keeping Papa company before final boarding call


procession[ Note : It’s my simplistic assumption, but a lot of superstitions about the recently departed involve the belief that the first 40 days after a person’s death, his/her spirit continues to move about among us, tying loose ends before leaving for a better place.  Those left behind don’t want to ruffle any feathers during that time, hence the pamahiin or superstitions.  Take care everyone! ]

THE FIRST night after Mahal’s Papa (out of respect, I’ll call him Papa too OK?) was buried, it was almost expected that he would make himself felt (magpaparamdam) to at least one, more or all of his loved ones.  None of his seven children and their families had gone back to their respective homes, and Mahal and I were going to stay until everything was settled with her mom.  I could hear them joking about it in Panggalatok, but I knew everyone was a little nervous and moreover, all the lights were going to be kept on, a strong sign the whole family was apprehensive.  And it was probably practical that there were only two bedrooms in the house for 12 adults and 11 grandchildren to sleep in; only the bravest were going to sleep in the sala or living room.

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But before that, there had been a slew of funeral and necrological arrangements, a mixture of rural Catholicism and local superstition that I witnessed, and putting here for posterity.  Even Mahal was unfamiliar with some of them, though we respected the beliefs of the milieu and just went with the flow.

All of Papa’s bedclothes, the ones he used from the time of his third episode (either a stroke or a heart attack, likelier it’s the former), his toiletries, his mattress, everything associated with his illness, were burned.  Even a wooden board symbolizing the room he died in was extracted from his bedroom floor.  I’m not sure if this was done to accompany him on his last earthly journey or because the articles were touched with the aura of death, but either reason was a good one.  The morning he was buried, with the obsequious arbularyo or medicine man in attendance, the smoke from such ritual burning hurt the eyes and irritated the nose, but it was a chore that had to be done.

Am not complaining, but nearly everything served was pork the last 48 hours.  Pork dinuguan, pork afritada, nilagang pork was on our plates, enough to make me queasy and probably raising my blood pressure and cholesterol levels a few clicks.  This was because a whole sow was slaughtered for its blood and flesh (I told you this in a previous post) and it would have been a shame to waste any of the meat available.

After the event was completely another matter.  All of the food, drinks, even the unused sachets of coffee, sugar and milk was headed for disposal, another pamahiin (superstition).  They were considered blighted, unclean and definitely unusable, and the last moments of the handaan after burial was to be their use-by date.  Thereafter, nothing would be left and everything not consumed would be chucked into the rubbish bin or fed to pets.  This was the one time the famous Pinoy trait of saving everything was set aside.

Before we stepped out to join the funeral procession bringing Papa’s earthly remains to the cemetery, we were told that we could not return for anything we might have forgotten, lest we risk getting lost in the transition between this and the next world.  So anything important like cellphones, prescription glasses, sunglasses (it was gonna be a sunny Saturday), wallets and keys, once left behind, were to remain there until the interment was complete.  I for one wasn’t going to get lost for eternity just because of a junior Samsung (that was confusing me anyway).

Because it was early morning, we didn’t yet feel the heat or smoke from burning of rubbish (pagsiga) even as we accompanied the funeral hearse the entire way between home and memorial park, a good thirty-minute walk. It was part of tradition, and at the same time the church, where the priest was going to bless the casket (along with quite a few others that were being buried that Saturday), was on the way.  Papa’s favorite songs rendered by a surprisingly good singer and her able organist ensured that there wasn’t a dry eye among the marchers and mourners, all the way to the cemetery gates.

Each of Papa’s 11 grandchildren was carried over his casket just before it was interred, so that none of them would be bothered by malevolent spirits who happened to be in the vicinity of Papa and his companion “good” spirits.  Such task was a dicey one, because if any part of the 11 children’s persons touched the casket, they would be in mortal peril.  If that were the case, I thought to myself, wouldn’t not carrying them over the casket been the more prudent option.

Then there were the paid mourners, “crying ladies” who sang a mixture of Panggalatok and Latin prayers that no one understood anymore.  Such prayers were said to facilitate a smooth trip to Heaven or Purgatory, although to my mind they were being chanted more for the benefit of the bereaved.  It didn’t escape my attention that that chapter of Maccabees, explaining to readers / listeners the existence of Purgatory (where souls are “purged” in preparation for heavenly entry) and part of the book that’s a fundamental difference between Catholicism and other Christian bibles, was the designated Gospel for the Mass for the Dead.

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Back to the paramdam.  All the assurances that any manifestation was to be a “friendly” one, being after all from the loving patriarch of the family, didn’t keep nearly everyone, from Mahal’s mom Mama to our youngest toddler nephews and nieces from staying up as late as possible, to keep the inevitable quiet night away.  And they did a good job, because from my area of the bedroom I heard them talking and reminiscing about Papa as late as 1 am.

By 3 am though, everything was eerily silent.  I couldn’t hold it in anymore, so I got up and went to the little boys’ room for  a leak and no one, repeat no one was up.  All sorts of light, heavy breathing and snoring filled the air, but other than that it was just the crickets and the shuffling of my slippers.

I went back to sleep uneventfully, not knowing that less than an hour later, one of my five bilas (sisters-in-law) heard someone sweeping the floor and later assumed it was me, because I did admit I went to the toilet.  I’d never deny being helpful for pogi points, but at 4 in the morning?  Nope, sorry it wasn’t me.  🙂

Why was I not surprised to learn that Papa was a fastidious sweeper when he was alive, sweeping the floor every now and then after playful grandchildren scattered candy wrappers all over the floor?

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Then just before the break of dawn, Doggie the family dog (yes, that was actually his name) let loose a low pitched wail that culminated in a plaintive howl.  It went on for a few minutes, and there was nothing canine about it.  It was either an expression of mourning for his departed master, or the dog was sensing a presence.   I have never been an overly superstitious person (most of us Pinoys are, admit it), nor am I particularly a believer in the supernatural, but nearly every hair on my back and neck stood up those few minutes.

Needless to say, every member of the household woke up early that morning.

Papa may or may not have actually visited us that night/morning, but in one way or another he made sure his departure from our midst was an eventful one.  God bless you and safe travels Papa!

Thanks for reading!

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