Of families, and an empty house

A few weeks ago, we lost a family member. My aunt, Tita Rowie, passed away after two years of battling a rare form of cancer. It was something that came as bittersweet for us. Everyone wanted her to rest in peace because she was suffering so much from her cancer. But that also meant accepting she would be gone forever. When I got the news that my aunt has died, I was in Palawan. The last time we spoke was when I went to Manila for a quick visit early this year. That was the last time I saw her. I have big regrets that I carry with me with her passing. One was that I didn’t make enough effort to reach out to her, even in a simple text or call. I could reason I was busy and always preoccupied with many things, but I know that wasn’t true. Friends know me to be very personal and intentional when it came to valuing time and friendship, but why not family? Even when she couldn’t speak anymore, she was still sending out text messages to all of us. To me, too. She texted me during my birthday and I sent her a text during her birthday, but I never got a reply because she was too weak to even try. My sisters were fortunate to have had that last chance to see her before she passed. They got the chance to pray for her and I wished I was part of that. Too often we overlook the importance of family, or neglect the precious times we have with them, believing that we have all the time in the world. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

My two-week stay in Manila was an eye opener for me. I basically bought a one-way ticket because I also had some business to do while at home and I didn’t know how long I would need to get it done. The freedom that came with waking up each day not knowing when I would go back to my second home (Palawan) was indeed very precious. To me, that meant more time to spend with family and friends. And I did. While my recent visits were very short and meant specific, time-constrained visits to friends, usually in two to three hour intervals each, this time around, I had the freedom to meet anybody over an extended, indefinite period. I missed going to the mall with my best friend, window shopping, eating at cafes and just talking about anything, the future mostly. I miss surprising my good sister in Christ Liselle at work, showing up at Glorietta 5 and having spontaneous, random dinner dates and gushing over her upcoming wedding. I miss strolling along the beautiful, tree-lined streets of Makati without a care in the world, and while the faces I see are rushing to meet deadlines or grabbing a quick bite for lunch before heading back to work, I was carefree, unburdened.

I miss cooking at home, so I resumed my normal role at home. I cooked lunch and dinner, making sure by the time Keren and Cha are home, dinner is served hot and made with love. I missed going to church and seeing friends who I shared cribs with when we were babies, and despite slightly feeling out of place and left out because everyone is doing their own ministry and everyone has something else to do, it makes me reminisce of the days when I was like them: active in church, caring for God’s work. I missed just having coffee dates with my soul sister Meryll, and all our talks on spiritual things and how we just know each other’s heart and thoughts even before we even utter a word out. I love the honesty and the vulnerability we show each other, spurred by Christ’s example to love unconditionally, to accept without fault, because all of us are sinners living out God’s amazing grace.

And I missed family, most. Even during the wake, just being with my aunts and uncles, laughing at old jokes or talking about business and the future, these things I do not take now for granted. It is sad that I didn’t do this as much as I should have before, but one begins to really understand the importance of family with the reality of distance. Because you’re not around anyone that knows you. Because, when you need something, you have to call home or ask them to send it over through mail, as opposed to just knocking on the next room. You miss family most when you live a plane away from them, and alone at that, and when all you have at home is your gold fish.

I’m missing the comfort of family because I have gotten so used to being by myself. In fact, majority of my life has been lived alone. When our parents separated and by the age of 17, we had to fend for ourselves. Through college, when my sisters and brothers were in different parts of the country, I lived home by myself and managed quite well. Even today, at 29, when I hear people say I’m brave that I live alone in a town I’m not even from, I take it without some badge of honor because the reality is, we have been living independently all these years.

Today, though, something stirred in my heart. I was looking at some pictures of friends on facebook and they were at various family gatherings and I felt envious more than nostalgic. I don’t admit this often because I have adjusted quite well being alone, but it does make me envious (in a good way) when I see people together with families. You don’t have to cook for yourself; somebody does for you. You don’t eat by yourself; you eat with everyone else. Your Friday or Saturdays may mean a trip to the beach, fishing, or just movies. How do I spend my days? Well, usually, just holed up at home because work is at home. Even when I fill my days with activities, like Quiz Nights, or zumba, or walking, or hiking, the reality is that I still go home to an empty house. Even when I took the effort to design my little place, making it cozy and warm and inviting, it is still empty of faces.

My dad called me a few days ago during the Mario storm. He overheard something about Palawan, and, as usual, my dad is in his overly-panic mode. But you know what? When I got that call, I didn’t get annoyed or brushed him off. I was grateful that I still get calls from him. I don’t see my dad often. In fact when I had flown over Manila, I called him only last minute, asking if he could pick me up at the airport. We grew up really distant and estranged with each other, but I appreciate the effort he has been giving all of us. I think it’s about time I return the favor.

What I want to just say, I guess, is that I miss family, and I miss home. I find myself a little sad these days, and I think the loss of my aunt has gotten me into some sort of grief that needs to be felt and expressed. Because I do have my regrets. And how my heart aches over the fact that I will not be able to repay her this same favor I’m doing now to my family. I’m sorry, tita. I really am. I know you are happy and enjoying God’s great, amazing presence. If you could see me now, please know that I was there during your wake and when we finally laid your ashes. It doesn’t mean anything now, but I wanted to make up for it at least. I love you!

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