Not Another Death Story

People say that talking or writing about death is a jinx. When I was in college, one of my classmates chose death as a topic for his thesis. Weeks later, he died in his sleep. To hell with the jinx or curse or whatever. I’ll be writing about death as a timely topic to reflect on this Good Friday.

Have you ever attended a wake or a funeral? I never liked funerals. And whenever I go to a wake, I have this weird feeling that I cannot leave the house or a memorial chapel without taking a peep over the casket. And I really really hate looking at a dead person. Yes, despite the make-up. No matter how nice it is, we can’t deny the fact that they’re dead. Wreaths and bouquets that ornament around the casket just set a poignant mood over the place. I mean, yeah, a funeral is supposed to be sad. And hearing condolences add up to its mournful environment.

As far as I could remember, there were three deaths in my family which I really experienced a real wake. That means I stayed awake the whole night till wee hours in the morning, made coffee for the mah-jong players, and played cards with my relatives. My grandpa died when I was nine years old. As innocent as I was then, I took his death as an opportunity to mingle with my cousins whom I met for the first time. The day of Lolo Teban’s burial, my relatives from Iloilo attended and I got amazed at how big the clan was. I could still remember after we got back from the cemetery, a feast-like banquet awaited us. So, it wasn’t really a sad event. I never cried during his funeral.

My other grandpa passed away when I was in grade five. He died of tuberculosis. Not to be biased about it, I would say that I was more closer to him as compared to my other lolo. Back when I was little, I would always remember how he lightened up my Christmas. Literally. Every December, he would set up a giant lantern and hang it high up at the center of the street. Grandpa became well known for that. When he suffered from his illness, I would accompany him to get some lagundi leaves that grew near the shore. And, I know this sounds gross, but I also threw the container with his phlegm in it. When he died, we went home from San Jose, and again, I experienced a real wake. People crowded the house to gamble. I also played cards and I even won. During his funeral, I carried some flowers or a cross (I couldn’t even remember) and on our way to the cemetery, other children were talking behind my back.

With the deaths of my two grandpas and probably brought about by my childhood, it never struck me how painful and morose death could be. Although I was aware that my grandpas suffered a lot because of their illnesses, but I never experienced right in front of my eyes how they, literally, took their last breaths. Not until my granduncle struggled through his last moment that I realized the seriousness of death and the value of life. I was in college then. He died on his deathbed and we were like surrounding him. You know the feeling when someone was really chasing for his breath and gathering all the strength that remained in him and at any given moment, he would just snap and although he was not breathing already, his eyes were still open, and all that’s left was the pain veiling around his cold crumpled flesh? It made me cry. I hid behind the wooden wall and kept my tears. That particular scene was just too painful to take. That was also the first time I cried over a family member whose death I just witnessed.

When my friend’s father died, I cried not because of his passing. I cried because my bestfriend lost his father in a very unexpected way. We were there to comfort him. And giving him a warm tight hug would somehow alleviate his sorrow. I had no idea why I cried that time, but I knew that being one with my friend’s grief was just the right thing to do.

Honestly, I don’t normally shed a tear during these situations. Funerals, I mean. Showing tears in public is melodramatic. Not that I’m against people who cry in wakes or in funerals. For me, although this may sound cliché, a wake or a funeral is about remembering. We gather to recall how our loved ones spent his life while he was still living. Only then, we the living, would realize whether his or her death is in vain…or not.

This night of Good Friday, I break away from the tradition of visiting the dead Christ in the church. I missed attending His funeral, so to speak. Then again, I never liked funerals. But surely, I would always remember the reason why He accepted His cross, and how He went through all the sufferings any ordinary human being could endure. That all of us will be saved.

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