Sunday, November 1, 2009


On the first and second of November each year, Filipino families go to the cemeteries to visit their loved ones who have passed away.

In the Catholic church, November 1 is a solemn celebration in honor of saints termed All Saints Day appropriately, while November 2 is a commemoration of the departed faithful known as All Souls' Day. These days are called Undas in the Filipino language.

Every year, my family and relatives would gather at Eternal Gardens at Lipa City to visit the grave of my maternal grandmother whom we fondly call Mamita. Her real name is Natividad largely because she was born on the 25th of December, Christmas Day... which makes the holiday extra meaningful for us.

I have very few memories of Mamita in my mind. Most of what I remember about her are in pictures - thanks to film and camera. Nevertheless, the clearest memory I have of her is something I've been able to hold on to very well because that part of my life has influenced me a lot until now.

Mamita died of pancreatic cancer when I was six years old. The family's struggle with her condition and my grandmother's personal battle with cancer did not impact my life at that time because I was too young to understand.

When our family prepared to visit Mamita in the hospital one time while she was undergoing medication, I wrote a short letter for her at home upon the encouragement of my mother. I can't recall the exact words I jotted down but what I do recall vividly was that I put several coins in the envelope with the letter. Upon arriving at Mamita's hospital room, I handed my mother the letter and told her it was for grandma. She was intrigued by the weight of the enveloped and asked me what was inside. I said quite confident;y, "Pera para pandagdag sa babayaran ni Mamita." (Money to help pay for Mamita's medical expenses.) I have no idea what my mom thought of the gesture - whether she was amused or touched or both. It has crossed my mind to ask her about it but I never did.

When Mamita took her last breath, I did not feel the sorrow or the pain of her passing away.

During Mamita's wake in my grandparents' house, however, I remember asking my mom several times where Mamita was. "Natutulog na siya, anak," (She's sleeping now, child,) was all she told me. I did not question my mother's reply for indeed I saw my grandmother in a beautifully decorated bed (which was actually her coffin; I just didn't know.) In my mind, though, I thought, "If she's asleep, how come all these people are here? Is it okay for so many people to watch someone sleep? And what's with all the lights? You can't sleep with a lot of lights on."

Ah, such innocence is a blessing on a concept so seemingly cruel. That was my first encounter with death; my first experience of losing a beloved person.

Only a few years ago did I realize first hand that it was a very painful experience to lose someone you love so dearly. Only half a year ago when I started earning my own money did I understand the financial strain the medical expenses must have put on the family then. Only now has it started to sink in that the other true loss for me is not having grown up with a grandmother close to home. (My paternal grandmother lived most of her life in the United States although she visits the Philippines when she has the chance.)

Loss, it seems, is an easier topic to talk about. People can share experiences of loss with each other. On the other hand, people who have died can't go back to tell of their experience of death. Loss may entail acceptance or denial, either which a person can work on achieving some understanding about. We can take control of what happens after a loss. Meanwhile, there is so much more mystery about death. We don't know exactly what happens after one dies.

I know many people fear death. I am not at all I different; I also feel fear for I am human. But I have this greater feeling of peace about death that overpowers the fear. Knowing I have accepted Jesus as my Savior and believing He died for my sins so that I will be saved is all I need to vanquish fear of death. Mamita has invited Jesus into her life, too, and I am confident that her death is merely a passing on to a better world. I may not have been given a lot of time to be with her and to know her but realizing that she's with the Lord is all the assurance I need to understand that our family's loss is heaven's gain.


  1. I was three years old when I had my first experience with death. My maternal great grandmother, Ma, died. I remember my mom getting the phone call as we were all in the family room together. It is the first time I remember crying. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on death. It is good to have hope, even if we only see things dimly for now.

  2. Even the Lord Jesus felt sorrow upon Lazarus' death. "Jesus wept." - John 11:35. It is but human to feel sad and hurt. We may not understand why but we can be sure that God knows exactly why and that we can rely on him a hundred percent.


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