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Four-day weekends and e-Lamay

/ 04:36 AM November 01, 2011

As I write this, my own nuclear family has fulfilled our familial obligation to go visit the graves of our dearly departed on both sides of the marital border.

Sunday, we woke up early in the morning and with my sister Charo and sister-in-law Soc in tow, we met up with other members of the family at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. To our surprise, we found streets wide open with a few vehicles parked by the sidewalks, a number of flowers and candles on the markers, and a small crowd milling about. In other words, the usual Sunday scene was unlike the mob and mess we had expected and encountered in previous years.

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We said our prayers in relative peace and quiet, even if at this early hour, some families were already having tents erected and small fences—some fashioned from bamboo stakes and straw, others from ready-made plastic staves—set up around their relatives’ plots to protect them from strangers’ footsteps. We sat around trading jokes and catching up on each other’s lives. We wondered, for instance, just where my sister-in-law Coratec, who is GM of the Metro Manila Development Authority, was at that moment. She had left their home at 5 a.m. trailed by a TV crew of GMA-7 on a “tour” of public and private cemeteries around the metropolis. This, after logging hours in flood relief efforts in Bulacan. The travails of a public servant, indeed!

The next day, it was our turn to visit the grave of my father-in-law in La Loma Cemetery, just beside the North Cemetery. Since the gates were still closed early in the morning, we parked a few blocks away and walked toward our “Lolo Maning’s” grave. Again, because it was a day before All Saints’ Day, there was no sizeable crowd to contend with, although our prayers were interrupted now and then by young urchins asking if they could collect the candle drippings, passers-by speculating about the pots of orchids we brought, and a caretaker who was billing us for more than we remembered we owed her.

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We had immediately sprayed insect repellant on ourselves on arrival, fearful of coming down with dengue from the mosquitoes that were buzzing around. But a more immediate worry was where we could sit down for brunch while we slowly stewed in the mid-morning heat and humidity.

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IN all, the annual ritual, which can sometimes turn into an ordeal, went off with relatively little inconvenience or hardship for my family. And there is still all of today left to enjoy the rest of our welcome long-weekend break.

How humane and kindhearted of authorities to declare Oct. 31 a holiday, extending the period for trooping to the burial grounds of our loved ones and performing our filial responsibilities. They also thus ended up distributing the crowds, traffic and crowding in the major cemeteries, making for less stressful experiences all around.

I can also imagine what a relief this means for those families who must travel to provincial hometowns to visit their dead. The long holiday means less crowding at airports, bus terminals and ports, although I understand the crowds grew soon after wage earners collected their salaries, to be spent on their holidays.

Tradition may dictate that we Catholics visit our deceased relatives on Nov. 1, both to clean up and refurbish their graves, and to say prayers to hasten their reception in heaven. But a four-day weekend around this time gives us a chance to spread the tradition around, to time our visits when it is most convenient and least bothersome. Indeed, there is no hard-and-fast law that says we should only visit our dead on All Saints’ Day. What matters, I would think is that we remember them, and take time to trade our presence for their remembrance, to include them in the affairs and the thoughts of the living.

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MY daughter had to leave for Beijing last Saturday and, knowing that she would be away while we honored our deceased loved ones, she worried about how she would be able to carry out a social and religious obligation while visiting a foreign land.

She hit upon a “modern” solution: bringing a pair of battery-powered “candles” that she said she would turn on Nov. 1, to pacify the spirits of her grandparents, aunt and uncles, and young nephew who are buried at Loyola and La Loma.

I was amused and touched at both the solution she found and her worrying about it in the first place. This is all of a piece, I thought, with the e-Lamay and online “undas,” innovations adopted by funeral parlors and the Catholic bishops to allow overseas Filipinos to share in our time-honored rituals.

e-Lamay was simply an amusing piece of news until a friend, whose brother died recently, told me how they took advantage of the funeral parlor’s offer to let her daughter, who is on scholarship in the Netherlands, view her uncle’s wake via close-circuit TV and Skype.

“Mom you were wearing a blue dress,” her daughter e-mailed afterwards, “but who was the visitor wearing red?” I thought it was heartwarming how someone miles away could be “present” to mourn a loved one back home, while also participating in the social chit-chat that so often takes place when families gather.

Online “undas,” the native word for All Saints’ Day, is actually a web page where Filipinos abroad could send their prayers and petitions for their loved ones who had passed away. Instead of saying prayers aloud and sending them heavenward on candle smoke, Filipinos abroad could instead express them in digital form and, who knows, St. Peter and God Himself could be computer savvy, too!

This just shows how we can tweak our traditions, making it more convenient to follow them, without ruining their essential features or taking away any of the piety and personal sentiment inherent in them.

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TAGS: 4-day weekends, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, e-Lamay
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