Memento Mori

[After knowing Chef Hasset Go last night and learning of his sudden passing because of Liver Cancer, I have been thinking about death until this morning when I woke up, until this very moment while writing this. Maybe All Soul’s Day is approaching? Or maybe the majestic Creator of the universe just goes around reminding? Nonetheless, I think it’s about time to share this piece on my blog. This is a speech I delivered during a Division Contest of Toastmasters International earlier this year. And I would like to share it with you.]

Two kids share a table in an old woman’s wake. The first kid, the grand child of the deceased is munching Oreo while the second kid stares.

“Can I have some of your Oreos?”

“No, I’m sorry but I’m too hungry to share,”

Feeling defeated and indignant, the second kid said, “When my Grandma dies, I will not give you Oreos too!”

The truth from the mouth of the babes: we are all going to die. Can you tell the person beside you: memento mori.  Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning, remember that you must die.


Oblivious of this truth, I get to live my life in the most ordinary and routinely way – get up from bed at 5:30 am, take a bath, eat my breakfast, dress for work, ride the bus, work in the office, take a bus ride home, eat dinner and another day has gone.

One day, something broke the routine. I got a missed call from my mother and an SMS asking me if I was okay with my ride home. It was unusual of her and so I called her back. In between sobs she told me that my cousin passed away. My cousin who is living his dream as a policeman was shot in the head, he was only 28.

Something kicked me hard in the stomach and slapped me on the face – the inalienable truth that people can die anytime, anywhere. I realized that death is like a school exam, finish or not finish you have to submit your paper. That even when you still have many unanswered items, you have to pass it when the time is up. My cousin is about to get promoted to Police Officer 3 on June, he just got his car, and still has a lot of dreams to pursue. How can he die?

They say that when you die, some memories with your loved ones will flash before you. I think that is also true with the departed’s loved ones. Like a lightning in the night sky, the few memories I have with my cousin flashed before me. Then I asked, is this all the memories I have?

Just as I was about to rise from that hard kick in the stomach, something hard hit me again. I was not there when my cousin finished his training, when he celebrated his birthday last September or when he got promoted. There were times I was in the town of his assignment, but never dared to drop by to the police station. Then I was crushed again.

From then on, I never looked at life the same way again. Life is like morning dew on a leaf, it fades quickly just as the sun shines. Life which is bounded by birth and death is like a book that is also bounded by a beginning and an end. But like a book, life can embrace different characters, horizons and adventures. Life is short, thus I have to make the most ordinary day an extraordinary one.

Memento mori. With this truth now in my mind, I started to become present – I made sure I have my relatives’ mobile numbers, I took notes of their birthdays and make sure I send a greeting, I made my presence in the family felt. I hug my cousins, and share stories with my sister at night even when I am tired. I send all the gesture of love I can muster.

And for all the special occasions my family will celebrate soon – may it be another wedding, a birthday with the same tasting spaghetti we are having for the last ten years or just a lazy afternoon with the babies, (PHONE RINGS, Kriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggg) I will be there.

This is my sister calling; we’re supposed to meet today to buy her graduation dress. Will you excuse me? I have to take this call. (END)

When Words are Cheap: Silence

When there are lots of words shared by many,

When truth become lies as it passes you and me,

When lies are regarded as truth because of wit’s scarcity,

Silence, let me embrace thee.

When trust has been breached because of the mistakes of everyone

And when the people around try to avenge through the mighty tongue,

When there seems to be a handful of version of the story,

Silence, let me embrace thee.

Oh Silence how comforting to know,

when I fall on the trap of cheap words, you are always there

when I get tired of talking and listening to words that almost do not matter,

you are within my reach.

Embrace me now, purify me.

Make me comfortable with my own thoughts running in my head.

Together, let’s get lost in the wilderness

and tomorrow when I return

my words are true and sacred.

Life and Love of Louis and Zelie

He aspired to be a priest but was told to study Latin first. He tried to learn the language but one day, he just sold his French-Latin Dictionary and dismissed the idea. Instead, he decided to become a watchmaker and devoted five years of study to perfect the craft. After two years of study and three more years of specialization in Strasbourg and Paris, respectively, he came back to Alencon, bought a house and started his watch-making and watch-repairing store.

She was brilliant and got first place in French composition ten out of eleven times. She too had dreamed of entering the religious life but God has other plans. The detailed and demanding work of lacemaking had been her career. Becoming an expert to such craft, she was able to build a group of women to work on the designs she made. This she did until her business grew.

The story goes that as the two of them were crossing the bridge of St. Leonard in Alencon, she heard a voice saying, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.”

On July 13, 1858 in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, Zelie Guerin and Louis Martin tied the knot. And there began one of the best marriages that the Catholic Church has ever formed.

However, there’s just one catch, Zelie had only discovered some ‘facts of life’ on the day of her wedding. She then came running to her sister to pour her heart and tears out. Louis on the other hand, being the romantic that he is, convinced her that they would just live together as brother and sister.

Ten months have passed and they both realized that is not the set up that God wanted. Zelie also expressed her desire to have children and so on the following year, Marie was born (February 22, 1860) then Pauline (September 7, 1861) and then Leonie (June 3, 1863).

