Last week, I received a sad email from my Mom. My Lolo Boy passed away, losing to his short battle against cancer. Lolo is what we call Grandfathers back home, and Lolo boy is my Lola’s (for Grandmothers [this case my Mom’s mom]) brother. We weren’t very close, Lolo Boy and I, but in the Philippines you meet all of your lolos and lolas every holidays or whatever the occasion.
Lolo Boy and his part of the clan used to live a few minutes away from the house that I grew in, and he often stops by the house coming home from work. Sometimes I would run into him when I am outside, and is of course expected of me to kiss his hand (technically in the Philippines, when you see an elderly relative you put his hands to your forehead, as sign of respect). So aside from the usual family gatherings, that was as much as my relationship with my Lolo Boy.
What I can remember about Lolo Boy is that he was a dedicated family man, who worked his whole life to provide for his family I believe even down to his grandchildren, my cousins. Another thing I remember about him was that he and his wife were one of the oddest couples I know, but not in a bad way. It’s just that Lola Leone (who passed away a few years earlier) was one of the loudest, most talkative women I have ever met. I remember she would talk and talk and Lolo Boy would be sitting beside her or nearby playing cards quietly listening. And in fairness to Lola Leone, she was I believed the best person to go to if you wanted to ask about family history, she knew everything about everybody. I used to sit beside her, and listen to her stories. Her passing was I thought really sad because she brought with her a lot more stories I would’ve loved to listen to. The only consolation I can find in these sad moments is that they are together now somewhere sitting side by side Lola Leone talking while Lolo boy sits quietly listening.
Again, I am not very close to both of them but I feel sad for my aunts, for my Mom and her cousins, and to my cousins. My mom adds in her email that my cousins took turns whispering to Lolo Boy’s ear, perhaps to say their loving goodbyes, moments after he passed away.
But another thing I am sad about is that my Lolo Boy is the first relative that died now that I am away. After I had my cry, I told JG that this really makes me sad because I now know what it feels like to lose a family and I am thousands of miles away. I remember reading something Brigid Keenan (the original Diplomatic Baggage) wrote that she was away on post when her Mom passed away, and right now I have a glimpse of what that must’ve felt for her.
Back home unless you really have a good excuse, you go to a family member’s wake. I don’t know how it is in other countries, in the Philippines wakes last from five days to a week, and family members stay up all night. I’m not sure why, but they say it gives loved ones time to process and accept their loss. Despite the circumstances, wakes for me are one of the best opportunities to catch up on family, to share stories not only of the one who passed but of memories good and bad. In that side of the family, liked I said, Lola Leone was the best to sit next to.
I wished I had been home, not only to say my goodbyes to my Lolo Boy, but to be with family. There are lots of things one must get used to as a Diplowife, language barriers, culture shock, mingling skills; but I don’t think there is ever a way to get used to being away from family, especially in times of lost.