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Grandmothers

Grandpa was buried a little deeper so Grandma could be buried on top of him.

On April 14th, I said goodbye to Grandma, or as I used to call her when I was little, Lola.  After she passed away on March 10th, I went through a mix of emotions and I couldn’t seem to get a good handle on them.  I always went back to feeling guilty and finding myself getting angry at everything little thing even if it had nothing to do with her death.

When I was planning our trip home for last November, I wanted to go to Moloka`i on top of being on O`ahu and Hawai`i.  When it came down to practicality, we didn’t have enough time and I was afraid of Grandma getting frustrated with trying to cook for me without gluten or dairy.  The last thing I wanted to do was make her frustrated doing something she loved to do, cook for her loved ones.

Grandma was my last living grandparent.  Grandpa died a little over 3 years ago.  That was the last time I saw Grandma.  My maternal grandparents died 5 months apart in 2004.  This was another difficult thing I was dealing with.  You never think about what it’s like to lose that last grandparent until it happens.  It’s more challenging to deal with when both sets of your grandparents had a lot to do with your upbringing and who you are today.

Just a fraction of my family

My father’s side of the family is large.  Especially, when you add in the all the extended family, of whom the older ones also had a part in my upbringing and who I am.  Everyone older than me is Auntie, Uncle, Grandma, or Grandpa.  As a child, it was confusing. Two of my relatives I should be calling Auntie and Uncle are around my age.  One is two years older and her brother is a year younger.  I call their older brother, Uncle, and their older sisters, Auntie, but I have never been able to use those titles with them.  It was just weird.  Even my own cousins are confused.  Because of the age difference between all of us, they sometimes call me Auntie.  Even their parents will refer to me as Auntie.  As kids, I told them they would figure it out as they got older.  As adults, they do it just to mess with me.  Most of the time.  The titles go by generation.  Anyone in my Dad’s generation – his cousins – are Auntie and Uncle.  Anyone in my grandparent’s generations – their cousins – are Grandma and Grandpa.

Somehow, we all used to sleep on Grandma Vi's floor together when I was little. I don't know how, but we did.

If I wasn’t at Grandma and Grandpa’s while visiting Moloka`i growing up, I was at Grandma Vi’s or Grandma C’s.  I spent about as much time at their homes as I did Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Grandma Vi told me several times, “Even if no more Grandma Cintang, you still have me.”  The first time she said that, I hugged her and replied, “You’ll always be my grandma.”  That first time came after reminding myself that I still have grandparents even if they aren’t in my direct lineage.  They were words I needed to hear out loud to make my thoughts feel real.

Grandma M, Auntie Ai's mother-in-law. She's always treated me like one of her own. Like a true Filipino mother/grandmother, always tries to make me eat as soon as I walk through her door.

The day before Grandma’s funeral, when the rest of the family was arriving from the outer islands and the Mainland and congregating at the house, it hit me that someone other than Grandma was missing.  The days and nights I had already been there were void of a liveliness that was always present before.  Grandma Oming.  She was the life of the parties.  She always came to the preparations for the get togethers with a smile on her face and asking (in my younger days), “You remember me?”  You could hear her laughing through the din of the parties and spot her with her shock of white hair in the crowd.  I mentioned missed her to Auntie Al that night.  The next day, Auntie Al did a small eulogy before Uncle G’s, that was touching and mentioned Grandma Oming.  The floodgates opened and I was able to finally mourn that loss the way I should have last September.

Grandma Mar-C - she cracks me up!

The weekend I was home for Grandma’s funeral, I was supposed to be in Chicago for Nourished (a food blogger conference) and the Gluten-free & Allergy-free Expo.  I wanted desperately to go and see my blogger friends again and finally meet some others in person, yet every time I prayed about going, I kept getting a “no” feeling.  When Auntie Ai called me with the news, it was clear to me why.  I was supposed to go home instead of Chicago.  I was supposed to spend an enormous amount of time with my family.  I was supposed to remember that I have more grandmothers still living.

