I wish I could have the same attitude about death that many of the people of the Philippines have.
My wife’s aunt died a few weeks ago. She had started feeling unwell, and in being checked at the hospital, found out she had cancer. The time she found out she was sick, to the time she died was short. It is almost like once she realized that she was going to die; she slipped away quickly.
Maybe she didn’t have any reason to live.
I didn’t know Flora’s Tita well. I had been to her house and driven her a few places, but because of the language barrier, we never were friendly.
Without speaking ill of the dead, Tita didn’t leave behind much of a legacy. She didn’t have kids, and from the stories I’ve heard, wasn’t the kindest person.
But, death absolves all, and now that she is gone, her family is rallying around.
Death is a big deal
After Tita died, she was put in a coffin and placed on display in her house. She has been there for two weeks and will still be there for another. I’m told this was necessary because the priest was not available (lots of people dying). But, from what I understand, this is not a weird situation. People often lay in state for weeks here in the Philippines.
I’m not a prude, but I have little experience with death. I can only remember one funeral growing up, and the casket was closed. Because of impossible situations and being broke, I wasn’t able to attend my brother’s funeral in Utah before I left for the Philippines in 2011. I also didn’t go to my Grandmother’s funeral either.
So, you could say that I am not comfortable with the concept of death.
As Tita is in her house, a family member has to be with her at all times. I guess it’s one of the many superstitions. On Friday and Saturday, it is the time when Flora’s family is supposed to stay in the house with her.
So I went as well.
I know it’s not at all about me, but I can’t begin to tell you how uncomfortable it made me being in the same house with a dead person. When I walked into the front room, the ivory casket was on a pedestal against the wall. White flowers and candles ringed around. The lid was open but sealed with glass. For the first hour, I couldn’t bring myself to look. I walked around the rest of the house and avoided the front room as much as I could.
Everyone else was sitting there like nothing weird was happening. Even the children were sitting on the floor playing Minecraft on their phones.
Death isn’t weird to them like it is to me.
My feelings about death
The way I look at death might be a little strange to some, but I am a product of my upbringing. Growing up I was taught that you don’t have a soul. When you die, your existence just winks out. Nothing happens when you die. You cease to exist.
So there is no need to make a big deal about the body that is left over. Most people I know in the west get cremated, but that is completely unheard of in the Philippines. When I told Flora I wanted to be cremated when I died, she just looked at me with a blank look on her face.
That is a no-no.
Even though I don’t believe what I did as a child, I still don’t feel a strong need to make a big deal about a body. Whatever it is that makes a person what they are is gone. Sure, I think it’s okay to say goodbye, but I don’t see the need for the pomp and circumstance of a funeral.
The Philippines is very Catholic, and the people here have a lot of rituals that surround their faith. In my time at Tita’s house, I’ve seen people coming by multiple times to sing and pray. From what I understand, this is a constant thing over the three weeks she is there.
As religious as the people here are, they are just as superstitious. You can’t comb your hair in the house with a dead person, or look in a mirror. The coffin has to fit the body perfectly. There was extra space in the coffin, and that was a scandal as well.
I am not superstitious, so this was weird for me. But it just the way of life here in the Philippines.
I am trying my best to get used to life here, and that applies to death as well. I’ve paid my respects to Tita. I even toasted her memory as we sat outside her house and drank Red Horse. I drank a beer while my wife and her family gambled at a small plastic table at the side of the house.
The whole situation is very strange to me.
But I am learning. I am more comfortable in the house this week. Maybe my feelings about death have changed a bit. I am trying to do whatever I can to be respectful of Tita’s memory.
She deserves that, at least.
Do you like me? Do you really, really like me?