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The WORD. The TRUTH.

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Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 20 June 2024
Photo by author, 17 June 2024.

As a priest for 26 years, I have been a frequent visitor to cemeteries to bless parishioners, friends and relatives who have died. It was more of duties and ministry for me as a priest except for some who were dear to me.

But, when mommy passed away last month, visiting the cemetery has become something more personal with much meaning deep within, now both our parents are gone. I did not feel it when daddy died 24 years ago on mommy’s birthday. Perhaps it was partly because of the fact I had to come and visit their graves so often these past days: for the wake and burial of mommy from May 7-11, then her 40th day June 15, then again on the 17th for her 85th birthday and dad’s 24th death anniversary. Of course, we are coming back July 26 for dad’s 92nd birthday.

So, definitely I shall be coming there more often in the years to come as a son, secondary only as a priest.

Now it has become clearer to us siblings why dad died on mom’s birthday 24 years ago: so that it is more economical – matipid – for us to come and visit their gravesites. Isang puntahan na lang! Birthday at kamatayan. How I really wish and pray daily our parents are already reunited finally in eternity to enjoy each other’s company again before God.

Our parents, always together especially during meals.

My parents were not perfect couple. They quarreled, had misunderstandings like most husband and wife. But they strived so hard in loving each other despite their imperfections along with ours their children. This they practiced so well on the dining table, always eating together.

From my earliest memory until I became a priest, they have always taken their meals together. Most often, it was my dad who would always wait for my mom to be back home and be told by her personally that she had eaten somewhere in a party. That’s the only time he would really eat while my mom sat beside him, serving him while telling him stories where she had gone with her friends. Many times we would tease mommy whenever friends would pick her up to an event or socials without dad. “Maghihintay na naman ang daddy sa inyo, hindi kakain yun.” But she would tell us often the glaring truth about my dad, “ang daddy ninyo walang sinasabi sa aking ganyan; basta alam niya aalis ako. Sabayan ninyo sa pagkain.”

Our parents during their honeymoon in 1964.

Of course, dad would wait for her and most often, he was the one serving us children during meal until his retirement!

When I was in the seminary until I became a priest, every time I would come home to visit them, dad would always ask me if I had eaten. Even if I told him I have had lunch or merienda, he would still get food and serve them on the table. What can I do, especially if he cooked mechado or pochero that Sunday and had kept some leftovers in the fridge? I would always eat everything para daw maubos na ang mga natira at mahugasan na ang mangkok. That’s how I learned that eating is also an apostoalte for us priests…

When daddy died suddenly of a heart attack before dawn on mommy’s birthday on June 17, 2000, I kept asking him why he died on that date. Every Sunday after my Masses, I would go to the cemetery and ask him that question again and again. “Dad, there are 365 days in a year… why June 17?”

My mom was inconsolable during daddy’s wake until his first death anniversary. Part of her really died with daddy’s demise. Most like why she had a stroke six years later.

Mommy on her wedding day, 26 April 1964.

They have always been together in almost everything. It was dad who would wake up ahead of mom to prepare breakfast, especially coffee. And only him knows so well when my mom is ready to sip her hot coffee he had prepared; that’s the time he would go upstairs to tell her breakfast was ready.

Whenever we have visitors at home especially during fiestas and holidays, they were all praises with our food. Naturally, they praised mommy, thinking mothers cooked best. But not in our home. And the funny thing was, both of them would fall silent when our food were praised: mom would never say it was dad who cooked nor claim the accolades while dad would never speak a word about it. That’s when we the children would tell our guests our dad was the chef, adding our mom was just for sigang, paksiw and monggo. That is why during our first Christmas without dad, when I went to visit mommy at the eve to give my gifts, I saw her crying while cooking, telling me how she missed dad who would do all the cooking. From then on, I have found the best excuse why we must just order food during family gatherings at home – not only to spare mommy of the troubles cooking but to have really delicious food!

Our family after visiting our parents last June 17 on a vacation together.

My dad finally answered my question a few months after his death why he died on mommy’s birthday. It happened in the most strange way because I am more closer to my dad than to mommy with whom I always had a lot of misunderstandings due to her always in opposition with my plans, even my entering the seminary to become a priest.

One time we had some tampuhan blues that I decided not to come home thrice on Sundays. On the fourth Sunday after my mass as I visited daddy’s gravesite, I asked him again my question. As usual, no reply but in some moments of silence, I felt him telling me in my heart, “Nick, I died on your mommy’s birthday so that you would love her much like I have loved her.”

Suddenly, I realized my sins against her, of how I have showed her my anger until tears rolled down my cheeks.

After saying my prayers and blessing his gravesite, I headed home to visit mommy. From then on, I have tried my very best to be like dad with my mom by being more loving, more caring, more understanding and on many occasions, playing deaf to what she said.

Like our parents, we are always together in meals.

People say we must visit three places once in a while, namely, hospital, prison, and cemetery. Hospital so that we may realize that there is nothing more beautiful than health; in the prison for us to see that freedom is most precious; and cemetery that life is worth nothing because the ground we walk today will be our roof tomorrow.

It is the love we have for each other that gives meaning to these places that make them worth visiting. As a priest and most of all, as a son, a brother, and a friend I have realized these so true. Don’t wait for death to come. Or birthdays. Sometimes, they happen simultaneously. Just keep loving.

Now they are both gone and hopefully together in eternity, every time I bless their gravesite, I feel them telling me the same thing – love my siblings the way they loved us. Thank you for taking time to read this piece, hope all’s well with you and your loved ones.

"No one has ever seen God.
Yet, if we love one another,
God remains in us,
and his love is brought to perfection
in us" (1 John 4:12).
Amen.
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