Memories of family
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines invited me to speak during the Asian Conference on the Family. Instead of an oldie like me, I thought the audience would be better off hearing the real-life experience of the young like our grandson Miguel P. Sandejas. Since Christmas is a season for the family, let me share his talk, a bit shortened to fit this space, thus:
“The word family instantly spurs memories of faces in my head, as I’m sure it does yours. Magnificent and kind faces. It spurs memories of feelings so strong that I can almost relive them right now, from where I stand. Because where I stand is where they put me. And I am here today because of them and I will forever be grateful for that.
“The first memory I would like to share with you is that of my father. When I was very young, I remember sitting on the lap of Papa pretending to play driver as we entered the gate of my parents’ love nest in Alabang. They were newly married back then. I remember sitting on his lap and laughing as we honked the horn.
“The memories of my father abruptly stop there. This is because we lost Papa to a car accident when I was just two years old. From there, my life was populated by one of the most plaguing (and sometimes useless) questions in the English language—I started to ask ‘What if?’ What if I grew up with him by my side, would life be different? What if he were there during father’s day celebrations at school? What if he were there to see me graduate from the University of the Philippines? (Also his alma mater.) This is where the question ‘what if’ becomes useless. There is never an answer to ‘what if’ questions like those. It is like talking to a closed door, shouting at it, aimlessly hoping for it to open.
“The second memory I want to share with you is an eagle eye’s view of my family. I want to share with you how, unseemingly, God answered my questions. I want to share with you how God carried my mother and me through all of these years. Of course He would never abandon us. He would never abandon any of us.
“Had Papa been around, life would have been different. Mom always said that ‘When God closes doors, He opens new windows.’ Little did I know, while I was shouting ‘what if’ at closed doors, blessings were pouring through the windows that God opened for us. These blessings flooded through the windows and rushed through every nook and cranny that they could find. These blessings came in the form of my family.
“Papa’s absence at father’s day was filled by Tito Manu, Tito Paco and Lolo Lito. My graduation day was celebrated with many people who loved me. Family filled in the empty spaces left by loss. They uplifted us and kept us going even when we thought we could not. They rushed to Mom’s side when she stood there, broken by the death of her husband—my lolos and lolas, aunts and uncles both on the Sandejas and Panganiban sides—they helped her hold on to the pieces of her broken heart.
“My mom is my stronghold. She is the strongest root that keeps me grounded to what is good and rational. I admire her for keeping herself together through loss… for keeping herself together for me and raising me the way she did. Even if the world grieved with her, I cannot imagine what kind of pain she was put through. In my opinion, no one should ever be put through the pain of love and loss. However, the strength of a mother will forever be greater than any superpower that anyone can ever have.
“I’m sure that she asked her own ‘what ifs’ at that time in her life. God answered her ‘what ifs’ too. He gave her Alex, my stepfather. He helped her put the pieces of her heart back together. He offered his life and forever support to her in marriage. How many people are lucky enough to find true love twice in their life? He also gave her a second son, my brother, Rafa, who is a Godsend, as well. Our family is complete again, even better and stronger than it used to be.
“The last thing I would like to share with you is what I have taken away from this experience… What I have taken away from life so far. In the absence of a father, I have realized the presence of many other prominent figures in my life.
“• He gave me parents that raised me to the best of their abilities—role models in their own trials and triumphs.
“• He gave me three sets of grandparents that serve as my models of perfect patriarchs and matriarchs. Pillars of love, support and family.
“• He gave me aunts and uncles to be the older brothers and sisters that I never had. Sources of strength and inspiration at any given time.
“• One day, I hope he will give me children (with whom) I can share everything I have learned from them. Children that will be blessed by the lessons and love that I have learned from them.
“There will always be what ifs. But suddenly, the answers to those ‘what ifs’ don’t seem so important anymore. God already answered them through my family.
“There are many times in our lives that we ask why God takes away. God was not selfish when he took Papa to Heaven; I believe that He handpicked Papa from His earthly garden because He needed him a bit earlier than planned. I was taught to accept this unconditionally.
“I realize now that life always goes on, even after death. God will always be there and He will always be there in the form of Family—in the form of Love—a love that is pure, honest and unfaltering.
“Family is the ultimate proof that God loves us and in the end, proof that everything will be okay.”
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