My grandma died last week. It wasn't sad, exactly, except when I saw my dad cough and sputter during his portion of the eulogy because he was trying not to cry in front of 200 friends and family. And except when I called my Ako a few hours after Ama had passed, and she was weepy and raw over the phone. In short, seeing other family members grieve was probably more difficult emotionally than saying good-bye to Ama herself.
This was my first time observing death rituals in the Philippines, and this is what happened: we had a week-long wake where the body was displayed amidst a sea of flowers. People came and stayed for hours and there was junk food everywhere. It was a huge reunion of, well, everyone: family, friends, business associates, politicians, church ladies, my parents' high school classmates and former hairdressers. And everywhere you looked, there was food and drink. Tables set with coffee and tea and bottled water. Plates of dry, crackly Filipino peanuts that were pinched out of their shells. Individually wrapped ensaymadas, these pillowy buns coated in butter, sugar, and grated cheese. Fish crackers. Hard candy. Salted melon seeds.
And there was a service every. single. night. It was great, though, because I got to hear all sorts of stories about my grandma from everyone from her sister-in-law to her maid. And the stories were hilarious because my grandma was a piece of work, in the best possible way. She was outrageously generous, iron-willed, really high strung, and thought of nothing but Jesus. So in their remembrances, people said stuff like this:
- She was like a tenacious bulldog.
- She was always the first to distribute Christmas presents. In October.
- When I was sick/moved house/gave birth/needed money, she came and visited me/drove more than an hour to bring me food and gifts/sent a cheque.
- Forced me to go to church/lead a Bible study/think about Jesus after she called me repeatedly/pestered me for weeks/invited me year after year/prayed for me for a decade.
In his eulogy, my dad said that whenever she called him on the phone, she would promptly hang up after speaking without waiting for him to reply. Her priority was just to say what she had to say, then she was done with her duty. No feedback needed. No good-bye. "She did it again," Dad said. "She finished the work she felt called to do on earth, and then she hung up her body." Then he coughed for a while.
He was in France and my Ako was in Alabama when Ama decided to die. She had told everyone for months that she didn't want to die while bedridden in a hospital. She prayed over and over that God would take her quickly. Her eyesight was failing, she'd been racked by a cough for something like nine months, and her knees were giving out at the most inopportune times. So on Tuesday morning, she walked into her shower, turned on the faucet, and while she was waiting for her bathing bucket to fill up, she experienced cardiac arrest. When the maids found her a good half-hour later, she was slumped face-down, gently resting in two inches of water. God had answered her prayer. He took home his servant. No good-byes required.