Yesterday, my godmother, Lola Maxima, used a concoction of wine and steaming hot water to cleanse guests in the home of the recently departed—my uncle Mike, a loving father to three cousins with whom I grew up, a wonderful husband to my aunt Genie (my father’s older sister), and an always warm, lighthearted person with a perpetual smile.
I first participated in this family tradition when my father’s father died years ago. (I took the small photo of my then-little cousin Jason, above right, in the afternoon after my grandfather’s funeral.) A post-memorial ritual of sorts, guests are cleansed and relieved of their sorrows:
My godmother—who is such a lovely woman, with a face of great warmth and wisdom—then smacks the forehead to rid a person of their worries and sadness. I believe this custom is an Ilocano one, coming from the region of the Philippines where the Lucas side of my family is from.
I continue to learn of my family’s traditions as the years pass, though admit I know very little—something I’m honestly ashamed of. We also set aside the usual offerings to good spirits who enter the home after a death: dishes of food, hard-boiled eggs, and plates of roasted sesame seed (mixed with marshmallow to create a sugary, sticky slop). The smell is said to drive bad spirits away.
A clip of Lola Maxima, my mother (pouring wine), and others:
You will hear my voice (“I can smell the wine”) and also my mother (“How about some more wine?”). We are daughter and mother, indeed.
I realize, especially in times of loss, that I would like to (or need to?) dig deeper into my family’s history and culture, while I have the opportunity to do so.
My thoughts are with my family. And I am quite blessed to be a part of it.
- Nostalgia (Speech at my grandmother’s funeral, June 2010)