Mourning deaths, celebrating lives

The best celebrations of life are when people die, during their wakes and funerals and when we mark their 40th day after passage to eternal life.

The French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel proposes that our life is not what we accumulate or accomplish in our lives but how much of ourselves we have made available to others.

Being born gives us the potential of living a good life; it comes with facts that we do not choose – our families, our society and its history, and circumstances particular only to us.  But life comes with choices too – people to love and care for, responsibilities to bear, and missions to carry out.

On the other hand, when one dies, one can no longer take back the love one has given others. Conversely as long as we are alive, we can always choose to love or to hate, to participate or escape, or to make ourselves available or to say no to what we are called to do.

In dying, our choices are made permanent.

Three deaths in the New Year – the writer Sylvia Mayuga, a family friend in Cagayan de Oro Tita Ely Gabor Pedrajas, and a fellow academic Professor Arni Clamor – are proof of how death cements a meaningful life.  I mourn their deaths and celebrate their lives.

Many tributes have been written about Sylvia, she who chose Morningstar as her second name in the social media world. I have been reading her since the 1970s and up to her last article in Rappler on the benefits of medical marijuana. Her prose was always clear, invoking always the goodness of the universe while lamenting the cruelty around us.

Through the years,  Sylvia Morningstar Mayuga and I reposted each other posts, being like-minded and like-hearted. Once she posted something I wrote about wolves where I referenced the fox friend of The Little Prince and the wolves in the coat of arms of the House of Ignatius Loyola.

Syvia and I loved wolves and stars and were angry at injustice and human rights atrocities. It is such an honor to have shared these with her.

Among others, it must have been her being educated by the good nuns of St. Scholastica’s College and St. Theresa’s College that made her so insightful, passionate, and articulate. I should know as my mother Inday was also a product of that school.

This brings me to Tita Ely Gabor Pedrajas, one of the best friends of my mother. Although 15 years younger than Mom, who turns 90 in a few months, they hit it off well when they found a common interest in the travel business.  Through the years, as my mom and our family suffered through many crises (the early deaths of my father and youngest brother Cacoy among others), Tita Ely was there as her friend.

Before Mom and Tita Ely became friends, in the early 1980s if I remember correctly, I used to see her with her two other sisters in Pick-a-Deli, a nice restaurant in Katipunan Avenue ibn front of Ateneo. The beauty and dignity of the Gabor sisters, who were probably in their forties then, always struck me. And I was happy when Mom and Tita Ely became good friends.

Tita Ely was quiet and reserved even as she was very intelligent. She was class valedictorian of Lourdes College High School (Class of 1959). She was a leader as well – elected their class president and was past President of Zonta International Club 2 Cagayan de Oro. Many in Cagayan de Oro would not know this but she was a ballerina and Bayanihan Dancer decades ago. She was also the topnotcher of the exam for Real Estate Brokers.

But it is not her achievements that we celebrated yesterday in Cagayan de Oro, the 40th day after her passage to eternal life. It is the love that she gave to the people around her and especially to her family.

As Sandee, her daughter describes her, Tita Ely “was the one of the kindest person who has ever lived”, “the perfect example of a mother”, brought them up very well and prioritizing her three children (Sandee, Ader and Ali) over herself.

She was also a wonderful grandmother. In the eulogy delivered by Nicole, Tita Ely’s only granddaughter and nickname Zontita because she accompanied her grandmother to Zonta meetings when she was little, she said goodbye in moving and wise words: “We love you Wawa and we will always Miss you, I wished you would live longer but it’s time for you to rest. We will be fine don’t worry about us, we are just happy that you are now released to live with God and released from all the pain you have received in your life and you can finally live freely.”

Arni Clamor suffered greatly in her last days. Fighting cancer, she made sure to finish her work in Ateneo de Davao University and submitted her grades before coming home to spend her last days with her chosen community of the Notre Dame De Vie Institute in Bulacan.

I knew Arni in her undergraduate years in Ateneo de Manila and as a fellow graduate student and professor of philosophy. Everywhere Arni went, she brought knowledge and wisdom; she was salt and light and helped souls to find silence and holiness.

In his eulogy. Fr Joel Tabora SJ, ADDU President, recalled Arni’s last lecture on Saint Cardinal John Newman whose thought was her dissertation topic. The one thing she said everyone must remember in that lecture,  Fr Joel recounted was her emphasis and playing of the hymn Lead Kindly Light with words written by Newman.

Of course, the funeral mass ended with the congregation, led by the ladies of the Notre Dame De Vie Institute, singing that song: “Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on. The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene: one step enough for me. I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou shouldst lead me on; I loved to choose, and see my path; but now lead thou me on. I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears. Pride ruled my will: remember not past years. So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on. O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone, and with the morn those angel faces smile, which I have loved long since, and lost a while.”


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