Death of a grandmother

Much has been written about death — that it leaves a gaping hole, that a part of us is taken away into the pit with the dead body’s casket, that it’s inescapable, that it is something we all have to contend with. Despite the endless generalizations we tell ourselves in order to help dull the pain, the feeling of grief that goes with death remains one of the most excruciating emotions a human being will have to experience in his brief stint living. It’s hard to comprehend how an emotion that does not play any role in helping the human species succeed in the evolutionary sense linger and continue to cause us discomfort for a period.

My grandmother passed away (how I detest this cliche but it cannot be helped) more than a month ago. I was meaning to write something about her, probably shower her memories with platitudes, but I know she will never read this as she has already died, and granting spirits (if they exist) can read she would not be able to comprehend this post as this is in English. She could neither read nor write, except I think her name.

My father referred to her as a sinless woman. Indeed, he loves her so much. Was he exaggerating? I have reasons to take his position, not that I know readers will disagree with his statement. My grandmother remained uncorrupted until her dying days. What bothered her were things too fundamental most of do not think are worth bothering ourselves about — the need for food, the security of a roof above her head, and to be in the company of her children and grandchildren. She never considered existential issues that for the vainest of us constitute the main questions we ask ourselves whenever our death or a loved one’s looms at the doorstep.

Yes, she might have feared death as it is wired in all of us the moment we become aware we are alive, but her fear was not whether the afterlife exists as I know she was certain it does. It was her daughter who took care of her until her last breath and her young grandson (my aunt’s only child) not being able to deal with it when she is gone that caused her to wail in her deathbed.

I got nothing novel to say about death. No one can. We all have said or written everything that can be said or written about it that attempts at coming up with an original generalization can only mean one is either stupid or trying to be funny. Obviously, the humor is dry and bound to be missed.

Our experience with death is particular. For a moment, the grief enables the of vainest of us to think the whole universe revolves around him and the entire weight of the cosmos is held on that singular pin whose emery is his heart.

I am one of those vain individuals.

I miss my grandmother. I really do. But I do not want to execrate her memories by my platitudinous writing which no matter how hard I try not to will sound shallow and insincere.

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Plying Pasig River

These photos taken using my phone would have remained untouched on my desktop had I not fortuitously ran into them this morning while I was attempting to clean my computer and rid it of unnecessary and incriminating files.

Two weeks ago, a friend and I went to Manila for lunch and finally proceeded with our long-stalled plan of riding a passenger ferry that plies Pasig River from Manila to Taguig City.

I must say that the idea of the project–using the navigable portion of the river as a passenger route to ease the traffic in the metro–is an excellent one, only that the government arm who is tasked to do this has been missing on a lot of details.

The ferries are not properly maintained, the air-conditioning units not working, and the security is, to say the least, very lax. The stench of the river seeps through the interior of the ferry. Despite the commendable effort of both local and national government to rehabilitate Pasig River, undeniably, the river still gives off noxious odor. If they intend to use the river for the purpose of making it a commuters’ highway, and if they want the people to patronize this alternative, then something has to be done regarding the minor discomfort the system brings to the riding public.

In spite of this, the experience had a tourist-y feel in it similar to riding a Ferris wheel or walking through a House of Horror for the first time, we ignored the inconvenience because of the novelty of the experience; it’s not as if we ride the ferries in Pasig River every day.

From Escolta, several meters from Chinatown, is the second station south of the route. I imagined Elias (was it he?) throwing the improvised bomb to Pasig River thwarting Simon’s plan to seek vengeance against the corrupt friars in Jose Rizal’s novel El Filibusterismo.

The trip, which took more than 40 minutes, had lull moments. So to let time pass, I folded my ticket into a paper boat.

One will notice that people keep on moving from one side of the ferry to another to avoid the sun. With this, one can see the narrow line that separates death (that is, dying from ingesting murky water that has in it God-knows-what species of bacteria and viruses million times more potent than HIV or Ebola virus)  and life, all because of the vanity subliminally imposed on the Filipino psyche by ads for skin-whitening lotions.

The back of the Post Office building that faces the Escolta station and the building being reflected in the nearly black water. If there is something beautiful about the waters of Pasig it’s the fact that their reflections of buildings and objects along banks of the river are comparatively clearer and definitely more beautiful than in the waters of cleaner and more pristine rivers.

For unknown reasons, probably security, it is forbidden to take photos of the Malacanang palace. The moment it dawn on us that the magnificent white building to our right is the center of power in the country, we passengers started snapping pictures of the president’s palace. The uniformed men in the ferry hurriedly ordered us to delete the pictures in our phones which we promptly did, and these men made sure we did. But out of sheer luck, I was able to keep this one. This, I believe, will hardly pose any security concern to the incumbent president, Gloria Arroyo.

(But if somebody has the audacity enough to go past her legion of security personnel and, say, put poison in her cup of coffee, plant a bomb in her bathroom, or simply bludgeon her to death, it’s an act some of us would gladly welcome.)

And after the long trip, we saw this imposing silhouette of Guadalupe Bridge right in front of the breathtaking Pasig sunset. Relishing the unforgettable sight before us but more concerned with the stench that got stuck to our clothes, we caught a bus home to Makati.