Meanwhile, Zelie’s business grew so much that Louis sold his watch-making business to his nephew to help his wife manage. Louis would also make lace designs and travel much for business. Imagine, he gave up his passion, those five years of intricate study for the love of his life.

Distance was never a limitation to them. Zelie wrote more than a hundred letters to Louis, to her sister and brother. Louis would also write her letters, one of which went like, “I embrace you with my whole heart while awaiting the joy of being with you again. I hope Marie and Pauline are being very good.”


The couple was not spared from hardships too. They both endured the passing of their fathers and four children (Helene, Joseph-Louis, Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, Melanie-Therese). The children died of intestinal infection during that time. Zelie had two more girls – Celine (born before Melanie) and Therese, our little flower (born last).

Therese became ill right after birth and so she was sent to a wet-nurse, Rose Taille to breastfeed her since Zelie had signs of malignant growth on her breasts. Rose who lives in a farm nine kilometers away from Alencon took care of our little flower until she grew to be a strong child.

Therese was four and a half years old when Zelie felt pain and lumps in her breasts. She realized she has cancer but it was already too late, the doctor said it was already terminal. On August 28, 1877, Zelie passed away at the tender age of 46.

In her autobiography Story of a Soul, Therese wrote of the moment, “The touching ceremony of the last anointing is also deeply impressed on my mind. I can still see the spot where I was by Celine’s side, all five of us were lined up according to age, and Papa was there too, sobbing. The day of Mama’s departure or the day after, Papa took me in his arms and said, ‘Come, kiss your poor little mother for the last time.’ Without a word I placed my lips on her forehead and I looked and listened in silence.”

Now, Louis asked himself, ‘how can I raise five young girls without their mother?’ ‘Who would be their woman influence?’ He decided to move to Lisieux where Isidore Guerin lives with his wife Celine and two daughters, Jeanne and Marie.  Isidore Guerin, Zellie’s brother leased a house called Les Buissonnets for the Martin family who arrived at Lisieux on November 15, 1877.

For the love of his children, Louis gave up living in Alencon where most of his friends live, where his mother still resides and where Zelie was buried.

Louis’ struggle in bringing up his daughters didn’t stop in Lisieux. He had worries during Pauline and Marie’s entrance to Carmel in 1883 and 1886, respectively and Therese’s serious illness five months after Pauline left. The doctors could not make an explanation for Therese symptoms and so the Martin family turned to Our Lady of Victories for intercession.

Therese also fervently prayed to the heavenly Mother for her healing. She recounted, ‘All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive, her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness, but what penetrated the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin.’ At that moment, Therese shed tears and was instantly healed.

Louis suffered from a mild stroke in 1887. Sometime after the stroke while he was recuperating, Therese asked him for permission to enter Carmel too. She was only fourteen, too young to enter Carmel. Louis and Isidore allowed Therese to enter, however, they had a hard and long time convincing the Bishop.

Louis then accompanied Therese in Rome to meet the pope. On November 20, 1887, Therese met with Pope Leo XIII and wrote on her journal, “A moment later I was at the Holy Father’s feet… and lifting tear-filled eyes to his face, I cried out: Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!’ The Sovereign Pontiff lowered his head towards me… ‘Holy Father, in honor of your Jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen!… ‘Most Holy Father,’ answered the Vicar General, ‘this child is who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, but the Superiors are considering the matter at the moment.’ The Holy Father replied, ‘Do what the Superiors tell you!’ Resting my hands on his knees, I made a final effort… ‘Oh Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!’ He gazed at me steadily, speaking these words and stressing each syllable: ‘Go, go, you will enter if God wills it!”

Therese finally entered Carmel on April 9, 1888. On the night of her entrance, a friend said to Louis, ‘You are really better than Abraham.’ Louis replied, ‘Yes, if I were in Abraham’s place I would have made the same offering, but at the same time I’d have been praying and praying and praying. I’d have been lifting the knife terribly, terribly slow and asking God to send me the angel and the ram.

The next day, he wrote a friend a message, ‘Therese, my little queen, entered Carmel yesterday. God alone can exact such a sacrifice, but he helps me mightily so that in the midst of my tears my heart overflows with joy.

Louis suffered from more strokes after Therese’s entrance to Carmel. He was so patient with his sufferings saying that God is purifying him. On July 29, 1984, Louis Martin had a heart attack and peacefully passed away.

I can only admire these two individuals who gave their all five children to God. Zellie, innocent that she is, became the most loving mother while Louis as the family’s protector had given up a lot of things for his love for his family. Reading their story and writing my own version about it made me feel the pinch in their hearts that they must have felt when they were separated from each other and when each of their children enter the religious life one by one. They have touched me deeply. And as they are proclaimed saints joining their little queen Therese, I can only pray to have the same zeal in serving the Lord.

My sources were:

Fr. James Geoghegan, OCD’s article, The Parents of St. Therese

An Introduction to the Life and Message of St. Therese of Lisieux

Sister Mary Cecile Pabilona, OCD (Jaro Carmel, Philippines)