Issue of November 5, 2017

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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Memory lane

My father died on Sept. 25, 1988 and his body was initially buried in a plot at the Baguio cemetery. When my mother died in Sept. 10, 2015, my siblings and I had his remains exhumed and transferred at the ossuary at the Baguio Cathedral so that we can fulfill his wish of being with my mother even after their death. From thence, both my father’s and my mother’s remains are buried among the catacombs at the Baguio Cathedral.

It was a good decision on our part because the ossuary is more accessible and more convenient than going to the cemetery. At any time of the day, we can visit, light a candle, and say a prayer for their departed souls. Whereas, there were times in the past All Saints’ Day observance that we failed or neglected to visit the grave of my father at the Baguio cemetery because of the sheer volume of people going there, since 2015, we never missed a beat to pay our respects to him and to my mother. At least once every year we have a family gathering, allowing us a chance to have an informal reunion in remembrance of our parents.

This year was no different. As early as 7 a.m. on Nov. 1, I woke up and went to the Baguio Cathedral to attend the mass in honor of the souls of all our dearly departed. After the mass, I proceeded to the ossuary. It was cool, damp, and quiet when I walked among the resting place of the dead. The fragrance of freshly placed and decaying flowers wafted the air. Although the atmosphere was not as eerie as those projected in horror movies, it was nevertheless serene and peaceful. There is this strange feeling that there are eyes upon you – observing, guiding, and remembering.

I cannot help but notice that since the time we had my mother and father buried at the ossuary, most of the tombs are already filled up. There are a few vacant slots but even these are reserved for specific families. I think we, Filipinos, have realized the importance of preparing for our death. After all, death is as much a part of our life as it is in living.

So, there I was at the ossuary talking to no one in particular about the times of my life with my parents as well as reminiscing the happy and the lonely days I had with them. When I could no longer think of anything more to do, it crossed my mind to roam around to see who are the neighbors of my parents’ tomb.

There are about five tiers of tombs in one block. Each level has six or seven repositories. One repository can accommodate five urns. Plastered at the epitaphs of every occupied tomb is the name, birthday, and date of death of the person. Some prominently displayed the pictures of their deceased loved ones with messages professing how much they missed them or how much they loved them. Indeed, very touching and very heart rendering.

What touched me more was the sentimentality I felt while looking at the pictures of those who have passed on to new realm. Facing me were the smiling faces of colleagues, classmates, friends, relatives, and acquaintances. It never occurred to me that some people I knew and have become very intimate with were already dead. “No wonder,” I whispered to myself, I no longer meet this or that person because he or she is already gone. It brought me a sense of guilt that I was not able to pay my last respects to some dearly departed individuals. I consoled myself that such neglect was not because I shunned them but because I simply did not know. It was then that I felt obliged to say a little prayer for all of them. My meditation had me remember what these persons were like during their lifetime.

Every dead person I knew formed a part of my life. I was awed to recall that all of them had a story to tell. How I passionately argued and debated with a dead lawyer, how I shared my food and “baon” with a dead classmate, how I had wild drinking sprees with a dead friend, how I was mentored by a dead teacher, how I was disciplined by a dead elder, how I had a fistfight with a dead enemy, how I was taught to drive by a dead acquaintance, how I was guided to what I am now by a dead parent, and so forth and so on. As it all came flashing back, their lives mirrored mine. It brought a symbolic smile on my face while shedding a tear or two for all of them. While they lived, in one way or the other, became a part of my being. It strengthened my belief that there must be a heaven lest these people who live good lives would have lived for nothing.

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