It’s All Souls’ Day in the Philippines tomorrow, and I’m not sure I can light any candles since weekends are our busiest days here. It’s tradition to remember the dead on this day, the family gets together to visit graves of lost loved ones, and honor their memories with stories and prayers.
I never missed an opportunity to visit these two, Lolo Joe and Mama, my great-grandparents. I was their eldest great-grandchild, an honor I wear like a badge. I remember when Lolo Joe would ask me multiplication questions out of the blue and let me recite the poem Trees by Joyce Kilmer. I had to memorize that poem, because it was his favorite. I still know it by heart. I remember Mama always making me sit up straight, hold my spoon properly, and serving too much rice on my plate.
There were so many questions I wanted to ask them, so many missed chances. Mama’s mind went first, eaten by Alzheimer’s. She had no idea who I was already at the end of her life. But I should have asked Lolo Joe about the war, about how he met Mama, how life was when he was a star athlete. You see, I thought they would live forever. I thought there was still tomorrow. Then I got the call in the middle of PE class in my second year of college, he was gone. He fell asleep and never woke up. Mama went the same way a few years after, but I felt like we lost her decades before that. She didn’t even know Lolo was dead, or she didn’t realize it. She just kept asking where he was, and they’d tell her he was out walking or at a meeting, or driving, or meeting friends. She took these answers and seemed to accept them, the Alzheimer’s not letting her know any better. But there was a clear day when Uncle Ben told her the news, finally, and all she said was, “I guess I don’t have long anymore.” and until now that makes me cry. They were together for so long, had four children, I don’t know how many grandchildren and great grandchildren, and were teachers at the biggest university on the island.
Lolo was a track and field star, a PE teacher, the head of the university’s athletics department, and a World War II veteran. Mama was a folk dance expert– she wrote and published a book about it, also a PE teacher, and also became the head of the athletic’s department at one point. She was a terror teacher, but she was disciplined, and she wanted her kids (biological or otherwise) to be that way, too.
What a grand life they must have led, but I’ll never know, because I never asked. I miss them very much. Sometimes, I lie awake at night and ask myself if they would be proud of me, of where I am, what I’ve become. But this is just one of the many questions I’ll never have an answer to.
This is Tito Chris. Tito is like saying Uncle in the Philippines. He’s one of the best men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He died last year, November 14, 2018, because of bone cancer.
I visited him once in his hospital room. I couldn’t even talk to him, I was on the verge of crying every second, and he recognized me still. He asked how I was, as if it mattered, when he was the one bed ridden with the disease eating him from the inside out.
It was painful for me to watch, and I don’t even want to remember it, because I want to remember him like he was in this photo: Happy, Healthy, Alive.
I left that hospital room in tears, because I knew when I said goodbye, it was the final one.
I don’t think I ever got to process their deaths properly, or at least, I never wanted to. As if holding on to the pain of losing them makes them more alive somehow, or maybe it’s just because I’m not good at processing emotions. I tuck these away, hide them under lock and key and revisit them when they need remembering like at 2 in the morning when everything is dark and quiet, or on days like this.
I think they are the most difficult loss for me because they were all pillars of my childhood, a part of me that I have lost to the years of growing up and being in the world. So I think I mourn them, but I also mourn the version of me that they knew, that they saw, that they loved.
Does this even make sense?