because of my young age. It probably made no sense to me then, but all I remember was being told my Lola Nena was already in heaven.

As I grew older, Lola Nena was followed by her other siblings—Lola Lily, Lola Ching, Lola Cely, then, lastly, my mom’s mother, Lola Ding. In between them, there was Lolo Ñing, Lola Ding’s beloved. Lola Ding lived with us in our old bungalow in Sta. Mesa Heights and cooked all our meals. Lola Ding probably would’ve outlasted any of us if only she didn’t have that accident which put her right leg in traction.

Lola Ding was pretty much hale and hearty all the way into her 80s, but quickly deteriorated after that accident. Coming home from school one afternoon, my father matter-of-factly greeted me at the gate with the news that my Lola had already gone to meet her Maker, as if he had been expecting it. Lola had been sleeping most of the time since the accident, with all her meals brought to her. Then she didn’t wake up anymore. She left us exactly on February 11, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, whom she was named after.

Later on, I would find among her personal effects love letters from Lolo Ñing during his travels abroad. The letters were so excruciatingly romantic and heartfelt that to this day, my eyes mist up just reading them. It warms my heart to know how much he loved my Lola, even though they could not always be together.

I suppose having been surrounded by family members coming and going out of my life has made me quite accepting of death. While I grieve like the rest of my family over each one who has left us for the Great Beyond, I’m not given so much to public displays of bereavement and loss. It’s not because I don’t feel sad, because I do. Maybe it’s because I get lost in the stories in my head, trying to remember the times I spent with the one who has departed. Whether good or bad memories, I’ve learned to treasure every moment spent with the ones who’ve passed on.

I find it comforting that during wakes, people tell stories about the dead. I usually only remember and tell the funny ones, maybe because I don’t like to see too many serious faces or people wailing in grief. When people die, the tears shed by the living are usually not for the dead, but for those they left behind. They weep because they feel sorry for themselves. It is over a sense of loss, over an uncertain future without those who’ve passed on.

Maybe that’s why I don’t really cry even if the ones who’ve gone on are close to me. I would like to think that they’re keeping the Lord company; in my pop’s case, I would like to think that he is probably drinking scotch with his two sons — my brothers — and his siblings who passed on before he did. I’m sure Saint Peter’s around as well to share a glass or two.

Speaking of amusing stories, I recall my brother Eugene — who was a real mean foodie — telling his officemates that he was tired of eating steaks. He wasn’t boasting. You see, when our Lola Ding passed on, my mom, the trophy wife, had no choice but take over the cooking chores. At that time my mom had yet to find her inner chef, so whenever she couldn’t think of what to feed us, she would panfry us some steaks in butter. (This is also the reason I generally don’t like eating steaks at restaurants.) Anyway, my brother’s friends thought him odd for saying that.

My favorite story of my other dead brother, Monching, was the time he complained, during a drunken stupor, that our father never brought him camping. It was during one of those stupid fights he had with my parents, but which we laugh over until now because we thought he had been watching way too much Brady Bunch!

With my pops, who just left us in May, there are a lot of stories to choose from. Not all of them are funny, as he was quite the serious guy, but they are endearing nevertheless. I recall him laughing over an episode of Spongebob Squarepants as we all sat glued to the TV set while vacationing in Subic. We, in turn, laughed at Pops for being able to relate to what we were watching, a kid’s show, considering his usual dour demeanor.

My pops also had this way of joking with my mother even though, as they grew older, they were constantly bickering. Out of nowhere he would just blurt out, “Love you, Mama!” This would always crack up my mom and make her respond, “Love you, Papa!” Of course, privately, it thrilled me whenever I would hear this exchange, but I would usually snicker and then shout, “Yaaak!”

I usually never dream about our dead family members but there was one night I dreamed about Pops. I don’t know what it was about and where we were but I remember getting angry at him for being at some place he wasn’t supposed to be. I told him to go back behind some wall or to one corner.

As I reflect on it now, I guess I was expressing my own vexation at him for leaving us unprepared for his passing. None of us had an inkling that he was going to die. While he led a sedentary life, he would still get in his car and drive it to buy his lotto ticket or get his cigarettes at the grocery. Yep, Pops smoked ’til the very end! And, no, he never won the lotto grand prize but, still, he kept on buying those tickets. Hope springs eternal. I miss my pops.

This All Souls’ Day, as we remember our dearly departed, I offer a silent prayer to all of them, that they may rest in eternal peace and continue to enjoy our Lord’s friendship and devotion. I also thank the Supreme Almighty for giving us the chance to be touched by their lives and experience His grace through their love.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo from

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