Emil Guillermo: Confessions of a bad relative

Recently two deaths occurred, one natural, the other not.  I was related to both of them, though as you can see, the guilt is only now setting in.  

My Cousin

For her privacy and to protect the innocent, let’s call her Paula.

She was a real gem.

Paula was just a few years  younger than me, born in 1958. She was smart. She was beautiful. She was a great dancer, and an even better singer. She sang, well, like an angel.

 We grew up in San Francisco. We even went to Lowell High School at the same time.

And until I heard the news this week, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw Paula, or even what she looked like. 

It was all a blank until I went to the wake and saw her portrait. Unmistakably a cousin, in her eyes and face I saw the whole family.

At the wake, I saw another relative, an aunt.  When she recognized me, I dipped my head to air-kiss her hello. Then she pulled back and said, “Say hi to your mom.”

A nice sentiment, sure. But my mother died more than 10 years ago.

By her statement, my aunt in her 80s was going before my eyes. But her forgetfulness was a forgivable, natural thing. The rest of us willfully forget. Life gets in the way, we move away, our lives in different places and connections naturally wane.

That’s the way it was with Paula and I. We might see each other at funerals.

And now she staged her own. 

She had lost a job in January. Her mother died a year ago. She had a bout of depression, and decided her meds weren’t worth it. Nor was anything else.

Did she have options? The family? What if it was like the way it was, and our families lived within blocks apart in San Francisco. And we all saw each other, and knew that it was a family full of love that could provide support. Could that have helped? 

My other cousins at the wake had the same feeling. Were where we when one of us needed us?

Busy, leading our own complicated lives for sure.  But maybe it could have been different if we had  more family gatherings other than our funerals.

 Manang Juaning

The other funeral  last week was for my Manang Juaning, 85,  an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Her son, Ben Medina  and other family members were at the nursing home  for her last breath.

Her life is like the history of Philippine immigration.

Her father, Lolo Telesforo  was the cousin of my father.  That’s why he stayed with my family  in our extra room all those years. He first petitioned for his grand-daughter Esther, who moved in with us and was like a big sister. Then came Ben, her brother. And he moved in too.

They needed their own place when the other five siblings (beautiful sisters all) arrived, along with the leader Manang Juaning. From that base came 15 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great grandchildren.

The wake was a flood of generations—five in all, from Juanita to great-great grandchildren Robert Dorr Jr. and Jayden Dorr.

Not only did I not keep up with relatives I actually lived with, I had practically skipped 3 generations of young relatives.  Many of them were already in their late 20s. 

“We haven’t seen you in a while, uncle,” one said to me. They knew of me as the “Uncle on TV,” or more aptly, Uncle in absentia.  But I knew relatively little of them except we had blood and history in common.

You can prevent from becoming the “modern” Filipino family.

Stay close. Don’t just text or e-mail. See and talk to each other, often. Use the word love as noun or verb,  frequently.

And don’t make funerals the family reunion.