Yesterday was the 3rd death anniversary of my grandfather. I remember so distinctly the moment I found out that he had passed away. I was on leave from London for the first time since getting my work permit. My father’s side of the family was having a reunion in one of the beach resorts in Cebu and we had just finished a scrumptious breakfast buffet.
I was trying to burn a few calories by doing my own version of swimming in the ocean (I can’t swim to save my life) when my uncle hailed us to come back to shore. I thought he was telling us we needed to check out soonish, but then he said that my grandfather (Lolo) had died that morning.
I went up to our suite to find my mother barely keeping it together. Being the eldest child, I knew I had to travel with them back to Samar (another island in the Philippines) so we can lay my Lolo to rest. I had a moment of self-absorption to be honest, because I had my holiday all planned out and that changed everything. But all my plans paled in comparison to the fact that my mum needed my support.
I did not have a great relationship with my grandfather. Because they live in such a remote area of the country I rarely had time to visit them when I started college. I was also quite a spoiled, judgmental teenager who could not wait to go back to the city every time we visited.
His drinking, and the attitude that came with it, really rubbed me the wrong way. I think I was 16 when I first started making it clear that I did not approve of it and I started to pull away. I might, in a fit of adolescent tantrum, have even said all this to his face.
I didn’t realise the value of family until I was much older and living in a city where I didn’t have them. Its only now that I know enough to be ashamed of my actions and to regret never cultivating a better relationship with my Lolo.
When I was 16 all I could see was the drinking and the person he became when he was drunk; I’d forgotten about how, when we were younger and could visit for much longer, he would make every effort to make sure we enjoyed our stay.
He’d catch fish for us, slaughter his chicken and pigs for us (sorry, I know this is crude), introduce us to everyone in the small town and tell everyone how smart we were; he’d sing karaoke with us, take us swimming in the nearby river and watch out for us. Back when we were young and able to appreciate the simple things in life more, we were able to appreciate him more.
My brother and sister were better with him than I was. You see, I went through a phase when I was so full of my own hubris that I thought I was better than everyone else. I had a holier-than-thou attitude that makes me cringe when I think about it now. London has been good for me in so many ways and in a way, living independently has made me more grounded and more appreciative of my family.
I never got to say goodbye. I thought I would have more time. We always think we have more time until we don’t. I can’t even remember when I saw him last (it must have been in 2011 shortly before I left the country), what I said, whether I was able to say I loved him or able to apologise for my shitty attitude towards him growing up, or to tell him that I understand about the drinking.
I visited his grave with my mum, my sister and my aunt and uncle yesterday. We organised a mass for him and said our prayers. It was raining and I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes but I was determined not to complain and to see it through. We then visited our grandma afterwards and we sat around while my uncle reminisced about his last day. It was a sort of catharsis for them all to relive it and to be relieved that he went so peacefully.
He inspired devotion in his children, despite everything. I’m sure they also found him challenging but they loved him so much that they’d travel from afar every year, even after his death, just to visit. He took care of them and made sure that they had good lives and a good future. That’s the minimum that you can ask of a parent and I’ve seen enough of the world to know that not everyone is so lucky.
He was a good man.
There’s no one on earth who can say that they’ve lived a life with no regrets; this is one of mine. I can’t go back and change the past but I can be better and do right by my remaining family in the future.
I think this is one of the reasons why I’m home this month rather than off exploring the world. You never really know how much time you have with the people you love. With my sister also home on leave, we’re a complete family for the first time in 3 years. That’s more important to me than climbing Machu Pichu.
Its ironic but I don’t actually come from a family where its easy to express words of affection. Words are wind anyway, its our actions that speak volumes. I will try to be a better person than I was to my grandfather but I also just wanted to write this blog as a love letter to tell him the things I never said and to say goodbye.
Rest in peace, Lolo.