Yes, Grandma Vi, you will forever be my grandmother.  I thank you and all the other relatives for what you did to help Grandma when she was taking care of Lelang and Grandpa and after they both passed.  I know it was what any of us would do for each other.

Love bonds us all together for life.  Direct relation or not.

Grandma Zen, Grandma E (Grandpa's sister), Grandma Vi, and Grandma C. They all decided to mimic us doing shots that night. They are loving AND hilarious!

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Sleeping Or Just A Shell?

Last night I started reading Steven James’ The Bishop.  By page 19 I was in full blown cry mode and had to put down the book until I could calm down. His description of a dead body in a casket hit home.  Hard.

I’ve attended quite a few open casket funerals.  I attribute this to my Filipino heritage.  I know it is by no means a Filipino phenomenon, but all Filipino funerals I went to were open casket.  Whereby, only some of the non-Filipino funerals I went to are open casket. I remember finding pictures of open casket funerals in my grandparents’ collection of pictures.  Not just pictures of family at the grave site, but pictures of the family gathered around the loved one who passed away.  Pictures of the dead body.  As a young child I found this extremely morbid. It is also how I discovered my youngest uncle had a twin sister.

As an adult, I still find it morbid.  There were funerals where I refused to go up to see the body even after family members attempted to get me up there.  No way.  No how.  Nuh uh.

I still remember when Mom de los Santos passed away and I braved the line to see her body one last time.  A friend next to me commented, “She looks like she’s sleeping.”  All the while I’m thinking, No, she looks like just a wasted shell of her lively self.  It really wasn’t the way I wanted to remember her.  It’s really not how I want to remember any of my loved ones.

I don’t care how much makeup is used.  No body I have ever seen looks like they are sleeping.  A lie we tell ourselves to make our grief lessen?  Possibly.  Another perception of reality?  Likely.  After all, I tend to see things as they are.

When Granny died 7 years ago, I was the one who found her and had to check her to make sure what I knew in my heart was true.  She was cold to the touch and one eye was half open.  Definitely not looking like she was sleeping.  Thankfully, we had her cremated so only pictures of her were at the service.  When Papa died 5 months later I was nowhere near and never had to see his body.

When Lelang and Grandpa both passed away, they were in open caskets. Two services each.  In a very small church that has since burned down.  It is not uncommon to see mourners and visitors at the open casket wailing declarations of love and other things I can’t quite get the gist of since most of it is in Ilokano.  There are quite a lot of things, on the ritual side, that happen surrounding the death of a loved one on the Filipino side of my family but I’m not going into it all.

What really hit me when I had to put the book down was the memory of standing at Grandpa’s casket after one of my aunties dragged me up there.  I guess it was obvious that I was avoiding it.  As soon as I saw him I started crying louder than I ever had in public.  Or at least it seemed that way with the church’s acoustics.  No one really needed a microphone to be heard in St. Sophia’s.  I remember leaning on my auntie in an effort to not allow my legs to buckle under me as I felt they would.

It was Grandpa’s body there in front of me, but it was just his body.  It wasn’t him.  It wasn’t his smiling face.  His singing.  His story telling.  It wasn’t him.  It also wasn’t the man who had one foot in the otherworld for years. The man who kept asking who I was the last time I saw him despite the many times I kept telling him, “Ni Eddie, Grandpa.”  The short way in Ilokano to let someone know who one of your parents is.

The last images of Mom de los Santos, Granny, Grandpa, Lelang, and other friends and loved ones are forever burned in my memories.  There is no unseeing what I’ve seen.  There is no changing my perception of what someone looks like after they’ve died.  Because of my own perceptions and because of my love for others, I would never want their last image of me to be just my shell.  I’m sure there is no way around one or two finding me or being there when I leave this flesh and blood world, but I do not want a church full of people remembering pasty makeup that approximates life when life has left me.

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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