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Christmas Eve 2011 was supposed to be a hectic day for me.  My wife’s uncle had passed away a few days ago.  His remains were transferred to his hometown, a small barrio outside Batangas City.  Since we wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral, we were supposed to drive to Batangas on Christmas Eve, then return home after lunch to make preparations for the Christmas Eve dinner.

Fortunately for me, that plan didn’t push through.  So, after breakfast on the morning of the 24th, my wife and I began our preparations for cooking Afritada and Embotido. We chopped onions, carrots and garlic, grated cheese, and mixed them with the ground pork which we would later roll into 1-inch patties, then wrapped in aluminum foil for steaming.  It took us the better part of the day.

Around 5:30PM, we brought a candle and vase along, then went to Manila Memorial Park along Dr. A. Santos Avenue (formerly Sucat Road), to visit the grave of my mom who passed away in 2008.  Since the Winter Solstice had passed a few days earlier, the evenings came early.  Darkness fell a lot sooner due to the cloudy skies.

We made a stop at the flower vendors outside the memorial park to buy flowers for mom, and one we would offer for Jesus, the birthday celebrant who is most often neglected during all the festivities. Ironically, it’s His birthday we were commemorating.  Somehow, amidst all the hustle and bustle, the parties and gift-giving, the endless shopping and merry-making, we tend to forget Him.

As we drove along the main road inside the park, we noticed there were a lot of gravesites with lighted candles and flowers, some with knots of people seated on the grass. It was heart-warming to know that we were not alone in remembering departed loved ones on Christmas Eve.

When we got to the mom’s gravesite, we were met by our caretaker who tended the grass on mom’s gravesite.  He set-up the flowers and lit the candle we brought.  After he was done, we paid him what we owed him for the month, and gave him something extra for his family.

As we often do, we talk to mom as if she was just there. My wife, Weng, reminisces about how mom loved bibingka and castañas.  She further laments that the price of castañas has quadrupled since we last bought some.  We tell her of how big our son, Jeo, has grown (he’s taller than him mom now). We tell her how Jeo’s gotten a bit lazy with his studies, and kidded her to pull Jeo’s leg when he’s being lazy.  I tell mom that I love her and miss her. Unbidden, my eyes well up with tears, and slowly they rolled down my cheeks. My wife and son comfort me.

I activate my phone’s flashlight and open the prayer book we always bring to the prayer for the dead.  With a little tremble in my voice, I read the prayer:

Lord, help us to see death for what it really is,
The end of poverty and the beginning of riches;
The end of frustration and the beginning of fulfillment;
The end of fear and the beginning of tranquility;
The end of pain and the beginning of joy;
The end of weakness and the beginning of strength.

Let not grief overwhelm us,
Or a sense of loss embitter us.
But out of our sadness
Let there arise a new joy
For so much given to us.
Cast out our fears
And let not our hearts be troubled.
Let your spirit of peace come alive
Within our experience and hurt,
Our sorrow and isolation,
Our sadness today and loneliness tomorrow.

We humbly commend to you, Cornelia
Whom you have called out to this mortal life.
You loved her always with great love.
Now that you have freed her
From all evils of this earth,
Bring her into your paradise
Where there is no more grief
Or mourning or sadness
But peace and joy with your Son
And the Holy Spirit forever.

We thank you for all the blessings
You have given to Cornelia
In her mortal life.
We pray that she may be able to glorify you
With the life that she lived and the way
She made use of her blessings.

Lord God, grant that we will never forget
That life is short and uncertain.
Let your spirit guide us in holiness, justice
And service to our brothers and sisters.

We pray for the healing of all unhappy feelings
Cornelia’s death now leaves in our hearts.
Be with us, Lord, during our moments
Of sorrow and loneliness.
You are our rock, our fortress and our strength.
We trust in you and hope
In your glorious resurrection.
We lift up to you our grief and sorrow
Confident that you will change
Our mourning to rejoicing
That our beloved Cornelia
Now rests in your peace.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord.
And Let your perpetual light shine upon her.

May she rest in peace.
Amen.

May the soul of Cornelia and the souls of all the faithful departed
Through the mercy of God rest in peace.
Amen.

We said our good-byes and head back home. 

When we got home, my wife laid down the flowers we bought at the foot of the coffee table where we had our Nativity scene put up.  Then, my son, Jeo, excitedly blurted out that he and his mom had bought me a Christmas present, and that they had a difficult time concealing it from me.  They wanted to get me something in exchange for the sketch I made of the two of them (my Christmas present to them).  My son, would later find out that we had bought him the book he wanted, “The Power of Six“, disguised inside a box for a belt I previously bought.

After dinner, we make preparations to attend the traditional Midnight Mass at Don Bosco Parish Church in Makati, and the traditional Noche Buena (Midnight Meal) and gift-giving at my in-laws place.

It turned out to be different Christmas Eve.

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