PERSONAL ESSAY: Friends into the Afterlife

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 29 October) — “Make sure the rosary that nanay is holding in her coffin is cut,” my sister instructed in a call from California. The belief is that uncut rosary held by the departed, like the novena, will continue the string of deaths among friends and relatives.

My mother, Trinidad Lazaro Benitez, died on the eve of October 25 due to multi-organ failure from hypoxia, a condition which a medical journal defines as “the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level.”

My brother’s version is, “she peacefully stopped breathing in her sleep.”

Trinidad L. Benitez during her last pilgrimage to the La Virgen del Pilar, October 8, 2017.

She was a home economics high school teacher by profession and became the guidance coordinator of Basilan National High School where she was called Nanay by all the teachers in the school. In that school, one of her best friends  was a fellow teacher, Pilar Jamiro Cuevas.  Aunt Pillie, as we called her, died ten days before my mom did. She was the Department Head of the Physical Education in the same school. Like Nanay, she was 85 years old. “Cardiac arrest secondary to kidney failure,” her doctor said as her cause of death.

“The heart stopped beating,” layman would say.

“Perhaps Aunt Pillie enjoined Nanay to come with her,” my sister would say, feeling happy that my mother has company in her journey to the afterlife. “Friendship goals,” I thought.

Two days after,  Eloisa Bader Ruste, 74, retired principal of the Zamboanga City High School (where my mother transferred in the early 1980s when we migrated to Zamboanga City from Basilan) also passed away after being held for several days in mechanical life support system in the intensive care unit of a local hospital. The late Ruste was, like Aunt Pillie, undergoing regular dialysis to address kidney failure. She expired on October 27.

Being a friend, the good colleague and supervisor, she visited my bed-ridden mother sometime in June, recalling good memories and offering words of comfort to each other. I thought, “I would like to have a boss-friend like her.”

Now, they share the same floor and their names are written on the same white board signage at the entrance to the funeral home.

“Three’s a company,” I thought.

However, last night the relatives of another family friend came to ask for help. Their aunt, Carmelita Sanson, 72, died on October 28.

Aunt Carmelita was a farmer in her life and used to spend Christmas with us. My  late parents used to visit  their small farm in Talabaan, Zamboanga City to fish for some fresh crabs in the area.

Three good and beloved retired teachers and a farmer will be missed by their friends, colleagues and relatives.

Before I wrote #30 to this story, I went to the embalmer downstairs to make sure one thing.

Si, ta corta ese el mga embalmer antes sila pone na mano del depunta, (Yes, they do cut the holy rosary before it is placed in the hands of the departed.)” 

 (Jules L. Benitez is a  Zamboanga-based development consultant. His mom lies in state at the La Merced Funeral Homes in Governor Alvarez St., Zamboanga. Interment is scheduled on Nov 3 at 2 in the afternoon.)