What is Death?

Death has visited our family once again. And so here I am today, grasping for words to make sense of this grief. After I wrote Memento Mori and Love, Life in tribute for my departed, good looking cousins, I never thought I would write about this subject again. But that’s exactly what death is, unexpected like a thief in the night.

I remember when I delivered my speech Memento Mori in front of an evaluator in a club I was used to be a member of. She said that my subject (death) is kind of inappropriate since I was not an expert on the subject. I was dumbfounded! Who can ever claim that he or she is an expert in death? Who can ever say that death doesn’t hurt him or her anymore? I was still grieving at that time and I really wanted to be mad at her. But I chose to be the bigger person and let it go instead. *sigh

Going back, will you allow me to pay tribute to my Tita?

death-title-image_tcm7-187855

The Best Cook Ever

My Tita Vicky, wife of my mother’s brother, is the best cook of our extended family. Her family lives in San Ildefonso which is an hour or more drive from where we live, but she travels to our home on special occasions to cook food. Every mother in our family consults her for cooking tips and recipe.

Her cooking is always as good as and maybe even better than your caterer. Some of my most favorites among her dishes are pork humba, relyeno, pininyahang manok and her most recent innovation, halaya with less sugar but as yummy as Good Shepherd’s. (Ooooh, tears started falling in this part. I remember the time when she gave me an extra lanera of halaya while everyone only gets one. I think she gave it to me while saying ‘don’t tell anyone.’)

She was the one who cooked dishes on my 18 th birthday which all my guests adored. She made sure that my handa was not the typical menudo or kaldereta. Tita Vicky made an effort to prepare me more elaborate recipes.

 

The Best Teamwork

I am hurting because of her passing and I am hurting even more because of the pain that her family goes through at this moment, especially for my Tito. My Tita Vicky and Tito Roland have the best teamwork I have ever seen. They didn’t need to tell the other what to do; they just do things for each other. My Tito does the laundry while Tita cooks. My Tito cleans the porch on early mornings while Tita fixes the home. The two of them were always present in our extended family’s difficult moments. Like when a cousin was fighting for his dear life in the ICU in 2013, Tita Vicky and Tito Roland was there first to give solace and financial assistance.

Actually, I am not in the best position to give testimony on how their marriage was a success, only their kids can do that. But I want to remember Tita Vicky not only as one of the kind-hearted persons I know, but also the best wife and mother.

 

The Last Memory

I regret that I wasn’t able to be with Tita Vicky even in one of her dialysis session. But I never regret to play the ‘madre’ of the family again on our last meeting. You see, I am called ‘sister’ (madre/nun) at times by my extended family ever since high school because of my active participation in church organization/activities. It’s not that I don’t like being called as such, but I would prefer if I wasn’t called sister because I don’t think I am called for that vocation. Haha!

In May of this year, Miguel, my inaanak (godson) and Tita Vicky’s apo (grandson) celebrated his birthday. Instead of bringing a gift for the kid, I brought with me a prayer pamphlet of Saint Padre Pio and holy oil for Tita Vicky. I handed it to her before leaving the party and told her that Saint Padre Pio is a miracle and healing worker. She smiled and said, ‘yung madre talaga namin o.’

13138864_1033771746716089_6582097591298132738_n
All smiles for Miguel’s birthday. My tita is in white, seated at the center. 

What is death?

My tita’s passing made me ponder on what death really is. We know that death separates us from our bodies and our loved ones. But what is it really? I searched for answers in the Scriptures and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) for my own peace of mind. Here’s what I found.

Death is a consequence of sin (CCC 1008). God designed man to be with Him in paradise forever and death was never in His grand plans. But when sin entered the world, when the serpent sowed doubt in Eve’s heart, death became the consequence of sin.

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians also called death as an enemy, the last enemy to be conquered by God (1 Corinthians 15:26). But he also mentioned in his second letter that death is not our normal state, for we shall soon reunited with God in a heavenly dwelling not built by human hands (2 Corinthians 5:1).

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ.” – St. Paul

While it is true that death can be ugly and heartbreaking and sorrowful, its meaning has been transformed by Jesus Christ when He became man. CCC mentions that with Christ’s obedience to embrace death to give humankind salvation, the curse of death has been transformed into a blessing. To have now a Christian death is to die with Christ and live with Him in paradise.

