Visiting the dead

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    ‘No Filipino grows up without an Undas story or two. It’s a holiday almost everyone looks forward to – especially the flower growers and sellers – because it is an occasion to gather, to eat, to play, and to remember.’

    OUR smart leaders some weeks ago decreed that cemeteries will be closed for Undas to prevent “mass gatherings” that become petri-dishes for the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

    Smart, except that people last Sunday flocked en masse to the cemeteries – it was unmoving traffic on the road leading to Himlayang Pilipino that forced me to turn back. So it may be that what we tried to prevent happening this weekend has already happened.

    Let’s just hope everyone was wearing a mask, even those alone in their cars, as recommended by another of them smart policy-makers of the administration.

    Diño na ba naaalala ‘yun?

    No Filipino grows up without an Undas story or two. It’s a holiday almost everyone looks forward to – especially the flower growers and sellers – because it is an occasion to gather, to eat, to play, and to remember. Different families put different weights on those four, but Undas is a much-awaited holiday. This year is no different even though in some ways we have been on a holiday since March.

    I observe Undas for many reasons. In the past, it was out of filial duty – my mom would visit her father at Himlayan and, of course, we (my father and two brothers and I) were in tow. We would then visit my father’s father and brother at Fort Santiago, and then it’s off to Rizal Park or, years later, to a mall, to eat.

    When my mother died in 1993 my father and I spent the next five years going to the cemetery every weekend. And then the next 16 or so years after that almost every other weekend. Only after my father started to become slower in movement did we end up going around once a month; months before he died my father would stay in the car as I disembarked to place pots of flowers at the head of my mother’s tomb as well as on those of my father’s two elder sisters. A visit to Fort Santiago was also done the same way, with my father waiting in the car while I lit two candles at the foot of the white cross, in memory of my paternal grandfather and uncle.

    Now, my father himself is buried at Himlayan and I am now alone on these trips. But now I do them out of habit; you see, my attitude is that my loved ones are not in their tombs – it’s just their mortal remains (cremated in my father’s case). And I don’t need to go to the cemetery to be with them; in fact, it may very well be that they visit me every day!

    One day when my father and I were caught in unmoving traffic on a November 1, I told him that it was the last time we were ever going to Himlayang Pilipino on All Saints Day itself. Traffic was making driving tough and it was particularly tougher that I had to maneuver the company-issued Ford Expedition between other vehicles parked along the roads of the cemetery. Okay, he said, we can go on the 31st. And so the next year that’s what we did – only to get stuck in traffic again. And so I said again that this was the last time we would be going to the cemetery on the 31st. And that’s when we had a funny conversation.

    “Your mama will be sad if we don’t visit her on the 31st or the 1st,” my dad said, adding: “Imagine everyone around her will have visitors and she won’t have any.”

    I actually wanted to laugh, hearing this so unscientific a comment from a retired professor of medicine, whose approach to life had mainly been so scientific. But of course it was no laughing matter, so I knew I had to respond in kind.

    “We visit her twice a week for a year. That’s at least 26 times. Everyone else around her gets a visitor only once a year. Don’t you think that every other week she proudly tells her neighbors “nandito na naman ang dalaw ko!”

    From then on, we would go visit my mother and my two aunts buried next to her on the 30th of October before the whole horde came, and kept that up until October 2015, the year before my father himself passed away.

    This year, due to COVID, I wouldn’t mind if they came to visit me instead!