Hasta la vista, mother

Late last month, my mother passed away. Despite her professional stature (she was a judge), there were no eulogies, no rituals, no ceremonies. That was how she wanted it. Her instructions, contained in a duly signed document, were clear and precise. Yesterday, we completed the last of those instructions. We headed out to sea and did as she wished. No tears, no wailing and, most especially, no strangers. Just family — mine, my brother’s and the family of our mother’s only sibling who passed away fifteen years ago.

All that might seem strange in a country where cultural traditions dictate extended wakes and grand funerals replete with passionate eulogies and full page announcements in the obituary section of major dailies. Some people actually enjoy going through the process of organizing a wake, choosing a coffin, arranging flowers, getting a caterer… Personally, I hate the whole social circus tradition.

I think it’s accurate to say that my brother and I were already prepared, emotionally and mentally, for the probable backlash we would get from relatives and friends who would have expected (as though it were a matter of right) a chance to personally say their final goodbyes. But it was my mother’s wishes that we had to respect, not theirs, and I personally don’t care if anyone feels slighted about not being told or about not being invited to be part of the process that my mother so carefully laid out in writing. I wish the same thing for myself and I have put down my wishes in writing too back in 2005. Unlike my mother who left her instructions in a sealed envelope that wasn’t opened until after she had died, mine was published as a newspaper column. My daughters won’t have to explain anything to anyone.

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casaveneracion.com Speedy and Alex Veneracion

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That’s my baby brother, Peter, on the right with his wife, Mary Ann, between us. The photos are from Mary Ann’s collection and from my cousin Rinna’s.

My mother and I had very little in common, there were very few things that we agreed on and I’d be a hypocrite if I play the drama queen and claim that I am feeling so devastated right now that I am hardly functional. I loved her in my way but perhaps because I never looked to her as my source of strength and inspiration, there was no emotional dependency, so it is easier for me to accept, simply as a matter of fact, that she is gone forever. And I will not pretend, now that she is gone, that things between us were better than they really were. Perhaps, in the future, there will be a time when I will think of her and miss her, and actually feel grief-stricken that she will no longer be there. But, for now, it’s hasta la vista, mother. If there is an afterlife, well, maybe we’ll say hello again.

Last edited at 11.58 p.m.

Comments

  1. marvin says

    and i remember when you were in the hospital, and giving instructions to Speedy? the guy was near to tears and have to stop you.

    that was the sweetest for me. hay, i really love my memory retention and if all else fails, the archives section of this site helps. lol.

    i wish everyone shares your outlook re. death. then if that is the case, no more sad wakes but those intimate parties where everyone celebrates that departed persons life.

    • says

      Exactly. Celebrate the life that the person lived and feel good for having known him and having been part of his life. But the expected, and very formulaic, acts of standing in front of the coffin and crying, then sitting and gossiping about the person that just died — ahhh, the horrible stuff that wakes are made of.

      Re, the hospital scene. Hehehe Kesa naman di masingil yung mga may utang, di ba? :-P

      • Nilram says

        My Condolence to you and your family, I just read your post when your Mom visited you not too long ago, life is such a blessing, but you really celebrated your Mom’s life.. And now she is dancing on the street of golds with the angels and home with our Creator while we are still left behind, and she is watching over you all!!!

  2. says

    I’m sorry to hear about your mom, Connie. Condolence to you and your family.

    I totally agree with yours and your mom’s philosophy about burials. The rites involved just don’t make much sense to me and I too plan a no-fuss going away for my husband and I.

  3. emyM says

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    I admire your Mom’s courage in writing “end-of-life instructions” and more so her family honoring those wishes.

    • couchpotato says

      First, condolence to you and your family.

