My grandfather passed away weeks ago at 85. It was the first death in my father’s side. After the funeral mass, while walking from the church to the parking area, my seven-year old nephew asked Tita Ai, why do people die when they get old? I was fighting back tears that have been struggling to gush out since an uncle, Tito Gery, delivered a moving eulogy, so I couldn’t respond to the kid. He pushed on with his inquiry, saying because that’s the circle of life? After a moment’s hesitation, I said, yes, circle of life. How or where he picked up that phrase, I could only guess, but it’s probably Nature’s best single answer to bereaved humans asking why.
This cycle of life and death, however, can’t be taken for granted, without a thought or care. Sometimes, life events such as these can remind us to slow down and reflect on many things – our families, our roots, our selves.
Night before Lolo Ikeng’s burial, there was a small program, or ‘service’, dedicated to the father of eight and grandfather of many. To my horror, I was called to speak after Tita Lea who delivered an emotional and well-crafted speech (they are all eloquent speakers!) in memory of her father.
I didn’t expect to be called nor remembered since there were so many grandchildren present who were with Lolo Ikeng during his final years. But it might have been silly of me to think that because after all, I am the eldest among Lolo Ikeng and Inay’s grandchildren, and my name instantly came up, when the host asked for suggestions for next speaker from the apos.
From my corner to the ‘stage’ I thought of a few points to say: My memories of Lolo Ikeng, his strong image in the family, his death as key to reuniting the family, gratitude to the old man. After sharing two memories, I stopped and gave the mic back to the host, something that my father and Mike mildly mocked after the service. The truth is, my tears were welling up and I felt: if I went on, one more sentence, my voice would crack and fat ugly tears might crush my points to ambiguity.
The memories were these: every vacation in Mindoro when I was small, Lolo Ikeng would make me a swing made of rice sack and ropes tied to trees in the old house yard. I immensely enjoyed the duyan. I could live on that duyan. Imagined all sorts of adventures with that duyan. That duyan was something I looked forward to when coming to Mindoro, as if a Mindoro experience is not complete without a duyan under the trees beside the two-storey wooden house of the Macalintal family. At the wake, I couldn’t get myself to pronouncing ‘duyan’ because so many other images slid into my mind: the duyan, Lolo Ikeng’s smile, my titos and titas when they were decades younger and yet untouched by the complications of adulthood, the simplicity of life back in those days, a life without sickness and death. I stopped myself, thinking in split-second that the ‘event’ may not be the right venue for such nostalgic, melodramatic self-serving thoughts.
And so I struggled to share the next memory, of Lolo Ikeng handing me a huge sinturis. Again, the thought of Lolo Ikeng’s smile giving me the fruit from a basket or kaing covered with banana leaves left me speechless, so I gave up on the absurdities of memory – of how memories can pull strings of emotions.
Later on, when I sailed back to Manila, more Mindoro memories visited me, and I was happy remembering as if they are old friends visiting with gifts of stories like a rainy afternoon by the window with me watching a wet forest, walking to the river with titos and titas and Inay for the week’s laundry session, running around Pakyas elementary school with other children, watching titos play chess, sitting in Inay’s sari-sari store filled with wonders for a small child, Lolo Ikeng pouring alcohol on my wound after I climbed a giant papaya tree and fell. At the same time, I was also sad upon realizing that in the process of re-inventing myself over and over, year after year, decade after decade, I have slowly let go of some of these memories, forgetting how my grandparents were important in my formative years and how those beautiful childhood memories have shaped me up the way I am now.
I shed tears.
Remembering was reconstructing a part of oneself that has faded. If done properly – without angst, regrets, or any negativity, such reconstruction may likely add up to a well-grounded life and perspective of things ahead.
Rest in peace, Lolo Ikeng. Thank you for the memories and for giving us our titos, titas, and Papa.