mama, my lola (grandmother), was laid to rest last saturday. i'm not well-versed with the traditions that accompany the rites of the dearly departed, as i usually shy away from attending such occasions, but my grandmother's wake and interment were by far the most elaborate i've personally observed -- replete of traditions and meanings.
mama is the third to pass away among my grandparents. the first was my motherside grandfather who died eight years ago, and second was my fatherside grandmother, who passed away two years. in both occasions, the wake lasted for four days.
mama's wake lasted for nine days.
my brother and i got home two days before the interment (feb 17). by then the guest book already has a tally of 893 visitors, coming from across the region, with more scheduled to arrive by batches. the actual number is higher, as i noticed some of the guests, usually the rural folks, don't sign the guestbook.
i guess this is a manifestation of the combined network established by my mother, currently an assistant schools division superintendent, and my late grandmother, a retired district supervisor. the people helping around the house were mostly teachers and friends (our clan is relatively small). the food logistics was breathtaking: it's like having a fiesta everyday, minus the merryment and music, where you serve snacks, lunch, and dinner to an average of about 100 guests daily. on the eve of the interment, i was told that four pigs were killed for next day's lunch and dinner (oh those poor pigs).
for two nights i stood vigil (hey my insomnia is good for something, finally), and learned some things about our local customs. here are the ones i took note of:
first, during the wake, the bereaved family should not say "salamat" or thank you to those who give "abuloy" or contributions. they didn't explain exactly why, they just politely corrected me when i blurted "saemat guid" (thank you very much) to a group who shoved a jar full of coins and bills into my hands. a simple "sige" or "okay" will do. thanks and appreciation (personally or through thank you cards) may be given after the interment.
second, a guest leaving the wake must not be escorted to the gate or exit. this too i was corrected, as i thought it's just polite to walk our guests and friends up to the gate. some say it is to avoid bringing with them the air of death. *shudder*
third, as the casket is carried out of the house, it will stop just outside the main entrance. the grandchildren must then walk under it, immediately run through the back door, through the house, and out again through the main door (wheee!).
fourth, after the mass and on the way to the cemetery, family members are not allowed to step anywhere within the vicinity of the house, even on the grass at the frontyard. sheesh! this one caused quite a commotion among my elderly townmates because they thought i was going to enter our gates on our way to the cemetery. they were like "ayaw ayaw ayaaaaw! ayaw it agto una! indi ka mag-suoed! aaaaay!!!" (no no nooooo! don't go there! don't go inside! aaaaay!!!) haha! i was informed ahead about this one, i was just walking over to my friend at the sidewalk who was handing out umbrellas for us. but my ghulay, such passionate townmates we have!
finally, everyone outside the bereaved family must sprinkle ashes at the entrance of their own houses when they get home from the cemetery or from the house of the bereaved family. again, something about not bringing the air of death inside the home.
looking back at those two days, i realized how much a stranger i am in my own town. had it not been for my brief TV interview in ABS-CBN last valentine's day, i'd say most won't even know that my mom has a third child -- "uy ikaw ro ha-interview sa channel 2, di ba-ea? ga-e ko man pamilyar ro apelyido, nanay mo gali ni Ma'am Vi." (uy you're the one interviewed in channel 2, right? no wonder the surname was familiar, Ma'am Vi is your mom.)
those who do remember me treat me like a manileño -- they would speak to me in tagalog, and be surprised when i answer in the local dialect. "ay antigo ka gali gihapon mag-Akeanon! (ay you still know Akeanon!).
my name... such a difficult name to remember. a name that has been my problem since i took the college entrance examination, which required me to use the name indicated in my birth certificate (it has the wrong, one-word Leorando instead of the one i grew up with, Leo Rando. i'm still working on having it corrected at the local civil registrar).
i wonder if people will remember me when it's my time to lie inside that casket? in my last trip towards my resting place, i'd be lucky to have even just a fourth of the number of people walking behind my lola.
i have no doubt that she is in a better place now. rest well, mama... you've been through a lot.
"i am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then i shall come back to take you with me, that where i am, you also may be." - john 14:3