Death: A celebration of life in the barangay
The town mayor, as well as some municipal councilors who looked a little
older than teenagers, came to pay their respects, and people gathered around
them to talk a bit about politics and how the deceased had preferred to serve his
community through the municipal council with minimal pay, while his siblings
chose to farm and build their wealth from the soil.
Balae Bartolome’s passing was also the reason for a reunion of sorts for
relatives and friends who had not seen each other for many years. The surviving
siblings of the deceased were present, of course, and two of them, including the
oldest brother (Ka Elias), were much older than my balae. Ka Elias mentioned that
he did not expect his younger brother to die ahead of him, but he did. All balae’s
grandchildren and great grandchildren were there, too, some of them with their
boyfriends or girlfriends in tow. There were close as well as distant relatives, and
the sound of “Mano po,” as young ones greeted the old folk was music to my ears.
It is a Filipino tradition that seems to be gradually losing steam nowadays, so
hearing it repeatedly gave me a high actually.
The tradition of serving home-cooked food to relatives and visitors was truly
remarkable. There was a group of volunteers in the community – relatives and non-
relatives – that took charge of non-stop cooking – breakfast, morning merienda
(snacks), lunch, afternoon merienda, dinner, and evening merienda. I learned that
the daily intake of contributions (abuloy) from friends, relatives, and visitors, as well
as funds from Balae Bartolome’s well-off children, took care of the food
purchases, miscellaneous expenses, and the burial plot at Heavenly Peace
Memorial Cemetery located in Barangay La Fuente.
The overnight vigils encouraged people to drink coffee or alcoholic beverages
and play games some distance from the casket, as another group kept the
deceased and his family company. When there were very few people around, my
Balae Salud would stand beside the casket and cry her heart out while running her
hand over the glass closest to Balae Bartolome’s face. At various times, I also saw
their two grown daughters, Liza and Leni, sobbing quietly as they hug their mom or
“talk” to their dad. The sons were more reserved but nevertheless also grieving
and missing their father. In the Filipino culture, men do not usually show their grief
publicly, although this observation drastically changed at the cemetery later in the
week, when Balae Bartolome was about to be laid to rest.
When the funeral day arrived, instead of a funeral car, a horse-driven, all-glass
white-and-gold coach came to carry my balae’s remains to Heavenly Peace
|(Clockwise from above) Balae Bartolome's
widow, Mare Salud grieves; immediate family
beside the casket; Ka Elias, oldest brother;
men in white wait to lead the funeral
procession; at the cemeteray chapel;
entombment; photos of the funeral procession
to the Heavenly Peace Cemetery.
-- Photos by Geraldine C. Baldazo
By Heidi M. Pascual
When someone dies in a Filipino community, the
whole barangay grieves
When my daughter’s father-in-law passed away
recently, I went with the family to Nueva Ecija
province and condoled with the clan for two days
until the funeral. In so doing, I had the chance to see
my balae (parent of a son- or daughter-in-law),
Bartolome, for the last time, and his widow, Mare
Salud. It had been many years since I last visited
them, and I truly felt sorry that the nature of my visit
was to help bury the dead.
The wake (paglalamay) was held at the home of
Balae Bartolome for five days. My balae wore a
white coat and tie and he laid in a white-and-gold
casket, topped halfway with a viewing glass, and
covered with the Philippine flag. While the atmosphere was generally sad for the demise of
Balae Bartolome, a former municipal councilor of Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija, the occasion was
more a gathering of people – and they came in droves – who had been touched by my balae’s
personal and professional activities during his lifetime. They came not only to mourn with the
family, but also and more importantly, to talk about who my balae was to them. I heard lots of
stories that went all the way back to when Balae Bartolome was very young and until his death
at 74. People remember not only the many good things he did for others, but also the naughty
stuff my balae did when he was younger. And the details as told were amazingly vivid! In the
presence of these elderly folks with extraordinary retentive memories, I have come to realize
that the general perception about being progressively forgetful as one gets older is a lie.
Memorial Cemetery. Family members and relatives wore an all-white attire, There
was a group of men in white shirts lining up the street to lead the funeral
procession. And many mourners, particularly my balae’s immediate family walked
from their home located in Barangay Maliolio to the cemetery in Barangay La
Fuente. There was a marching band in the procession that played solemn music
as accompaniment to prayers being said as balae began his trip to heaven. When
the procession reached the cemetery, the casket was opened at the chapel and,
for the last time, the immediate family of Balae Bartolome and his siblings
gathered around the casket to say their final goodbyes. Emotions ran high at that
moment, and tears freely flowed from every one’s eyes at the sight of Mare Salud,
her children and grandchildren, openly grieving to high heavens for their loss. The
entombment took another hour or so, as the cemetery keeper cemented the grave
and made sure the job was in accordance with the family’s liking. My balae was
placed beside his oldest son Nick's grave. Nick died in 2005 at a young age of 41
due to kidney failure. People prayed as this was happening. After the entombment,
snacks and drinks were distributed to those who accompanied Balae Bartolome
to his final resting place.
Finally, when the family went back home, a local minister from Iglesia ni Cristo
(Church of Christ) led the concluding prayers, expressing gratefulness to God the
Father for the life led by Balae Bartolome, asking for the alleviation of the pain for
those he left behind, and for the safe travel and protection from harm of relatives
and friends who were leaving to go back to their respective homes in different
places of the country.
I was glad I came and witnessed a tradition that remains strong in this part of the world. As an active participant to this
meaningful event, I realized that the number of people (easily about a thousand or so) who visited Balae Bartolome and condoled
with his family was an indication of how well-liked my balae had been. He wasn’t wealthy at all, unlike many of his contemporaries
who concentrated on working the soil; but he was rich in friends and people who love him and grateful for the things he did for others.
I was sure, then and now, that Balae Bartolome was looking down on us, pleased that he was greatly loved and respected by the
crowds who paid their respects when he left this world.
Balae, may you rest in peace.