Instalment XXXIII – Wherein our little heroine sits with some souls

Tales from the Tropics

I keep making promises I don’t keep like that shit about fear. The thoughts are coming. At least I conquered my fear of death. Wanna know how I did it? Deep spiritual practice. Nup, just kidding! Conditioning. Hung out at the cemetery again.

In the Philippines they celebrate the 1st and 2nd of November as ‘All Saints Day’ and ‘All Souls Day’ respectively. Think religious Halloween. To celebrate, you go to the cemetery and tend to your dead. You clean the tombstone, bring flowers and candles. At 5pm mass is held in the cemetery on both days and you walk around to the graves of your family and light candles for the deceased. It’s poetic and not creepy at all. The creepiest part was when my cousin walked over a child’s grave and I hear her little voice behind me saying ‘passing through’ and I ask ‘Jean are you talking to the dead’, ‘well yeah, it seems like the right thing to do’ and inside I laugh cause it’s the same greeting you use when you’re crossing your neighbours yard, polite acknowledgement and as I step over more children’s graves I let them know that I’m just passing by too.

The mood is of reverence, the cemetery is alight with the gentle glow of candles, people sit in sepulchres or around tombs, talking and laughing. Again, there’s food. You know for the living people that come to visit your grave. There is also a real sense of belonging, like I finally understood why my grandmother was so upset that they almost buried my cousin in a different suburb when this is where he is from, this is where his family is laid to rest. Buried next to my grandfather is his brother and you look around the cemetery and it’s all family, living and past history tied together by blood and place. The cemetery is lively and I notice what a different it makes to have people inhibit this lonely place that is usually filled with sad isolation.

So that was the second time I ate at a grave. This time it felt good like I wasn’t going to hurl up my guts. My grandfather’s grave is a double plot, fenced around but not closed in. He’s buried underneath the earth, unconventional. There are two steps to enter and a small fence, when you walk in you’re met with flat grass. His little garden grave sits seemingly out of place next to all the tall cages of elevated marble tombs and heavy wrought iron bars. There are green tiled benches inside the fencing and when you sit there it feels like a quiet moment between two friends in a park. Uncle Ramon’s tomb next door feels like a testament to man made material. It’s dignified and ridged in its classic architecture, his coffin inside a cool marble box watched over by a white statue of baby Jesus. Each space reflects the men that they were.

My family sits around my grandfather’s grave and it’s lit up with candles and flowers and it’s like he’s there invited to the party, technically he’s the guest of honour. Other relations drop by to light a candle for him and the futility of life just got less oppressive because twenty years later he isn’t forgotten, every year there is time set aside to remember the dead and the way that they impacted our lives and it kinda just clicks to me that grief is a lifelong process and not something I can recover from or that you can bury. Now if only I could twist this to apply to heartbreak… cause then we’d really be good.

xx SJ

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