Celebrating lives lost to this ongoing pandemic
By Ortrud Ting-Yao
Last October 2021, I lost an aunt, a cousin, and an uncle, all to COVID-19. I could not understand why things were happening, and why they were taken away from us in a span of 12 days. COVID-19 hit the family hard. I couldn’t imagine how painful it must have been for my cousins, having lost both their parents and their beloved sister.
Virtual burial, virtual memorial mass—one after another. After each memorial mass, family members and friends took turns sharing their messages for the dearly departed. I can’t help being emotional seeing loved ones being buried on such odd hours, remains wrapped in a body bag, inside a coffin, and then enclosed in their tombs. All three tombs beside each other at a place that was empty just 12 days ago. It was just too much, too ugly, too soon. They didn’t deserve this ending.
I wouldn’t say I was very close to my Uncle Jose “Ote” Ting and Auntie Erlita Ting. In fact, when we were kids, my siblings and I were a little scared of him. He was a gentle man, but whenever we got close to him and gave our “Mano po,” he would always throw in a pinch or a “batok (slap on the back of the head).” I remember my dad explaining to us that it was just my uncle’s way of showing affection. Being kids, we didn’t understand.
Though I was not very close to them, I have admired them from afar. Uncle Ote was a hardworking family man and Auntie Erlita was a devoted wife and mother. They initially struggled to have children (I believe it took them eight years trying), then they were blessed with eight! During our childhood years, we would always get excited at Christmas time as their whole family would travel from Mindoro to Manila and live with us. We would play games, hold pageants, and prepare song-and-dance numbers for New Year when we hold an annual family reunion celebrating my late Lola’s birthday which fell on Jan. 1.
My cousin Ate Joy worked for my family business long before I joined the company. She has always been working handling legal matters, she finished her law degree while working and she was also a registered real estate broker. Last year, she took on the challenge of becoming President of the Rural Bank of Roxas. I guess from that alone you can tell how hardworking she is. Her family, including ours, relied on her a lot. I’ve worked with her for 21 years. She has always been a few steps away from me at the office or a call away whenever I needed to consult her. I still had a Zoom meeting with her while Auntie was in the hospital. She even replied to a work e-mail a day before she passed. She was only 49. She is gone now.
Auntie Erlita was the second to be hospitalized but was first to go. Her lungs were in bad shape and she couldn’t bear seeing Uncle sick with the virus and, simultaneously, recovering from a mild stroke. Then, Ate Joy, who was admitted in another hospital, left us eight days later. Uncle Ote died four days after.
Sitting through the last memorial service, I couldn’t help shed tears as pictures of our dearly departed and their other family members were played over and over. Uncle Ote and Auntie Erlita were able to celebrate their golden anniversary. I especially loved the photo of them in their senior years, laying in bed, endearingly smiling at each other. My cousin Jingle, who volunteered to care for my Uncle and Auntie while in the hospital, shared with us that, one time, while Uncle’s throat was all swollen, he didn’t want to eat. Ate Jingle gave him choices, whether to drink water, eat a banana or follow “Mama” who just passed away. Uncle chose the last.
After hearing the Mass and listening to Ate Jingle’s testimony, I felt somehow relieved and comforted. I realized that all of them did not die in vain. COVID-19 may have taken them, but we continue to learn from how they were and how they lived.
To our Ate Joy, you did not have children but you were a mother to many. You even gave me parenting advice which I will forever hold dear. You are a lawyer by profession but you are a teacher to me. Thank you for showing me that one can never be too busy to care.
Uncle Ote and Auntie Erlita, you had the simplest family. Your house had the barest of necessities yet your home is abundant in love—kind words, home cooked meals, easy expectations, open doors, deep faith in God. Each child and grandchild are always excited to come home and pay you a visit. You have raised children who risked their own lives to care for you. And when your own children couldn’t handle anymore, your extended children came to the rescue! How much love you received is indeed a testament to how much love you sowed. I know how proud you are up there.
Uncle Ote, “Mano po, puwera kurot!” Yours is such a grand entry to heaven, with Ate Joy and Auntie Erlita being your advance entourage. Your love story is for the books– You gave Auntie Erlita a gift beyond your marriage vows. Even in death, you did not part. I know you died the happiest man.