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Mourning and celebration

/ 12:10 AM November 01, 2016

Today is the day Filipinos “officially” observe the Feast of the Dead, known to us as All Saints Day.

But this has proven to be a moveable feast, at least among urban Pinoys. When  All Saints Day falls on or near a weekend, canny city dwellers seek to escape the horrendous traffic, congestion and garbage that attend this annual ordeal by visiting their beloved dead on days immediately before or after this feast. I’m sure our loved ones now in Heaven (or elsewhere) understand the circumstances that drive their survivors to honor their obligations in more convenient times and climes.

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After all, as priests interviewed on radio have intoned again and again in the past few days, the faithful are free and even encouraged to honor their dead at any time. Don’t confine your prayers for and memories of them to just the designated days of the year, they counsel. Instead, pray for them each time you remember them, and seek to honor their memory by living your life in a way they would be proud of.

There are other ways, too, I’m sure, of demonstrating filial loyalty than just buying flowers for the graveside, lighting candles or incense sticks, and hurrying through the rosary and the novena for the dead before heading to the nearest eatery. The other day, after visiting my in-laws’ graves at La Loma, the hubby, out of habit, laid out several lit candles to remember other relatives. The flames had died out by the time he realized that All Saints Day was still two days away. Our dead relatives, we joked, must have been wondering what impelled him to pray for them so prematurely!

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But if we, as a people, raise such a fuss about honoring the dead that the state has been compelled to declare a religious occasion an official public holiday, why is it that these days we seem to be taking killings—very public killings—with indifference?

When exactly did drug-related executions or shoot-outs cease to shock, sadden, or merely disturb us? Even as the death count continues to mount—and President Duterte promises to double or triple the total so far—our capacity for sympathy and empathy seems to have been driven in the other direction.

Maybe we’re just too tired, our indignation tested too many times, to still make sense these days. Or maybe our respect for the deceased is too shallow to penetrate our souls, or at least disturb the collective conscience.

Indulge me, please. Our Tita (Aunt) Chulia Jimenez Azarcon, the youngest and sole surviving sibling of my father Erning Jimenez (the eldest), turned 90 last Oct. 27.

Gathering relatives, neighbors, and former colleagues, her daughters organized a birthday treat for “Her Majesty Chulia” last Sunday.

The party stylist created a setting recalling elegant royal tea receptions. So maybe that’s why Tita Chul entered the venue to raucous cheers and applause at her outfit: a gold gown and sandals, with a tiara perched on her head.

Her daughters—Doris, Lani, Ching and Elvie—thought up a quiz for the guests on Tita Chul trivia. In the process, there emerged immensely interesting details about this remarkable woman. Among them: that she graduated magna cum laude (and bagged second place in the board exams) in chemistry, but chose to devote her life’s work to the Tariff Commission, capping her stint in the office as chair during President Cory Aquino’s term. Less known: that she was a fanatic follower of the TV show “Hawaii Five-O,” her joy knowing no bounds when she met no less than the lead actor Jack Lord in person.

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Tita Chul’s unique name means “mountain” in her birthplace of Bontoc, Mountain Province, where our Lolo Ponso’s peripatetic career brought his wife Lola Pacita and eight children (it’s said they brought the first automobile the people of Bontoc had ever seen). But in the years we’ve known her, Tita Chul has always been the kindly, thoughtful, empathetic aunt, who listened well and remembered our little stories, laughed at our jokes, and delighted in our children and grandchildren. Talk of role models! Would that we all age as gracefully as Tita Chul has, and be loved with the love that we showered on her at Her Majesty’s bash!

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TAGS: all saints day, cemetery, grave, mourning, opinion, undas
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