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Death Comes in Threes (The Child at a Wake)

For Lola Ester Borja
December 8, 1920 - September 8, 2006

"That's one of the perks of being dead. You know what happens after you die and you know the meaning of life. Life is wasted on the living."

Nathaniel Fisher
Six Feet Under (Sixth episode, First Season)

Death did come in three instances this past week: first, the father of a server in Outback; second, the grandfather of a long-time friend (I was there when he first heard it and he turned to us saying, "Cheers"); and third (the very next day), the grandmother of my cousin whose name was Ester Borja.

She was 85 years old. And she died of old (but of a ripe) age. I believe it was our Mother who took her. (See the dates when she was born and when she died above.)

My family and I went to the wake. There were only a handful of people there, and we were one of the first to sign in the guestbook -- that final attendance sheet for the departed's final party. There were also only a few boquets of flowers sent and a solitary mass card displayed by the immaculate white coffin. The lighting was, as is usually the case, of a sombre yellow hue -- as if telling the guests to not stay that long, so the family can also grieve, so the family can also mourn on their own.

But amidst the hushed voices and dark and muted colors that family and guests wore stood out a child in bright red, offering cold candies which were stored in the refrigerator, and running around as if he was in a playground. The child was Lola Ester's only great grandson. And his name was Ivan.


I was told that in the morning, Ivan had posted a note on the coffin which made the family and guests uncomfortable. The note said:
Papa, Mama please wake Lola up. She wants to pray.

The parents immediately took the note and got rid of it.

I then imagined that Lola Ester prays in the morning, that it was part of her routine and that routine was known by many -- even by the young Ivan. I felt that she had prayed all her life: for other people first and then for herself, for their sake and for her soul. She had been waiting a while for this moment; she had been waiting for too long after her husband went ahead of her.

Lola Ester had been waiting for the Easter when she could finally rise again.

And when we approached the coffin to say goodbye, the first thing I saw were her wrinkled and frail hands clutching a wooden rosary.

As I told you, "children and fools tell the truth."


My mother and sister kept their distance from the coffin while I stared at her lovely face and then at the golden cross above her and then stared back at her. I used to be afraid of corpses. But after seeing the difference as such between the living and the dead (from the street child who was run over by a car to my own grand mother who died of cancer), I am indifferent already. Not that I do not feel anything anymore; no. Indifferent in the sense that in my eyes there is really no difference anymore.

Yet initially and for the most part, we try to hide the difference and keep away from it. We stay away from the dead as much as possible not only because it is "out of the way" or "morbid" or "depressing." We are merely afraid -- and that is understandable. Afraid of what, you ask?

Ultimately, we grieve and cry not only because of the loss we feel and the pain we undergo but primordially because we are afraid of our own death.

I end rather abruptly with a poem from Gerald Manley Hopkins:

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! as the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow's springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.


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