The first and second days of November is that time of the year when people go to the cemetery to visit the graves of their departed loved ones. I remember my dad bringing the whole family to the Chinese cemetery many decades ago. We would visit the graves of my grandfather (who died before I was born) and grandmother, as well as my uncle, my father’s eldest brother (who also died before I was born).
I would often dart in and out of the maze of mausoleums, breathing in the incense and candle-smoke, looking at old pictures and inscriptions of the departed.
I remember one particular mausoleum. In the many years that we visited, it never seemed to have any visitors. I remember it because there was a striking photograph of an old couple. I don’t remember much of the woman’s face but the man wore a scowl and his eyes bore deep into my own. That photo gave me the creeps and I used to imagine that the man was Count Dracula himself.
As I grew older, the yearly visits became more tiresome because of the heat and traffic, and the novelty of exploring to and fro had worn off. Even “Dracula” didn’t scare me as much as he used to anymore. I would often ask my dad if I could skip the visit and just stay home. He would say, “No, it’s just one day out of a year, and it’s important, even for just that one day, to remember the dead and reflect on how they have touched our lives.”
Well, I wasn’t able to do that because I was out of town and preoccupied with other matters. So I thought now would be a good time to pause and remember some old friends and relatives who are dearly missed.
Uncle Roland – My dad’s youngest brother, whom I got as a ninong during my wedding. I had met him only once before as a teenager as he was already based in the U.S. a few years before I was born. The second time around, he visited Davao after being away for around 3 decades and it was a delight touring him around, especially when we passed Uyanguren and he exclaimed, “Uy Giok’s! Wow! Still alive huh?” I brought him to my Toastmasters meeting where he saw an old friend in Dr. Evelyn Fabie (who has also passed on). We had great conversation that afternoon over coffee where he shared to me his life and experience in the U.S. It was probably the first deep conversation I had with any relative of mine.
Eric Solon – My next door neighbor and one of my very first friends. He was two years older than me, taught me how to ride a bike, play ping-pong, climb walls, and basically, if I was not over at his house, he was over in mine. They had a large German Shepherd that I never quite got to befriend (I usually had a way with dogs, but not this one) — it bit me on the back when I carelessly leaned on their iron-railed fence one day. When Eric was in high school, he had cancer in his leg and it had to be amputated. But we later found out that the cancer had already spread to the rest of his body and he passed away soon after.
Uncle Frank – I didn’t really like him at first as he tended to be rough and brusque when talking to me. Also, he smoked like crazy and I didn’t enjoy inhaling the second-hand smoke. When I was in college, I remember being on a bus along EDSA, then I saw a car in the distance — and I thought, “That looks like Uncle Frank’s car,” but I wasn’t really sure because I couldn’t see who the driver was through the tinted glass. Then I saw the window open and dark smoke comes belching out of it, and then I thought, “Oh yes, that’s Uncle Frank for sure.”
It was only later that I learned of his tender and caring side, from my mom and some cousins who were closer to him than I was. I was there at his funeral and cremation, where one cousin playfully put a cigarette over his folded hands — one last stick for him as his corpse rolled towards the furnace.
Ernest Tan-chi – a good friend of mine and my wife who died in a car accident just a month before our wedding. I had met Ernest during my college years and I particularly remember a cold night in Tagaytay during a church conference. I had wandered out of my room because I couldn’t sleep and there was this dog wandering around so I sat with the dog and played with it. Ernest comes passing by and sits beside me and we talked for hours about life, death, God, and all sorts of things.
Eric Ramos – my classmate ever since we were in grade school all the way to high school. He had a unique and wacky take on things. I remember when our barkada was dining out at a fast food joint. After the meal, we were talking and drinking and Eric was noisily crushing the ice from his drink with his teeth. He then remarked to the waiter passing by, “Boss, ang sarap pala ng ice niyo dito” (Your ice tastes delicious). In a surreal repeat of what had happened earlier to Ernest, I would come to read of Eric’s demise in the U.S., also of a car accident.
My dad was right. It is good to take a little time and reflect on those who have departed, to think about what their lives meant, and how they have touched us. And when we do that, they continue to live on in our memories and in our hearts.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.