Thursday, September 10, 2015

Farewell, Michael

Me with my friend, Michael

I am not a fan of farewells, unless I'm saying goodbye to something awful (like this August 2015). But it's hard to say goodbye when it's something that made a difference in your life. That difference is my friend, Michael.

Almost twenty years ago, my family transplanted from Paranaque to Mandaluyong. It's only a mere 20 kilometers away but it felt like a different world. Growing up in a city of open spaces and manicured gardens, we transferred to a place where you can hear your neighbors argue and it was the first time that I saw people trying to kill each other. It was a big culture shock for us but we kept to ourselves and tried to stay out of trouble.

A few years into our residency, I joined Singles for Christ with my sisters and from there, I was invited to also serve at Villa San Miguel (Archbishop's Palace) as part of their choir. Singing was an accidental talent for me as I never thought I had one but I was encouraged by my friends to join, so I did.

Even if I was an outsider, I felt like I belonged and was easily befriended by the community which comprises of mostly people living near the church. It was also there that I met the Juyad siblings. I was so fascinated with them because their whole family was serving the church in different capacities (choir, altar server, lector, reader etc). They're also a close bunch which made me admire them more. Michael made an impression because not only was he friendly, he was also quite funny and livened up our practices with his antics and Mark Logan impersonations. His bass voice was also very distinct and when he and his brother joined forces, it made us sound like we're close impressions of the Madrigal Singers (in our dreams)! :)

Probably my most memorable moment with him was when my family was going through a rough patch. I remembered that it was an Easter Sunday and we were seated outside the chapel after mass. I can't recall what we were talking about but I suddenly started crying. He just offered his shoulder and let me cry it out and gave his words of wisdom. It was one form of kindness that I could not forget and one I could never repay. 

When I paid my last respects earlier at Loyola during my lunch break (same place 4 months ago where I personally offered my condolences when his younger sister died and 2 years ago when their mom passed away), I started crying when I opened the door and saw two of his siblings. His youngest sister immediately approached me and gave me a hug. I found it so touching when I should be the one offering comfort but his family ended up comforting me instead. I could not approach the coffin yet as I knew I would not be able to stop my pitiful sobs and I needed to be strong for my friends. So I sat down and listened to their stories of Michael's last moments as well as updating them of what has been happening to my life for the past 10 years. When my lunch break was almost up, I knew I had to approach the casket to say goodbye.

For the past few years that I've been visiting funeral homes, I barely know the people who were laid out in those steel (or even wooden) boxes except that I'm friends with their respective families. But this time, it's different. It was a person who had so much life and was a big source of inspiration to a lot of people, especially his students who all seem to love him (basing on the multitudes of posts on his Facebook wall).  I stood there for several minutes, saying my last goodbyes and fortunately, drier-eyed. Like all people in death, he did not look like the way he was when he was still alive. He was thinner due to his illness and of course, the added make-up did not help at all. In my mind, he was Michael, a person full of joy and happiness and that is the Michael who I will remember for the rest of my life.

When I said goodbye to the family, we started crying again and they expressed their thanks for my presence and for keeping in touch throughout the years even if I live so far from the city (with the traffic, it really feels like a hundred miles away). I could barely stutter through my words of condolences as my tears were clogging my throat.

Goodbye, Michael. Know that you are very much loved by those whose lives you have irrevocably touched. May you be an angel like your namesake and watch over us until we meet again.

November 3, 1978 - September 9, 2015