I had accepted lola's death. I knew it was coming. She had been sick for months.
She must have been in her mid to late eighties then. We were not sure. Nobody knew the exact year of birth of my grandparents.
But when I saw Lola Tasya in her casket, I was not able to control my tears.
I cried because the casket was a pitiful thing.
It looked like an ordinary wooden box made by non-carpenter members of "Dayong" in the community. ("Dayong," is a Visayan word for carrying together. It is a mortuary support organization in barangays. When a member dies, the rest shall pay to replenish a mortuary fund which is given to the bereaved family.)
The box was made of scrap wood gathered by neighbors. Instead of a glass on top to show lola's face, an ordinary plastic or cellophane was fastened. It looked like the same material I used to cover my books, or just a little thicker. I did not look at the sides carefully, whether they used thumbtacks or other materials. I could not take it anymore.
I pitied Lola Tasya. Having done so much in her lifetime, I felt she deserved a much more comfortable and presentable casket.
There were flowers made of Japanese or crepe paper. They reminded me of the Christmas lanterns in our elementary school which were made of the same cheap materials.
I was very sad, with pangs of guilt for not having done enough to ensure a decent burial for a great lola.
As I was observing the people around, I was a little bit relieved of my sadness. It was very inspiring to see the support of neighbors in a small community of peasants.
Aside from financial assistance, there were committees of Dayong which took care of flowers, food, tomb construction in the public cemetery and even the preparation for the funeral mass in a nearby chapel. Everything was well taken care of by economically poor members in their humble ways. I really saw and felt their sincerity.
When lola was finally laid to rest, I was not emotional anymore. Indeed, she rested in peace, with outpouring warm support and sincere sympathies of neighbors, friends and relatives.
Three days after Lola Tasya was buried, Lolo Pio followed. The neighbors said it was expected. A couple of their age could not live without the other. Till death, they were together.
In lolo's wake, I saw the same type of casket and the same type of flowers. But I did not feel sorry anymore. Lolo had so much love and support from simple yet sincere people. The material things meant little. Beyond the simple casket and flowers, I saw the hands of neighbors who labored with love.
Death is a fact of life. Inspirational author Og Mandino said the beauty of death might be concealed from us so we may enjoy life a little more.
And so, every now and then, when I would pay my last respects to friends or relatives of friends, I would usually look at the flowers– beautiful and expensive flowers which could be more appreciated bythe living. Some floral arrangement could cost as much as five thousand pesos (Php 5,000.00) each. That is about the same cost as a whole package for a pauper's burial – inclusive of embalming, wake and interment services.
When the dead is prominent, like those connected with the media, a deluge of expensive flowers from popular shops is expected. These expensive flowers include those courtesy of the "Honorables" –politicians who have staff members specifically tasked to keep track of constituents who die, especially those belonging to big clans.Flowers are then sent to condole the big families who will never forget this gesture of sympathy, at the polling place.
Yes folks, politics never dies. It thrives even in death. When I see expensive flowers in wakes, I always remember Lola Tasya and Lolo Pio. No, I no longer feel that their burial was pathetic.
Certainly, there are many others whose burial are much simpler in terms of costs. But what determines whether a burial is that of a pauper or a king lies in the hearts of those whose lives the departed has touched in his or her lifetime.
But still I always think of the practical side of giving the poor a more decent burial. Life is not fair. And so is death.
When I think of the simple interment of my grandparents and the low cost of pauper's burial package for the poor, I always think of the Php 5,000.00 floral arrangement.
I think about the US$ 329-million ZTE scandal.
I think about the glossy brown paper bags containing money Php 500,000.00 Malacañang gave to governors, mayors and other local officials.
I also think about the whirlwind executive decision of GMA in granting absolute pardon to the non-repentant former President Erap who plundered hundreds of millions of pesos of the people's money.
And I can't help to wonder and ask: Where is JUSTICE?
And so when my time will finally come (that will still be several decades from now, don't worry folks), please don't bring expensive flowers. Fresh flowers from your garden will do (this one is not an original idea but copied from Carol Arguillas' will). Personally-
made paper flowers out of Japanese or crepe paper would be very much
appreciated, preferably light orange in color.
Instead of buying expensive flowers, look for those who could be given a little more decent burial through the pauper's burial package.
Their families won't forget, even if you won't run in the elections.
And let the perking-up aroma of freshly brewed native coffee fill the air, so that you will have pleasant conversations and lively discussions about life, love, family or any other interesting topic under the sun.
Perhaps, including the so called JUSTICE.
Note: This All Soul's Day issue talks about "rural death." Next issue, let's talk about "rural life" in "The pigs, the bats and Naco." (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Danilo Balucos, the first business manager of the Mindanao News and InformationCooperative Center, left to pursue Law school, passed the 2006 bar exams and is now a partner in a law firm in Davao City).