Last July 7, the day after my birthday, my lola (grandmother) on my mom’s side of the family passed away.
Lola Melding passed away in her sleep at the age of 93. The last time I saw her was a few years ago while she visited Dumaguete. The last time I was in La Carlota City (where my mother’s family hails from) was over 10 years ago.
I decided it was only proper to pay my respects and go to La Carlota for her interment and burial.
On July 11 I left for La Carlota aboard the 1am Ceres bus to Bacolod, along with my younger sister and cousin. We arrived at the crossing (the buses to Bacolod don’t pass through La Carlota, so you would have to get down at a certain crossing/junction) at around 6am, and we were picked up by an uncle soon after. Aboard my uncle’s van, I had some time to think and just look at the sugarcane fields that whizzed by. It was somewhat surreal, thinking that the last time I had visited my Mama’s hometown was when I was still a little girl. It had been way too long.
We arrived at our Tito Joelu’s house, and after settling down a bit and placing our things in the spare room, we went to the cathedral (which was a lot nearer than I thought it was) to wait for the casket. It would be brought in from Bacolod, where it had spent the past few days in a funeral parlour; many visitors and relatives coming in and out to pay their respects. The casket arrived at around 8am, and it was only when they brought it in that I was able to see the lifeless body of Lola, all decked out in a Filipiniana-type ensemble, face made up nicely, rosary in hand. It felt surreal. It always does, seeing someone you know already in a casket.
My cousins and I went for breakfast together at Jollibee, then returned promptly to the church. The mass for Lola would still be at 1pm, so we were permitted to go back to Georgina (Tito Joelu’s house.. I don’t know why they called it that) to rest for a while. It was a good thing – I had barely gotten any sleep on the bus ride, not to mention I had not slept the night before.
After a good nap, we had to get ready for the memorial mass. As we went back to the cathedral, there were a lot of people already seated among the pews. I think it was my first time to be at a Roman Catholic mass for the dead. (Mama grew up in a Catholic family, but converted eventually to Protestantism after she married Papa.) I was told that I would be participating in the offering, that I would be carrying a bottle of wine. It was entirely new to me, but I figured I would just follow my cousin in front of me.
The mass was quite short. After the readings, Manang Gaita, who is the oldest cousin in our generation/Lola‘s oldest grandchild gave some words in memoriam. I don’t think there was a dry eye in our family, or at least in my pew and the pews in front of me. The way she talked about Lola made me feel a little envious that I did not get to experience that. I think by the time I would have been more conscious of spending time with her, she would have already been having memory loss. But it was nice to at least hear how she was as a grandmother to Manang Gaita. Two of the clergy (there were about eight priests during the mass) even shared their memories of her, because she was such a devoted member of the church. Tito Boboy, the youngest son of Lola, also gave thanks to everyone for attending the service.
After the mass, the casket was loaded onto the hearse and then we had a procession towards the cemetery. I was surprised at first that we would be walking, but then I was told that it wasn’t too far. It was bearable, though it was hot. The hearse played some Josh Groban songs that really lended to the somber atmosphere. Once we reached the cemetery we were allowed to look at Lola one last time, before the casket was closed and loaded into the niche in the Jalandoni family grave. We threw flowers into the niche before it was sealed. There was a lot of crying.
We had merienda at this place across the church, and everyone was invited. I was able to meet some of my younger cousins, as well as aunts and uncles that I had only heard of but never actually met. It was really nice to be around family.
The next day, I had to attend a meeting with my uncles and aunts (Lola’s surviving children) because I represented Mama. We went to the old house to figure out how to distribute the things inside. Tito Boboy, who was actually the closest brother to Mama (among the 7 siblings, she was the youngest girl, and Tito came after her) was very kind and accommodating to me – he first asked me what I wanted to have, and I replied that I only wanted pictures. Whenever he saw me looking at a photo with Mama in it, he would ask if I wanted it (to which I said yes), and he would give it to me. He also gave me a flannel to wipe the dust off with.
There were many photo albums laid out, and so I took time to sift through them and pick out photos that I wanted to keep. I saw so many photos and it made my heart swell to see the memories that had been captured by my parents and sent to my grandparents. I even saw an album that had Mama and Papa’s wedding photos – but I could not peel them off the backing because the plastic film covering would peel off the colour on the photos. I ended up taking two whole album pages.
My aunts and uncles picked out what they wanted to keep, and also divided the usable furniture amongst themselves. If there were at least 2 who wanted the same item, they would decide by chance – throwing a dice to see which sibling rolled the bigger number. It was entertaining to watch them decide that way. Tita Memen took note of the big items and to whom they belonged to.
We also sifted through Lola‘s closet – there were so many clothes and purses that it felt like sorting through a thrift shop or an ukay-ukay. There were some nice pleated skirts with bright prints which caught my eye, and as macabre as it sounds, I chose to keep them. I mean.. vintage, right? Not to mention I’ve been looking for cute skirts.
Allow me to share some photos with you all.
I spent many summers as a child at Lola Melding’s house, along with my cousins. I have fond memories of eating meals at the long dining table, attempts to play billards, playing doctor in the big bedroom, and occasionally hanging around in Tito Boboy’s room (it was the only room that had an air conditioner). I also remember going out back into the forest, picking up pili nuts and smashing them open on a stone with another stone. I remember walking around the trees, careful not to disturb what spirits lived there with a litany of “tabi-tabi po“. I can remember the quietness of the forest, with an occasional twitter of birds, rustling of leaves in the wind, and the crunching of twigs and dead leaves under my feet. I remember the rabbit hutches that I could never open to touch the rabbits. I remember crossing over the simple plank bridge over the creek to where my uncle had fighting cocks (I also remember tripping and getting a pretty rough gash on my knee.. “swimming without water”, they said hahaha).
The funniest thing I remember was when my cousins Marya, Maiza, and I went out back to pick fruit, and either one of them sat on my shoulders while they picked the fruit.. and I alerted them that THERE WERE COWS COMING RIGHT AT US – slowly, but right at us. We had been picking fruit inside the fenced area where the cows would rest after grazing! We hurried ran back to the house, but not before stressing over how I would get over the fence (I was already a pretty round kid back then). My cousin Cid had heard us screaming while she was in Tito Boboy’s room!
Last weekend was definitely a nostalgia trip, spent with relatives and fond memories of what happened in the house throughout the years. It is always good to reflect and remember what has happened in the past, and to never completely let go of them though we carry on forward into the future. My trip to Hacienda Cristina, if anything, was just another way of remembering how much Mama meant to me.
Never forget to tell your family and other loved ones how much you love them. 🙂