The one thing that sustained me during the first few days, when I had to arrange everything from the casket to the burial ground to the legal paperwork to the funeral mass to getting the rest of my family home, was the support of relatives and friends. Especially friends. I got by with the tremendous, unstinting support of my childhood buddies, those who've stayed behind and built their lives in the province, and who knew my father, were even friends with him.
Specifically, my former seminary classmates, a couple of them priests now, the rest married, who never left my side and took on the extra chores of chasing the required documentation from the hospital to the city hall to the parish office, freeing me to stay by my father's side and receive visitors while I worked the phones frantically to get the rest of the family to surmount the freak floods and rains that repeatedly derailed their travel plans.
My grade school best friend, now the rector of the major seminary in our town, said mass on the second day. Not only that--he brought with him a big group of former classmates I hadn't seen since my graduation from elementary school in 1983. Meeting them again and seeing how all of us had grown, changed, built up different lives--it was a joyful occasion despite the somber reason for our sudden reunion.
Fr. Henry, if you're reading this--easy on the food now, you're getting ginormous. Wait, that's not it. Thank you for the prayers and the heartfelt words, and for letting me meet again Carolyn, Mayet, Glenda, Mavic and Roysan, Perla, Allan, Judy, Emerson, Darwin--especially Darwin, who took time off from work as a jail officer to squire me around on his motorcycle so I could complete last-minute errands.
Fr. Vicboy, another seminary classmate, left his remote parish to say mass for Papa on the third day, and got stuck with me overnight in the funeral chapel as typhoon Dante howled and dumped rain of Biblical proportions outside. Spending the night in a dark and flooded funeral chapel with a coffin nearby and only candles and emergency light as illumination is a sort of purifying experience; nothing much would faze you after that. But Fr. Vic keeping me company was a source of extra comfort.
Henry, Vicboy and I belong to high school batch 1987 of the Our Lady of Penafrancia Seminary, an affiliation I've always worn proudly, but now more than ever as a badge of deep gratitude. All these years we've remained close to and in touch with each other, but, with the recent death in my family, the bonds simply went on overdrive with big and small--often unbidden--acts of generosity and selflessness.
Tato and Joey and Gerald were the first to watch over the remains of my father; in the intervening days, they set aside work--Gerald even going on leave--to help me attend to the wake and the business of preparing our family plot in the town cemetery for the burial. In the evenings, the rest of the group who were in town came, too--Ian, Lloyd, Jay, Totep, along with the wives who've also formed a tight core: Ning, Anne, Cie, Janet, Sten, plus Joey's fiancee Cel. From an earlier Penafrancia batch came Erwin, Rene, Dante and Yayes. All their patter cheered me up, kept me on an even keel.
At my behest, Ning's younger sister Ging, along with Totep and Joey, would also figure in a rescue of my mother, brother and sister from the downed bridge that prevented them from reaching our town. They had to alight at one end of the impassable road, walk through mud and water and cross a makeshift wooden crossing to reach the other side, where Ging and company were waiting to pluck them out of the multitude stranded on the banks of the rampaging river. I only had to request once, and these friends rushed to the scene in their own vehicles, finally reuniting me with my family.
There were relatives who showed up at the wake and promptly began helping out, led by Papa's first cousins Tia Sita and Tio Mulo. They kept vigil several nights in a row and made sure snacks and drinks were aplenty for guests--apparently not a trivial matter in long wakes. Many of my parents' near and dear friends came, faces I'd last seen years ago and who were now profuse in their sympathies. Online, I took comfort from the words of sympathy and support expressed by so many on my Facebook and my blog. Thank you all for the prayers, which I believe helped keep me sane. Seriously.
Pau and the kids--Michael and Michelle, Carla and Karen--my gratitude to all of you, too, for staying with my father right up to the end. And to all other friends and colleagues who sent their condolences and expressed regret that they couldn't come--no worries, Sorsogon's far away, there was that damn typhoon, and you were very well represented in the extra-considerate circle of friends who did manage to make it to my side.
Papa was laid to rest on a Tuesday--ordinarily, a day when no funeral masses are scheduled and priests are on their day off across the diocese. I was content to have one or two, but, in the end, there were eight priests who were up there on the altar, all of them my good friends: Frs. Henry, Vicboy, Patricio, Alex, Vernon, Rene, Gerry, and the lead celebrant, Fr. Treb. The concelebrated mass was simple, dignified, no-fuss--exactly as I thought Papa would've wanted it.
Throughout the tumult of the past days, my mind had been fixed on one thing: to give my father a proper, honorable send-off. Seeing the crowd that came to accompany him on his last journey, and the eight priests collectively praying for him and for us, his family, I felt not grief, but a sense of grace. Surely all that spiritual firepower would assure my father an express ticket to the Beyond--a good enough recompense for the hardships that had accompanied his final days on earth.
I could breathe deeply now--and begin saying my thanks to everyone who, in one way or the other, helped lighten the load. This post is a humble start.