      This reminded me of the recent death of one of my first cousins. I didn’t know how to react to how wakes and funerals are held now, or how one funeral home did it, anyway.
      Being a catolico cerrado family (very, very old school), we went through the usual masses and novena, which I didn’t mind, as I find some comfort in the familiarity of these traditions.
      What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the unusual program during the funeral. It was unusual in the sense that there was some sort of a wake coordinator from the funeral home (or whatever they call it these days) who “emceed” the program, extending his condolences to the family, etc. There was the usual throwing of the flowers into the coffin, then the coordinator asked if the grandchildren were going to be passed over the coffin, and if there were any other rituals that were going to be done before my cousin was to be buried. Then balloons were released.
      I was just appalled that some stranger was running the show, so to speak, when it was supposed to be a family affair.
      My cousin’s family wasn’t new to this as the recently departed was their 4th brother to pass away. I was thinking that maybe this wasn’t how they expected the funeral to go, either, but this was the first time they had their wake at this funeral home and this is how this establishments organized the funerals.
      Naloka lang ako talaga. It just seemed too “gimmicky” to me. I was thinking, nobody is going to do this to me on my funeral. I had better leave specific instructions. I’m very traditional but conservative. Long-winded eulogies are not for me. I wouldn’t mind a wake, but I wouldn’t mind people laughing during the wake, either, especially if I made them laugh or happy and they remembered. But NO GIMMICKS. No balloons, or butterflies, or whatever.
      Some people may want a bongga send-off. If that’s what they want, go! Walang basagan ng trip. :-) So, I think you’re right. People should have a say on how they want to go. Quietly or flamboyantly, their choice.

    • Joy says

      my sincere sympathy to you and your family! i have the same idea with your mother too–a burial at sea with just the most important people to witness: my family.

  4. Haidee says

    My condolences.. I too wanted the same “burial” for myself, no fuss, no drama. Just my family to remember me, i don’t want to financially and emotionally burden them with my death, and the annual visits to the cemetery? I don’t get it.

  5. phil says

    I can only say what a brave, enlightened way to go. I wish the same way for me but instead of my ashes being scattered in the sea, I want them scattered in our family farm. I just hope they will serve as fertilizer, not as pesticide, ha ha!

    By the way, your mention of ‘after life’ made me recall what the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote: : “…if some devil were to convince us that our dream of personal immortality is no dream but a hard fact, such a shriek of despair would go up from the human race as no other conceivable horror could provoke. With all our perverse nonsense as to John Smith living for a thousand million eons and for ever after, we die voluntarily, knowing that it is time for us to be scrapped…; after all, what man is capable of the insane self-conceit of believing that an eternity of himself would be tolerable even to himself?”

  6. Sharon O says

    I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs Connie! Sounds like your mother was a very strong-minded woman – that’s great! She must have been a pioneer in her day, for female rights that is. That seems to be another thing you have in common with her, apart from how you wish to be farewelled when you depart this earth. You’re both strong females! :-) I commend you for being sure about your funeral arrangements (or lack thereof). My hubby is the same, he only wishes to be cremated. All I can say is, I find it a sad indictment of one’s friends and family members if one believes that they would speak badly of you at your own funeral! Maybe an alternative would be to have a funeral, but for invited attendees only! That way, no gossipy undesirables will be there, only people that truly loved you and want to pay their respects and say good-bye.

  7. says

    Thank you all. :)

    couchpotato, I hear that the wake coordinator (in the tradition of an event coordinator) is the “in” thing these days. And I think it proves so well how Filipinos treat wakes and funerals as social events rather than solemn religious procedures.

    phil, I was thinking more along the lines of reincarnation with no memory of previous lives. :)

  8. says

    My condolences to you and your family, Connie.

    When my grandmother, who was very old school died, she left elaborate instructions for her wake, funeral, and the entire mourning period. It was a very traditional affair, and she left explicit instructions: all black at the funeral, no sleeveless, nothing above the knee, long eulogies from designated people, and only black and white clothes for the family for the next six months. We were placed in the absurd position of having to go shopping for funeral clothes in the midst of the wake :-P

    It was then that I decided that when it’s my turn to go, I wouldn’t inflict such ridiculous requirements on the people I leave behind. I admire your mother for making such a decision.

  9. richard says

    how about the catered events one sees in wakes these days?

    guess there’s a coordinator these days for everything

    as for me I told my son just to spread my ashes on the academic circle on a sunset somehwere between the Eng tennis courts and just pass the carillon

    …….still haven’t figured out how to get away with this though

  10. gracegab says

    condolence ms. connie.
    as far as Filipino culture is concerned, this ‘fuss-free” funeral
    for your mom is really non-traditional.
    but i think that this is such a more solemn and beautiful way
    of ‘paying last respects’.
    after reading this post (as well as the comments), and looking at the pictures,
    i was ‘opened’ to a different perspective on having to go about
    death along with the (Filipino) rituals of funerals/burials.

