P's wake was at a funeral parlor along the highway. When I arrived at 7:30 in the evening to pay my respects, the parking lot was full. I turned right, parked by the sidewalk, and braved the steady rain with my jacket on. She was in the smallest room that could fit her casket, three wooden benches, and a small table at the back where packets of instant coffee and snacks were offered.
I saw P's parents, sister, and some of our classmates I've not seen for years. We had our photo taken in front, careful to cover much of the casket and to show only her radiant wedding photo in the background. There was small talk and laughter. The only way to honor the dead is to bring them up in memory. I asked permission if I could tell the story of P's diagnosis, the difficulty of finding the right concoction of chemotherapy, the joy of seeing her respond favorably to treatment, the disappointment of learning the cancer had come back much stronger. Enyek, Yaya M, Pretty Shean, Dans, and Whilz—not their real names obviously, but what I, after all these years of being away, still call my high school friends—listened in rapt attention.
The most painful part was seeing P's son. This 3-year old child with bright, curious eyes took the back of our hands to put them in his forehead. I was impressed that P had taught him to "bless" (or make máno), the Filipino way of showing respect to their elders. How does one comfort a child who had just lost his mother but to give him candy? And so I did. I also asked for his name before he ran away to play.
It was getting late, and my classmates asked where we'd go to do pagpag, the custom of dropping by some place to release the bad luck of death before going home. I volunteered a favorite coffee shop that would normally be empty at that hour. Outside, it was still raining. We had coffee and cakes and, for some, dinner. We remembered our classmates who had passed away: William, whose vehicle crashed onto a carabao on his way home; Rotchelle, who died of severe blood infection; Herman, who supposedly had cancer but who died quickly due to reasons we don't fully comprehend.
And we planned to go abroad on a trip together in 2024: somewhere near that wouldn't require visas. Enyek would meet us at Manila airport before we fly to Taipei. Taiwan is lovely and cool in December.