The letter below was written for my grandfather. It was read at his funeral which I unfortunately could not attend in person.
Most people would think that I should write to you in Filipino. I would’ve but you always spoke to us in English. When I hear your voice in my head, you are speaking in English – so it seems only appropriate that I say goodbye for now this way.
I realize now that I’ve been alive for such a small part of your lifetime. You were already 70 years old when I was born. If your World War II battle scars are any indication, you’ve already had a lifetime of adventures even before any of your grandchildren came along. So I can only speak to what I remember about you. I only remember good things.
I always loved going “home” to your house in Calasiao – to what I could only describe to others as a large nipa house. I remember how it was before the house had running water and the “ground floor” addition. The original house had wooden walls and floors. You can see straight through to the dirt ground below because it had no sub-flooring. It was built on stilts, raised above the ground because it always flooded there. Papa would always worry about you during the yearly typhoons. You and Papa don’t have to be worried about typhoons anymore.
I remember the balcony, with its cool breezes that have just a hint of that salty sea smell. That used to be your spot. Every morning I’d see you there with the newspaper doing crosswords – the same way some people here in the U.S. would be doing the New York Times crossword puzzle daily. We love telling everybody about you doing that even though you didn’t even finish grade school. I know you had to stop a few years ago when your eyes couldn’t handle it anymore. It was difficult for you to even see us when we video-called you. The next time we see each other, your eyesight will be perfect again.
I remember your dining table was always filled with seafood, always including shrimp and bagoong and boneless bangus (milkfish). You would always correct us. It shouldn’t be called boneless, you would say, it’s “deboned”. There was always food at that house. It’s where I picked up food as a love language. We didn’t have much but we had family and we had food. It’s also where I picked up my love for lively, casual discourse. You were very articulate – we tell people here that you had an opinion on everything – including Kobe Bryant. I guess we inherited the fondness for basketball from you too. You’re the original Laker fan in the family. After that fresh seafood meal, the TV would be turned on to continuous reruns of old basketball games. When we told you that we were moving to Los Angeles, you said, “Say hello to Kobe for me”. I don’t know if Kobe heard us but we did that for you Lolo. Whenever I see the Staples Center, I’m reminded of you.
With the exception of Lola’s wake (although that turned out to be comedic too), all of my memories of you and Lola and your home were happy, filled with laughter and love. Being a Manuel is amazing. Whenever I describe our family to the people here, I always say that the Manuels are: Funny. Light-hearted. Innately intelligent but not elitist. Ruled by the head but not lacking in heart. Logical but never too serious.
So I was trying not to be so serious when I wrote this, but I’m having a hard time. This is already so long but there aren’t enough words and cliches to describe how much I look up to you, Lolo. One cliche is to say that parents give everything they have to give their kids opportunities they never had. Oh well, I’d still say it because you do exemplify that cliche. Many stories will be told of men who have defied the odds, breaking away from poverty and lack of education and becoming rich, famous or powerful. But more stories are left untold of men like you – who defied the same odds not by building hotel empires or hoarding billions for their grandchildren to inherit – but by living a quiet, simple, hard-working long life, full of principle and faith – adored by your children and your grandchildren and surely – your current and future great-grandchildren. We will tell them all about you. Your story will not be left untold. You gave and earned and kept in your life everything that matters, everything that cannot be quantified by earthly standards. If that is not the definition of a well-lived life, I don’t know what is.
Did you know how proud I am of you? Did you know how proud I am to have this family? Papa was not one to brag about anything in his life, but he was proud to be your son. Did you know he used to talk about you all the time? We still do. Even though Papa’s not with us anymore, we still tell people about you and Lola and all my Titos and Titas. We’re so proud to be Manuels. You were so good to us even when we moved so far away.
Today, Mama reminded me of when we first spoke to you after Papa passed away. You were more concerned for us and told us not to worry about you. You always thought of your children first. Mama wanted to let you know how much you and Lola made her feel like she was your own. She always tells people about how blessed she is to have you and Lola.
One of our running discussions in Manuel family gatherings revolves around which grandchild was most “kamukha ni Lolo” – or who looks the most like Lolo. Being the oldest grandchild, I was an early “winner”. When more, younger cousins were born and as we grew up and our looks changed, I lost that title to other cousins. (Hi Kim!) But no matter who won, it was always a cause of delight for all of us. We are very proud to resemble you, Lolo, in whatever small way. Looking back, I think I liked it so much because I was undeniably proud of being your progeny. It’s not just cause you’re handsome. I wanted to resemble you not only on the outside but on the inside. For me, it meant that chances are, I would grow up principled, intelligent, hard-working, respected and loved. I would grow up to be like you.
Now that you have gone to our real eternal home, like Lola and Papa, I imagine things would be very different. I haven’t been to your house in almost 8 years so things probably have already changed so much. This thought is what causes me great sadness. I know that you are resting now and this is what’s best for you but I have already been missing you so much, even before you passed away. I think about you often and think about the day when I can hug you again. But I’ve been waiting until I got my life to a “better” state, to be able to bring you lots of material things and I’ve been talking to you less and less these past couple of years. After Papa passed away, it made it even more difficult to see or talk to you but if you only knew how determined I was to work hard so I can go back to your house to see you as soon as I can. As much as I love all my family, it was you I’ve been meaning to see, out of everyone back in the Philippines. I cannot express how much my heart breaks to know that I will not be able to do that. Not in this lifetime. There’s so many things I wish I had said or done first.
I’m not going to deny the regret and the sadness and heartbreak I feel right now. But after these difficult days have passed, I refuse to dwell on regrets because yes, I am a Manuel. After today, we will live on and live on well, just like you did. Manuels are not ruled by our hearts. We are ruled by our heads – nay, I declare we are ruled by our faith. Faith in Jesus and the hope that we will all be together again soon. You, Lola, Papa. All of us.
Lolo, we’re so thankful for you and the example you’ve set for us. We praise God for your life. Everyone of us, in our own way, will never not want to resemble you, to be your kamukha. We love you Lolo.