Family & Friends

Stronger than death

I buried my father a week ago.

In the days since, I’ve been helping my mother and my siblings sort out his affairs and belongings, receive countless telephone calls and emails, and write dozens of thank you notes.

At times, it’s as if a bright, shining light has gone out of our lives.

But there are other moments when I feel as if I’m finding parts of my father that I never knew existed. For instance, an old friend of his wrote us the following email:

I was Vic’s classmate since first grade all through high school, and was deeply shaken to hear of his passing.

The last time I saw him was in the late 80’s. I had resettled in Iloilo and it was tough starting a family and adapting to the new surroundings. Vic had arrived on the same flight as my visiting Dad and shouted out a childhood jeer at the airport’s baggage claim area. We had dinner together that night after he took care of business commitments, and I will always remember that night because Vic’s infectious confidence and spirit helped refresh my commitment to make a go of my new life in the province.

It’s been several decades since that night, and I now live a comfortable, happy life in Iloilo. My resolve would have been shaken a few more times had I not met your Dad back then, and for that I will always be grateful. My deepest sympathies and prayers go out to your family, and I look forward to meeting Vic again.

If I could ask my dad now about that meeting, his face would probably light up with a grin, and I can just hear the affection in his voice, because that’s the way he talked about all his old school buddies. He truly thought of them as his own brothers. But I don’t think he would ever mention how much his good cheer helped his friend make a success of his new life. I don’t think he would even have suspected how much of a difference he had made.

But I’m happy to think that now, he knows how much everyone who knew him really loved him, from us his family, to his friends, to the pharmacists who served him and the doctors and nurses who looked after him, to the clients he continued to assist and advise, even after he officially retired.

My mom and my sister and I chose a headstone for his grave today. Just a simple block of dark granite, etched with a Latin phrase he liked to repeat to us, especially when we were freaking out about one thing or other. Omnia in bonum. Everything for the good.

And I wondered how a man who started life in a tropical country across the ocean could come to end his days in a cold northern city, and be laid to rest on a windy hilltop surrounded by winter trees. Nothing to show for a life but a block of stone on a piece of earth. It all seemed rather bleak, until I thought of a phrase I had just come across in a book I was reading.

“…the only thing which makes it possible to regard this world we live in without disgust is the beauty which now and then men create out of the chaos. The pictures they paint, the music they compose, the books they write, and the lives they lead. Of all these the richest in beauty is the beautiful life. That is the perfect work of art.”*

A beautiful life. This is my dad’s legacy, and the best one I could ever have hoped for.

*W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil

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