This week I attended a remembrance service for my husband’s grandfather, Santiago. He gracefully passed away last April, leaving 90 years of a colorful life with his children and grandchildren. I went to the service with two of his daughters, Aunts Lily and Ruth, and his youngest son, Uncle Paul. What I thought would be an exclusive remembrance service with a Catholic priest presiding was far from what I witnessed: a compendium of old souls, living or otherwise.
The service was held inside a hospice presided by a Christian reverend and attended by at least 50 people. It was held in memory of the hospice’s residents who passed away within the past three months. There were the four of us, a group of three middle-aged women who all looked alike, a small group of the hospice’s staff members and the rest who are residents of the hospice.
One by one, the reverend called the name of those whom we were remembering that day; there were about 20. He placed candles in front so a family member could proceed to the front and light the candle and say a short prayer or share a memory while a gentle song plays in the background.
As the service went on, I noticed that only two candles were lit by a family member, my grandfather’s and the candle for the mother of those three middle-aged women. All the other candles were lit by the hospice’s staff members, which only means that no other families came for the service of their loved ones despite being sent invitations.
While some of those who passed away may not have family members who are still alive, surely they couldn't be that many. Twenty families and only two showed up. My mother-in-law, who works in a hospice, said I shouldn't be surprised. Many families forget their elders when they are still living, let alone when they pass away.
Memories wield an inimitable power over us. Sometimes, they hold us captive, sometimes they let us loose, frolicking in the carnival of our joy. You see, my husband was the eldest of all the grandchildren in a close-knit family (thank God), and he was the only grandchild for a number of of years until his younger brother came. Thus, as my Aunt Lily told me, during Grandpa’s last weeks when his memory was starting to deteriorate, the only name he remembered often was my husband’s pet name when he was a toddler.
Funny how he remembered that thirty years ago, a little boy lit up his life. Funny how our parents, despite their memory blunders, remember our birth, our first words, our little achievements we have already forgotten. Yet, we forget to call or visit every other weekend, sharp memory and all. We forget to pick up a gift for them once or twice a year, we forget what things they like so we end up giving them gift cards, but we do remember to pick up the mail every day, pay our bills every month and call our salons to schedule a haircut every month. We have so much to accomplish and so many losses to make up for, we say. And when we do make it up to our elders with what little time we have, we feel as though they owe us something.
Who are these people we've become? Aren't we those little kids' who used to run around the house and call mom when we get bruised? When did we become so forgetful?
Inside the room where we held the services were lives full of pain and love, stories yet to be told, youth yet to be reminisced. We pay too much attention to our losses that we no longer know what growing old and dying are about. Behind the freckles and wrinkles of those men and women in wheelchairs are our milestones. By remembering them, we are assured that we are loved unconditionally.