    • Esther says

      Your article reminds me of my officemate who passed away about a month ago. Her funeral had her signature all over it: from the kikay tarpaulin posters with her smiling face on it directing vistors to her house, to the frilly lace curtains hung like a canopy over her coffin, to her immaculately made up face. She wasn’t there, but it sure felt like her party.

      Your mom’s instructions must have her personality written all over it. I guess it’s our way of controlling the last detail of our lives even when we’re no longer there to direct it. The effect on the survivors is a feeling that the deceased did not die at all but merely went away, of her own accord, to a place of her own choosing. In the final analysis, that’s the kindest way to leave our loved ones. Cheers!

  11. says

    My heartfelt condolences to your family. I admire the way you honored your mother by sticking to her wishes rather than do what is “expected” by others. I, myself, am appalled at how funerals have suddenly become social events.

  12. says

    condolence, connie.

    it would be good to follow the last requests of our loved ones but in the case of my MIL??? she wanted a simple one — better not waste money on the dead daw. was that followed??? of course not. an example, her stockings pa lang costed 20 euro na (regular price starts at 1.99 euro)!!! and the rest follows….

  13. larry virgino says

    Ms. Connie
    Reading your blog has almost become a daily ritual for me. My condolences to you and your family. Such strong women .

    • marielle says

      condolence po…

      I think the last time na nag-comment po ako sa inyong blog was to greet you and to say that we share the same birthday…

      now naman po I also lost a parent, my dad, late last month din… we had the traditional Filipino burial… it was fast…. in a matter of minutes naibaba na siya at natabunan ng lupa… wala na yung tinatawid na maliliit na bata sa kabaong… we did have white balloons that we let go afterwards…..

  14. loida says

    true, we’ll all see each other soon in the afterlife….for 15 years now, we already have stop going to cemeteries visiting my grandparents grave. Some even say we don’t pay respect to them. But contrary to what bad comments they say to us, our family we’re the ones who celebrated my grandparents life with us when they were still living. Even until now i still show their pictures to my children and tell them how they have lived. For me its just a waste of time if you’ll only remember them in their death. Now that my dad is sick I want to treasure the time that I still have with him, for I know that when the time comes I will not do the rituals and traditions that our present society dictates to us, and I’m glad he feels the same way, too. As for me, I already told them my wishes, but now I know I should put it into writing …. less hassle sa mga maiiwan ko ….. hahaha maybe i’ll also put it in the newspaper tulad mo….

    • Esther says

      I totally agree! Sentimental acts after the person has passed away might make the ones doing it feel better, but it has absolutely no effect on the deceased! I guess it’s a matter of GUILT when people — who never even gave the time of day to the deceased when he was alive — visit the memorial park and cry as though they want to join the deceased in his grave already. I have a personal experience about that and I feel really bad when some of my relatives (who were disrespectful and even contemptuous of my grandma when she was alive) criticize me because I don’t visit her grave anymore. They forget that I was the one who lived with my grandma, listened to her stories, sympathized with her and loved her when she was alive. Where were they then? Symbolic acts performed once a year during All Soul’s Day are very easy to do — buy flowers, stay a few minutes in the memorial park and that’s it until next year. Some people forget that it’s the constant love, sacrifice and day-to-day affection given while a person is still alive that counts. It doesn’t even have to be a sacrifice — just listen to our loved ones, talk to them and show them that we’re there for them — while they’re still alive. After that, it’s too late!

  15. Charo says

    I just read about this Ms. Connie and I am sorry for your loss. Well as you describe how your mother gave you instruction on how she wants her “send off” be, I can imagine her with a wine glass and staring at you with a sweet smile. I like how you and your family did it. As the Good Lord always tell us that He will prepare a place for us, I guess that’s a better way to look forward our after life. No stress, no tears, no heart ache.

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