(written July 5, 2005)
Family reunions were scary for me when I was younger. Perhaps because almost everybody in that event were strangers that was why I never enjoyed being there. I grew up in Manila and I could not speak the dialect and even if I tried, I sounded like an alien. Only a few of the people gathered in those reunions were familiar, and even the familiar ones seem to be strangers when they start talking the alien-sounding dialect.My father was clannish. He hailed from Romblon, so did my mother, too. My father wanted us to be there always when reunions were held. He wanted to introduce us to every single relative present. He wanted us to associate and befriend his relatives. He took pride in my achievements during those events – which I was not comfortable with. He talked about his kids so much (the joy of every parent?) and I resented the idea before. I did not understand why we had to be present in such occasions, why he had to talk about my achievements, why I had to talk to strangers, and why I need to learn to speak the dialect.
Last Sunday was a gathering of relatives, too – immediate relatives actually. Among the five who were left from a dozen siblings, only two remained living – my aunt, which is currently residing in Marinduque, and an uncle, which is residing in Ilocos. We were gathered to pay respect to my aunt who died in her house in New York all alone. She was cremated by a cousin, which is now living in Los Angeles, California. Her ash was brought from New York. It gave me a chill to see that the seemingly strong woman is now confined in that little urn.
The indifference I had when I was younger was replaced by a sense of joy and gratefulness. There I was again with relatives, though they were only a few of the multitude. It was really different now – hugs and kisses, warm exchanges, tales of personal account and the like, etc. I was there a proud parent of my two children – bragging about their achievements – just like Papa when I was younger. I have to be a parent and live as one for years to learn to realize what Papa wanted to impart.
I am happy to see my kinship. The little ones before are grown-ups already (some have their own family and kids though some remained unmarried). There were little tykes, and growing teens (including mine) also among the crowd. It never escaped my mind if they have that same line of thoughts when I was younger.
It was truly a night to remember. A cousin’s wife took the opportunity to share a verse from the bible, and conveyed some thoughts that really made me feel exuberant. Here it is:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
You rod and your staff
they comfort me.
Normally, such gathering where someone passed away will be filled with melancholy. But what happened is an atypical commemoration. Perhaps it was overcame by the joy of seeing each other again or perhaps everybody wanted to remember my aunt as the same person when she was alive – strong and intimidating and not the vulnerable and weak being.
That little urn, that night, they will be forever in my heart… I took the picture that was placed in front of the urn – that of my aunt. I returned it but never touched the urn – not ready yet to face what is for us in the future?