I write mostly about happy things, but sometimes it gets tough as you probably know. One of the toughest things is when you lose somebody you love. My uncle, Tito Boy, passed away last week. And as hard as it is to write this, I can’t pretend that everything is alright. He’s the man in the middle in the photo above. My Mom and Dad and brother Roby, are on the left. Also in the photo is my beautiful late grandmother (we called her Mita), my cousin Lani, my Aunt Nona and my late godfather, Dexter.
Tito Boy was a fixture of my magical, small-town childhood. He loved me, my siblings and my cousins like he did his own kids, and was beloved by all of us in return. He was a sugar planter and a businessman, and was one of the gentlest, most patient people you could ever know. His favorite uniform consisted of faded jeans, sneakers, and a baseball cap, that shaded his tanned and freckled skin. A giveaway of his love of a simple life near the sea that he loved so much.
Nearly four years ago, he was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease. His health waned steadily. And although he had bravely survived Typhoon Haiyan, the storm took such a massive toll on his spirit and on his already fragile health. We kept hoping that he would somehow recover, but he never did.
Before his illness, I had the pleasure of his company when he stayed in my apartment. He slept in my son’s bed. He climbed our two flights of stairs like he knew them well. We ate in our favorite shabu-shabu place knowing he would love it (he did). And as with every visit, the distance and years between us faded in the softness of his hooded eyes.
I could have been doing something completely unremarkable. But my unremarkables were always remarkable to him. Whether it was a new job, or learning how to drive in Manila, he would ask me about it excitedly. Like he had heard it from the news or something. Sometimes I wonder if he was just trying to be funny, because he was also so incredibly funny. He laughed at his own jokes (they were hilarious), with this incredible laugh that I knew and loved so much. And he had the gentlest smile. Like the one he had for me on my wedding day, as my Dad walked me to the chapel. There he is looking out the window.
He leaves behind his loving family, my Aunt Dedel, and their five wonderful children: Pax, Emmanuel, Cristina, Tessa, and Elizabeth. And my Mom, Annabelle, his only sister. The two of them loved each other more and more everyday, with a fierce love that was both touching and heartbreaking.
On the morning of June 24 my brother Roby messaged me, “Nans, he’s gone.” I was parked in the driveway of Jamon’s school and I started to heave. Years of welled up tears quieted only by the fact that he had died peacefully.
My favorite daydream as of late, is of my uncle climbing up this hill somewhere. It’s beautiful, and you can see the ocean in the distance. My uncle is climbing that hill, no, he’s running! Someone up there is waiting for him, someone he’s waited long enough to see. They have a moment, like when a parent peers into his newborn for the first time. I KNOW YOUR FACE, that someone says. And I can hear something else. It’s the laugh that I know so well. The laugh I love.