I wanna be free
I wanted to do another column about the Thai cave rescue, but I know you need a break from all the coverage. So let’s do a different topic today.
More than a wake, the Filipino burol is a 24-hour drawn-out affair where the immediate family is expected to tell and retell stories about the deceased, especially about how they died, while visitors come to condole… and more: eat, drink and, yes, be merry, playing cards (sometimes gambling) and singing karaoke.
My parents were explicit about not holding wakes for them or, if we had to, not to have it more than a day. Both with a strong work ethic, they just felt it wasn’t right to inconvenience people, especially because I’m the only child based in the Philippines. Hold a memorial service after the burial, they both agreed, but not a wake.
It was wise advice. For both my parents, I had the cremation a few hours shortly after they died, then kept their ashes for a few days into the funeral, without a wake in between. I did not take work leave, and, although it was difficult, I was able to manage with the office… and the columns.
Not holding a wake for both my parents allowed more time for me to interact with my sister, who came home from Canada both times, only three months apart. Instead of repeating the same story over and over again about how our parents died, we instead chose to spend time together, retrieving the more private memories of our lives with our parents, and then writing them up to share during the funeral and memorial services.
The storytelling was consoling, even therapeutic, and what struck me was how we each remembered certain incidents and stories that the other didn’t have.
Psychologists rightly say that we have selective memories, tending to remember what we want to remember because they had direct impact on, or relevance to, our own lives.
One particular “sibling-specific” memory my sister had was that my mother loved the song “I Wanna Be Free.”
Incredulous, I asked, The Monkees? Let me explain for younger readers: The Monkees was a very popular American rock band, sporting Beatles haircuts, in the late 1960s.
Yes, my sister replied—that band. Not only that, she said my mother would watch, together with her, The Monkees’ TV show, of which I had completely forgotten.
It just didn’t make sense. My mother disliked rock music, and was always so very serious. Was there a hidden side I hadn’t known, a rock-loving mom?
“I Wanna Be Free” is a song about loving and longing, and also about not wanting to be tied down. “If your love has to tie me, don’t try me, say goodbye, I wanna be free.” Not quite my mother either, I thought—but, humming the song, I wondered. Maybe she just liked the tune.
I did have a bit of regret finding out she liked The Monkees.
If I had known, I would have used Spotify to play back their songs to her.
I did use Spotify with my dad, whose cell phone had become pretty useless for him as his dementia worsened. But he kept it anyway at his side, a security blanket representing his last link to the outside world.
I figured the phone could at least be used to keep some memories alive, so, one day, I used Spotify to bring back Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese singer who died in 1995, but who continues to have fans, young and old, among the Chinese and some Southeast Asians.
The first time I played Teresa Teng for him, he frowned. He liked it, I could tell, but he was trying hard to remember who Teresa Teng was.
So I wrote out her name in Chinese, and his face lit up as he read out the name.
For weeks until he passed away, when I’d visit, I would hear from his room Teresa Teng and other Chinese singers. Who knows what went on in my father’s mind as he listened?
Who knows what would have been on my mother’s mind, listening to “I Wanna Be Free”?
The other Sunday, early morning, I told my 8-year-old daughter about how her Lola liked a certain tune. I retrieved the song on YouTube and explained who The Monkees was. We listened together quietly. Then, at one point, she took my hand and said, softly, “I miss her, too.”
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