Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dealing With the Dead

All Saints' Day is coming up, so I don't suppose that anyone will be surprised to find out that I've been visiting the local cemeteries a lot lately. In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone out there didn't have any predecessors to venerate; Each of us has our own dead, after all.

The honored dead in my family take up residence in only two places: the Chinese Cemetery in Quezon City, and the Manila Memorial Park in ParaƱaque City. The former venue houses our more senior members -- great-grandparents, grand-uncles and such -- while the latter is home to our more recent decedents. We're not heavily traditionalist when it comes to All Saints' Day, which means that we usually drop by those places well before the first of November. But then again, we're a meticulous lot, so you're likely to find us checking up on the family tombs around three or four times a year regardless of anything else.

As you might expect, the typhoon that took place late last month got most of the family worried. This resulted in the greatest concentration of cemetery visits I've ever seen at any one time: I dropped by to survey the landscape and pick up a damaged portrait on the 7th, returned the repaired version on the 15th, and performed a final inspection of each mausoleum's surroundings and facilities on the 22nd. This weekend happens to hold our "official" scheduled visits: I've already mucked about the Chinese Cemetery earlier this morning, and I'll be whiling away a couple of hours in Manila Memorial Park tomorrow.

My trips to the Chinese Cemetery tend to be mercifully short. One of the reasons for this is that the current generation of my family barely remembers the people buried there -- they're great-grandparents, after all. The other major reason, however, has more to do with the congestion than anything else: The Chinese Cemetery here sits right next to the infinitely more popular Manila North Cemetery (home of many a Philippine icon), and there's a substantial traffic jam that seems to have settled in the vicinity as a result.

I've observed that most people seem to know the Chinese Cemetery as a tourist attraction. Having visited my relatives' graves in the dirty, labyrinthine pits of the place, I sometimes wonder why. Some of the tombs haven't been cleaned in years despite a constant trickle of interlopers; Other denizens have been completely forgotten by their supposedly "faithful" descendants. In our little corner of the cemetery, the mausoleums are spaced so close together that they blot out the much-needed sunlight; Sometimes I ask myself what manner of architect designed the layouts.

The Manila Memorial Park, on the other hand, serves as a significant contrast to the Chinese Cemetery. The people who designed the place must have been big on things like "natural surroundings" and "wide open spaces", so it feels a lot less claustrophobic most of the time. It's a lot like the suburbs in that the dead receive enough room to stretch, so to speak. My father, my maternal grandparents, and a couple of devoted uncles all make their homes there, and they're all definitely people who would have preferred such a comfort.

I know that I drop by Manila Memorial at least three times a year -- in August for my dad's birth anniversary, in mid-October for his death anniversary, and on All Saints' Day because, well, it's All Saints' Day. Ironically, my father usually found the cemetery to be a really boring place. Not surprisingly, I echo his sentiments.

Interestingly enough, now that I think about it, I do have one deceased family member who doesn't reside in a cemetery or graveyard of any sort. My paternal grandfather -- the only other true writer in the family -- ended up going through the crematorium shortly after his passing last year, and now resides in a porcelain urn locked inside a brass cabinet, housed on the second floor of a massive Buddhist temple somewhere in Manila. As you might expect, he doesn't need very much in terms of space... although it does shorten the length of our visits due to a lack of sitting room.

It's been said that dealing with the dead exerts a strange toll on one's psyche, although I have yet to observe exactly what the aftereffects are. It's probably more obvious to everyone else who knows me, however, seeing the amount of time I'm starting to spend hanging about the deceased. Seeing that I'm probably headed in that direction anyway, though, I might as well stay open to the idea of overseeing what may very well be our future accommodations.

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