Today is Memorial Day. I know it’s supposed to remember those we’ve lost in war, but my family has taken it to remember all the ones we’ve lost in general. No disrespect or anything. We’ve just…lost a lot of people.
I think the first person in my family to pass away was my maternal grandpa in 1996, when I was four years old. I don’t remember much of him, just that he gave me a necklace that I wore daily until I lost it when I was six. My mom brought me to Philippines for his funeral, and in Filipino tradition, they threw me over his coffin before they buried him. I had no idea what was going on.
A year or two later, my dad’s eldest sister passed away from cancer. She was living in Chicago and left behind my four cousins who were around my age range. We all flew to Chicago for the funeral and I didn’t really know how to feel since I didn’t remember meeting her.
Later, two of my cousins passed away on a visit to Philippines just days apart from each other. One was two years older than me, the other my age. I barely remember my interactions with them (they were just six years old and eight years old when it happened), but to this day I can’t help but wonder what life would’ve been like if they made it. We would’ve been so close. One of them would’ve gone to high school with me and graduated with me, then there would’ve been four Garcia’s in Campbell High School’s Class of 2010. It would’ve been amazing. Their lives were over before it ever really began.
When I was in the sixth grade, my cousin got into a fatal car accident. He was 21. Today’s his birthday, actually — he would’ve been 35 years old today. That might’ve been my first fully comprehensible experience with death. I remember waking up at some ungodly hour of the morning — 3 am? 4 am? — and my mom rushing us out of the house and to the hospital, saying that my Manong Arthur had died. I thought she was overreacting. We got to the hospital and when I saw my cousin, the one who took me to my dentist appointments when my parents couldn’t, babysat us, let me come over to play with his new puppy, let me come over just to play Legend of Mana or Paper Mario on his N64 because we weren’t allowed to have video games…I panicked. We lived down the street from each other and I couldn’t understand that I wouldn’t be seeing him anymore. Life changed a lot after his death.
Years later, my mom’s brother in the Philippines passed away. I didn’t know him very well. She didn’t bring us to the funeral. Another year later, my dad’s brother in the Philippines passed away in a motorcycle accident. He didn’t bring us to the funeral either. Already, loss had started to become regular in their lives. My paternal grandfather passed away before I was born.
Several years later when I was 16, my mom’s other brother (she is the second youngest of 12, with a mere four of them being brothers) passed away from cancer (can’t remember what kind it was, but I know it was cancer). He was loud when he was drunk (which was often) and loved to sing karaoke. I didn’t see him at the hospital. His two eldest kids who had moved to Las Vegas on their own years before came back to Hawai’i for it. It was then that I realized that death was what brought my close family even closer.
One by one, we would be gone, and because there was so many of us, we had to grow thicker skin each time.
In 2013, my mom’s sister passed away. I was visiting home on one of my summer breaks from college. She and my mom were extremely close; when she was still a child, my mom took a 10 hour bus ride from Isabela to Ilocos and my aunty raised her herself, paying for her school all the way through college until my mom decided to move to Hawai’i with her other siblings. Because of that, my aunty was a big part of my life. I had so many photos with her, admired her love for traveling, and always marveled at the way she kept a calm and reposed personality amongst the craziness of my mother and other aunties. “Your aunty was my best friend,” my mom told me in tears, and I knew this was the worst loss she had so far (and probably to this day). I dreamt about her often after her death, and even now her absence feels foreign.
Then, in 2015, the unthinkable happened. My maternal grandma, at 93, passed away in Philippines. My grandma was everything to me, and it was naive of any of us to see her as immortal. She was the strongest woman that any of us ever saw. She lived through the death of her husband, three children, and three grandchildren…why couldn’t she live forever? This mother of 12, grandmother of 42, great grandmother of 38, great-great grandmother of five, loved to tell stories, laugh at jokes, and enjoy the world around her. We were very close, which means a lot from being one of 42 grandchildren. Her passing hit all of us hard. I was lucky enough to fly to Philippines for her funeral with my mom and aunties and see her laid to rest next to my grandpa after more than 20 years. I miss her everyday, to this day.
And now, just recently, my paternal grandmother passed away, making me grandparent-less. I have so much I can say about it. She actually lived with us since I was kid. When my dad’s sister was the only sibling he had in Hawai’i, grandma would go there on the weekends and stay with us throughout the week. She loved to sew and crochet, always sewing up our blankets and pillows when we ripped them, knitting us doilies and anything she felt like we needed. She was harder on me than my other cousins or my brothers, which I still don’t understand. She and my mom had a weird relationship, but after 20+ years of living together, her death left my mom in so many tears. We all flew to Philippines for her funeral, where I cried harder than at my other grandma’s funeral, despite me being closer to my other grandma. She was just always there and I couldn’t believe it finally happened. I still can’t believe she’s gone.
My husband never really lost anyone he was close to. When we started dating, he attended my aunty’s funeral with me and it was the first one he’d been to as an adult. I’ve already been to quite a few in my life and I know eventually it’ll be endless. My parents started having the “If I die, this is what you need to do…” talks with us a long time ago. Death is still a scary concept to me but all I can do is try to understand as I get older.
If I was back in Hawai’i, I’d be spending my Memorial Day at the cemetery with my family, celebrating the lives we’ve loved and lost. Today, I’m remembering all my family members who’ve gone, because to be forgotten is worse than death. Miss you all.