Grieving is painful. That’s exactly what I feel right now. My younger brother, Albert, will be buried at Manila Memorial Park cemetery in a few hours. Back to dust, as Scripture starkly says about death. Tears are rushing down my cheeks unchecked. Surely, am missing him. And here I am in California, not able to travel to the Philippines due to restrictions around the pandemic guidelines. So, I stoically wait for the zoom to start for the funeral service.
Grief is painful. It reminds me of losing my dear husband five years ago. When a loved one goes, we seek comfort in the thought that the spirit lives on and is back home with God. Spiritually soothing. Yet the tears flow, shedding from a hurting heart.
I especially hurt for Albert’s wife, Cecile, his children and grandchildren. Feeling very sad, I sit here trying to write a tribute to a brother five years junior to me, a brother who, up to the time of his recent sick days, never shied from displaying pure delight whenever I vacationed in the Philippines to visit family, or every time I skyped to chat with family there. The last time I saw him alive was a few days ago on skype – with a face that perked up for a greeting, he waved his good right hand (having been half paralyzed from a stroke early this year) — his arm, suspended prolongedly in mid-air, waving, waving, waving.
The wave of goodbye …
Happy, fond memories are flooding in right now, and through my tears, they’re making me smile. Allow me to share a few memories, just enough to sketch a lovable character that so many said they can never forget.
When our parents took a five-year sabbatical from teaching to live in the farm, Albert stayed with them while I remained in the city for my high school education. My summers, however, were spent in the farm. I noticed then that Albert was the regular errand boy. He fetched water for the family from the fresh spring below the steep cliff, helped Papa feed the pigs in the pen, assisted Mama dig sweet potatoes in the field, and periodically took the train to the nearby town to buy basic groceries. I shall never forget that one late morning when I heard his voice from down the hill, yelling for Papa because the neighborhood dogs were barking threateningly around him. They probably smelled food in the bag. Upon hearing Albert’s nervous shout, Papa rushed down to his young son. Mas mabilis pa sa alas cuatro — a cliche in English translation: he was faster than the 4 o’clock train. Papa sped faster than the express train on the railroad tracks, I thought. And Mama was praying loudly for her little boy’s safety. Her prayer, just as loudly, turned to a big thank you; her little boy trudged home unscathed.
For Albert’s early education, Papa built a primary school in the barrio. He was a college professor and the university’s dean of education, and during his sabbatical, Papa contributed one of the biggest accomplishments in my Grandpa’s hacienda (an enormous landholding that covered two large barrios). While several farmers constructed the three-room structure by the railroad, Papa recruited and trained the teachers. Education became a major focus of families in the farm. But I always thought, Papa built that school for Albert. Of course, my brother always topped the class and graduated valedictorian from his fourth grade. After that, our parents, Albert and the younger siblings, Tzetzu and Chichi, moved back to our home in the city.
I shall fast forward to Albert’s high school at the Ateneo de Naga. He had many, many friends. They often came to the house, looking for Albert, or spending time to visit and chat. My brother had a strange magnetism that drew many to seek his friendship. I believe it was because of his good nature, caring and pleasant personality, and of course, his comical and mischievous side. He often was the life of any party, and had ready jokes that entertained. Our family gatherings always livened up when he was around. Though I maintain, he had a penchant for exaggeration that his stories, doubly interesting and funny, never failed to split our sides in laughter. He was a regular story teller; made sure that everyone had a good laugh or two.
In high school, Albert joined his friends in auditioning for the part of a cowboy dancer for Oklahoma, a musical presented by Santa Isabel College. I played the role of Laurie. I remember being so proud of my brother expertly maneuvering the cowboy steps, and I thought he was the best dancer on stage. That teenage boy exuded such confidence and charm. I recall, he had a strange quirk – he would walk around with a slight tilt of his head and subtle twinkle in his eyes — apparently added attractiveness to his stance. Maybe that’s why many girls had such crush on him. That made me even a prouder sister. Funny, I never told him that, then. But yes, he was very handsome.
For college, he attended the University of the Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB). Again, as before, he drew many, many friends. He assumed another family, brothers and sisters in the UP organization called Plebeians. Last night, I watched his sisters and brods from the Philippines and abroad give a heartwarming tribute on zoom. I heard bits and pieces of stories regaling how much of a fun guy he was, and especially, a faithful friend. Well, that was Albert, always making sure that all in any gathering enjoyed themselves – with food or drink or his spill of funny stories. But the truth is, he deeply cared. His friendship for anyone was genuine and lasting.
Loyal and true, that’s what Albert was to his friends. I remember our trip to Naga a couple of years ago. When he heard that his friend William was very sick and bed-ridden, Albert made sure that he took time to visit him, despite our very tight travel schedule. He asked the driver to look for the house where William was. They persevered, and very late in the evening, they found it, up in the hills. William was overjoyed to see his old friend. Before leaving, Albert said William pointed to his sports cap. So, Albert put his favorite hat on William’s head, and William was very touched. A simple yet very loving gesture for his sick friend. When Albert shared about his visit with William during the family dinner, he tried to suppress his tears, but they flowed anyway. My often vibrant and seemingly carefree brother was very somber and contemplative. We allowed him his soulful silence.
As a working professional, Albert had a natural gift for leadership and management. When he was entrusted with heading a major textile business in the Philippines, he was highly recommended and supported by the company owner in his application for the executive business course at Harvard. Albert was accepted. My husband and I expected him in the US for that paramount opportunity. But for some reason, Albert did not travel to the US. Instead, he focused his attention on business operations that required urgent attention. My brother was very, very smart, and often I said he had a rare gift of keen memory. He remembered full names of friends, acquaintances and people he met from his early youth to his late adulthood, and knew details about people and events. In our conversations, when he would blurt out full names of people from so long, long ago and start recalling stories about them – that always blew our minds. .Photographic memory — that’s what he had.
Albert was a very loving son to Mama. He was thoughtful and genuinely affectionate. When Mama was confined in the hospital for a week right before she passed, Albert was in her room watching her everyday, and even slept in the hospital the nights she was there. Mama passed a month before her 101st birthday. Albert was a loving husband, father and grandfather to his family. Especially during his retirement years when he devoted more time to family, he demonstrated such loving care. His wife Cecile, children Hazel, Karen, Buchito and their families will always carry precious memories of him. When a loved one is gone, love never really goes away – and that is what makes this family solidly and tightly together.
I would like to mention Hazel’s husband Larry who, along with Albert’s children Hazel and Karen (and with Albert’s son Buchito and wife Benita involved on the sidelines from a province far away), has been staunchly and reliably leading many of the arrangements necessary at the end of Albert’s sojourn on earth.
My memory of my brother just before his passing – his arm waving and waving at me on the skype screen. Goodbye my ‘kid’ brother. Please say a respectful and loving hello to Jesus and our dear departed. Rest in the Father’s perfect care.