When I was growing up, the period from October 31 to November 2 was a big holiday in the Philippines. It is not a huge festivity like Christmas but people would normally take a few days off work, travel back home to be with their families to honour their loved ones, both the dead and the living. Filipinos are very superstitious and religious people you see . . . even those who claim to be nominal Catholics do pray for, and to, the dead (the image of President Duterte crying in his mother’s grave uttering ‘Tabangi ko, Ma!’’ — please help me, Mother! — is a classic example of this). Back in my day, and I’m referring to 30-40 years back when I was very young, everyone did lit candles in the cemetery to commemorate All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and All Souls’ Day (November 2nd). In our family we always had a novena (a form of worship consisting of special prayers on nine successive days) at home every night during these festivities aside from offering a mass (that is, paying money to the priest to hold a special service) for the dead family members. A lot of Filipinos still do practice this tradition to this very day. Personally though, All Saints’ Day took on a completely different meaning when my father died on November 1, 1984, exactly thirty three years ago today. Three days ago my older brother turned 50 and as I was on Skype chatting with everyone, the family gathered to celebrate his birthday, I was reminded once again that my father died at age 51 — really young.
So this is the time of year when my own particular brand of seasonal affective disorder sets in. And no, I’m not talking about a depression that goes on for months, or until the dead of winter is over. Rather it’s intentional, I purposely spend some time being sentimental, reflecting or dwelling in the past, and sometimes I seem to get stuck there, at least for a week or two. I don’t get weepy, or spend time crying for hours on end, or have no appetite and don’t wanna go out or see anyone. None of that. I just tend to be more quiet and solitary. I naturally keep things to myself and not bother to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with anyone, not even with my husband. I deal with it on my own. That’s just the way I am. I know how to live inside some of my sorrow, the grief that never really goes away.
Around this time of the year since my father’s death, I become quite nostalgic for the way things were, in what seems like only yesterday, but in fact they’re long ago and far away moments. I’m no longer a little girl, anticipating Christmas or any of the holidays. We all grow up, we get older, and yes, we lose people we love. Our siblings, or those we’re close to do get married and move away, and start spending their holidays in other family circles. In my case, I am the one who moved farther away, thousands of miles from my family and friends. In the same way that once we settle in one place, we make friends and then some of them move to other parts of the country, or other parts of the world, or become estranged. And as we get older, our beloved elders pass on and the list of people we miss gets longer.
Just about everyday last week I listened to my parents’ favourite music, and I haven’t listened to any of it for many months. But the other night I played one of my mother’s favourite songs ‘The Autumn Leaves’ over and over — probably a hundred times that day (FYI, Eva Cassidy’s rendition is my number one favourite). For some reasons, I have vivid memories, as a 3-4 year old girl, watching my mother playing the guitar while singing The Autumn Leaves and I tried to replay that particular moment in my mind as I was listening to the song while doing calligraphy and watercolour painting — which, by the way, I find very therapeutic.
A good part of the weekend and yesterday, and yes, a fair portion of today, particularly this morning, were laced with these melancholic moments, and broody concern for the past. Each time I was ready to caw under the weight of my own deep oblivion, strong arms wrapped themselves around me and Jared would simply say, “I’m here, my dear!” That was all I needed in order to remember that indeed, I have a lot for which to be truly thankful. It seemed time, today, to come full circle, and invoke the spirit of my father and mother, thirty four and eight years gone respectively (November 1,1984 and November 15, 2009), by going through old photographs, videos, listening to their music — simply reminiscing the days gone by.
Christmas is just around the corner; strong arms are wrapped around me as we make plans for the holiday traditions we’ve begun to evolve over the past seventeen years. Making plans always cheers me up. And really, how sad can I be when there’s so much to be joyful and thankful for? Besides, I’m drinking English tea right now, and a cup of tea makes everything better!
I’d better stop right here before I get maudlin again.