Yesterday my family buried my Tito Jun, who passed away earlier this week after a long struggle against cancer. His humor, kindness, smooth singing voice and smile will be missed by me and many others.
I hadn't seen my Tito Jun healthy in a long time, but I'll always have memories of him as a happy-go-lucky, kindhearted gentleman, the kind of man I like to think of as quintessentially Filipino. He loved to sing love songs and be sweet to his wife, but he loved to smoke and drink whiskey, too. He was loved by his children and extended family; I can't ever remember not liking him or not being glad to see him and my Tita Glo, his wife.
I find real comfort in funerals, viewings, wakes, rosaries--all the components that make up the Filipino grieving process. The viewing was especially emotional for me, because I got to see Titos and Titas and cousins that I hadn't seen in years (or ever), some since I was a little girl. I was happily surprised that they all remembered me, although it took a couple of them a few minutes to place who I was. "Tita Puring's daughter," they would tell each other, and then their faces would light up with recognition. It makes so much sense that, after my anti-family Thanksgiving and my recent ill feelings towards my family, my Tito Jun's funeral was the place where I found some healing. He was the kind of man who could bring people together. Even my mom wasn't mad at me anymore, either for missing Thanksgiving--how can you be mad at people at the funeral of someone you both love?
As I sat in the church during the funeral mass, I noticed that the crucifix was not the standard cross shape that most Catholic crucifixes come in, but a figure of Christ hung from a single arc of branch, his wrists tied to it grotesquely. As I sat there listening to the priest and contemplating the figure, I thought about my recent studies of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation, how many (mis)interpret the Buddha's teaching about suffering to mean, "All life is suffering," when I and many others do not believe that was the intention behind his words. I think his meaning was that, "Suffering is unavoidable" but that we canliberate ourselves from it by following the Middle Way. I found it ironic and a little sad to remember how Christians (or at least Catholics in particular) focus so much on the crucifixion and suffering of Christ, instead of on his own 'enlightment' or awakening (Christians call it resurrection) on the third day after his death.
One of the most touching moments at the viewing for me was when a short, Chinese-looking man, after staring intently at me for several minutes as I hugged some of my cousins, came up to me in the pew as I sat with H. He approached me with a quizzical look on his face, as if he vaguely recognized me but couldn't remember my name. I rose and said who I was, and his face lit up as he opened his arms wide to embrace me.
"I'm Roy," he said; he was Tito Jun's eldest son, whom I'd heard about but never met before, since he had been in the Philippines when I was a child, when Tito Jun immigrated here with his four youngest children. I embraced him back, feeling the old warmth of family washing over me, the beautiful feeling of knowing that somewhere, by someone, I am recognized and loved.
My friend M. just returned from a month-long trip to the Philippines--her first--and told me of how family she'd never met before embraced her so warmly there. She's encouraging me to take my own first-ever trip; it's something I've always wanted to do but am only feeling more reassured about now, after yesterday's experience.
It's good to know that, on some level, there is family out there, in the world, waiting to embrace you.