Remember the last time you stood up in church with your newest inaanak? The priest mentioned that through baptism, we have already died with Christ. I think this means that by embracing our faith, we have already chosen to take part in Christ’s suffering and death. And our physical death just completes this ‘dying with Christ’ and also completes our fellowship with Him. (gosh ang lalim ata)

The other night while I was seated in front of my tita’s coffin, I was looking around the house while saying ‘this home will never be the same again.’ I guess death is like that, inflicting permanent wounds and damages, leaving holes in our hearts. But when we look on what death really is as mentioned above, we realize that death is not the end, death is entering life.

 

Advertisements

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.

Autumn-Leaves

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)

Never Again

No one knows the day and the time when these things will happen, not even the angels in the heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. –Matthew 24:36

I am staring at the curtain; behind the curtain is his lifeless body.

Just as the curtain hides the burning truth, I too, concealed the pain.

The formalin sting my eyes, his passing strike my heart.

This is not the moment with him I picture in my head.

I picture him bringing or fetching me with his bike to somewhere,

clad in his uniform because I am so proud of him,

and I want everyone to know.

I picture the few moments we had in my mind.

Those moments I wish I stretched to more minutes.

Snap back to reality, he is gone.

Instead of words, I prayed with sobs.

Instead of words, I comfort them with a pat in the shoulder.

Then my heart betrayed me; it became weak to hold the pain that it needs my eyes,

from there gushed a thousand pails of tears.

I breathe hard, the pain remains.

I breathe hard, the reality lingers.

Days passed and some things haunt me day and night,

the could haves in the morning, the should haves at night

and the what if’s in between.

They are crushing to the heart, unforgiving to the spirit.

Days passed and I learn more things about this guy.

Why do I learn about him only now?

Why only now?

From then on, I vowed,

Never again.

Today, I will go the extra mile – find time to drop by, send that text message I have been putting off,

tell a compliment, share a joke, always find time, be present.

I will be there; I will try to always be there, because I promise to myself…

Never again.

The Death of my Cousin and the Things that Really Matter

Exactly a week ago today, I received the most dreadful news one can ever take – my cousin’s dead. He was shot in the head and was immediately rushed in the hospital in the hopes of saving him. But we still lost him. I can only imagine what happened to him from my relatives’ tales – his blood flowing all over the place and over his companion’s body who was with him during that time, how he was rushed in the best hospital in our town, how my mother hoped he will be fine and how he totally said goodbye. In an instant, he was gone. He was young, not to mention good looking. He had lots of dreams to pursue on top of the success he has accomplished. But he was gone. He will never return but he left me thoughts and things that I think, really matter.

Some people around me who learned of the sad news asked, “Were you close with him?” I cannot help but feel sad and somehow offended by the question. I feel sad because the truth of the matter is, we were not close. Being both introverts of the family, we were both the quiet ones who will just laugh along and smile along. However, I think that it is ridiculous to base my grief to the frequency of our talks or meeting. Maybe to some, learning about a death of a person who’s not close to them does not break their hearts into pieces. But my heart is different. My heart that breaks with the simplest injustice in our society mourns deeply in his death. Does it matter if we were close? I think not. What matters is that I love him.

On the day he died, nobody saw what really happened. Even if our neighbor gossipers talk of what happened as if they were in the scene, believe me, nobody saw what happened. Nobody knows the entire story and so the first question that baffled us was how did he die? I personally grapple for answers and tried to come up with a story that my mind and my heart can accept. But all I want to hear is the truth, the truth that may never reveal itself. Does it matter how he died? I think it is more important to think and always remember how he lived. He lived with passion for what he does. His friends told us how hardworking and committed to work he was. I also remember my mother telling me how my cousin got irritated at someone who was offering him money in exchange for something. Wow, I said to myself then, I have a new inspiration in serving in the government. He was an upright public servant, a decent man and I am just so proud of him.

My cousin was generally a silent person. Does it matter if in his lifetime, he talked so little? I don’t think so. I know behind his silence is a great love for his family and for the nation – two of the best things that fuel his everyday life. I would like to believe that in his silence, there are hardships he endured, successes he savored, pains he overcame and love he deeply felt.

On the day when we said our last goodbye, all I managed to say were: Bye. Rest in peace. Till we meet again.