Throughout my childhood, I grew up with all 4 of my grandparents alive and well. All of them were alive and well up until my mid to late 20s. I’m so thankful for the time that they were alive. I got to know them as people, spend time with them and be influenced by them.
My family and I were saddened by the loss of my last 2 remaining grandparents, who passed away within the last year. Both of them were from my dad’s side. My grandparents from my mother’s side also passed away just a few years ago too.
It upsets me that they all passed away before the birth of my first child, and she will never have the opportunity to meet or touch them, or feel their presence. But I think that is the nature of life. It is so fragile. Our lives on this earth are fleeting and we should always remember that it is only temporary, at least in the physical sense.
Nonetheless, I think that my child can get to know a little bit about the lives and lessons from her great-grandparents. So I really made it a point to write some notes down about them, so that when she’s a little bit older, she can appreciate their lives, and she can identify more about where she came from, and who blazed the path for her, generations before she was even born.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to share my thoughts and feelings with other family members or friends. So, I do find some solace and consolation in being able to at least acknowledge my feelings through writing.
To Zoe, and any other children I am blessed to have, I hope that these special notes about your great-grandparents will be a reminder of who you are, where you came from and the people who have lived on this Earth before you who had already loved you even though they had not met you.
Here are some important lessons learned from them:
The importance of family
I’m really humbled to have seen my grandparents on both sides having been married for more than 50 years! Having seen both of the grand couples staying together for so long, and growing old together until they passed away, was really a remarkable thing. I think it has positively influenced me to believe that it is possible to be in love with someone for life, and to raise a family with them and grow old together through the good and the bad, and in sickness and health.
Not only that, on both sides of my family, my grandparents had 6 to 7 children! They had large families, and that’s why I have so many aunts and uncles, and cousins. Having such a big family, my grandparents were the forebearers, the pioneers, the leaders of our respective families. For each of us, our life and reason for being could be traced back to them, my grandparents.
Give back to the community
My grandfather, Benito, has been a good role model for me on how to be a leader and how and why to give back. He was a Captain in the local police force, and I remember hearing stories about how he would always bring food for his other workmates. He would bring food for them and feed them, and connect with them over food.
I also remember that during a local festival around his home, he would give food to street kids and neighbors for free and with no intention of getting anything back in return. When he passed away, I remember staying at his home during that annual event and then carrying on his tradition of giving back to the community where his home was, which also happened to be the community where I was born.
I remember one day when I visited his home, and he was much older, and walking and moving slower in his old age. He had recently built a shrine to the baby Jesus, and when he saw me he was so excited to show me what he had built. He had converted one of the rooms in his home as a place of worship, so he and other family members could pray there. His eyes lit up, and when he excitedly showed me the room, my soul was uplifted and I felt tears in my eyes as I prayed with him.
He truly was a man of God and a man of faith. I admired that he not only prayed in the privacy of his home and in his heart, but he took actions to actually make the world a better place through his work and his contributions to the local community. I really respect that about him and it has inspired some of the choices and paths I’ve taken in my own life.
Your physical and mental health is important
I remember my grandfather, Rodolfo, going on long walks in the morning, every morning without fail. He would do it for exercise and well-being as well as giving him a chance to explore his surroundings.
One of his biggest examples of valuing his health that affected me was when he quit smoking. He told me proudly that he quit smoking cold turkey and he did so out of a motivation for the well-being of his family and for his own vitality.
He then also wrote a personal note to encourage my own father to give up smoking too, and he entrusted me to give it to him. Soon after, my own dad gradually cut himself off smoking and chose to do so for his health too. I have never smoked as a result of this influence, from my grandfather and then my father.
Towards the final years of his life, my grandfather on my dad’s side, began losing his memory, both his short term and long term memories. I remember seeing him one day with my dad, and him totally forgetting who I was, and not even remembering the name of my father. I knew it really broke my dad’s heart to see my granddad like this. Heck, it broke my heart.
He tried to continue his regular morning walks, but his memory problems were just too much for him, and he would often get lost during his walks. He would have troubles finding his way back home. When I try and put myself in his shoes, I would have felt scared and confused, especially in having to put doubt about my own mind and my senses.
After seeing him forgetting his memories, it made me reflect on my own memories and identity. Is not my identity largely made up of the collection of memories that I have accumulated over my lifetime? Since my grandfather’s condition, I have been determined to exercise my mind and memory constantly in order to ensure that I don’t (or at least I prolong) the onset of forgetfulness in my own old age.
I can’t put a price tag on my mind and body. They are so important in my life, and my Tatay Ruding’s life experience and challenges have reminded me of the importance of my own health and physical well-being.
Saying “I Love You” is meaningful
I vividly remember speaking to my grandmother on my father’s side, Andring, on the phone, and feeling awkward and sometimes uncomfortable when she said “I Love You” to me on the phone. She would say that to me when I was a kid and when I was a teenager, and it was weird for me because most other people who I knew didn’t flat out say that to me, so I wasn’t sure how to react at times.
Looking back on those times when she said those 3 words, I feel a sense of warmth. Although she couldn’t always be with me physically during special moments like Christmas and my birthdays, she still wanted to convey that she cared and thought about me, and wanted to express the feeling of love she had for me.
I love her for that, and her openness to express her feelings like that has given me more confidence as a man to acknowledge my own feelings (both good and bad), and to acknowledge and respect the feelings of others, which I also want to teach to my own children.
Create, build things and work hard
From building custom cars, transforming a bus into a restaurant, and running a small shop, my grandparents on my mother’s side taught me that you could create things from scratch.
I remember going to my grandparents house as a child. I would explore my granddad’s garage and I was always fascinated at the bright yellow custom built car. My grandfather had an interest in making this car for fun, as a side hobby. Looking back on it, I think it was really cool, and has sparked some inspiration in me to tinker on my own personal interests and hobbies.
My grandparents also were really creative. A really random, cool business and entrepreneurial idea they had was to convert an old bus into a restaurant. I remember hearing stories from my mum, who would often tell me as a child that she would have to work in the bus restaurant after going to school every day.
In hindsight, I think these stories and seeing them do this sparked creativity and entrepreneurialism in me. That I could change things, and start things for myself, and make money from my own skills and means.
Even in my grandparents’ old age, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Nanay Feling, maintained a small variety store from their home garage. She would often all me over to her store. Then she’d say that I could choose anything I wanted. Then with apprehensive delight, I would choose some chips, candy and soft drinks from that store, and she would give it to me for free.
Looking back on it, I feel blessed to have had grandparents that worked hard to raise their children (my parents and aunts and uncles). I know that there are untold stories about their hard work and sacrifice that I will never know. But their character is clear from the fruits of their labor: that they were able to provide a loving home, food on the table for their family and better opportunities for my parents and, by extension, better opportunities for me. I am truly grateful for that.
My newborn daughter will never physically meet my lolas and lolos, my grandparents, and their great-grandparents. Nevertheless, I aspire to continue the positive life lessons they instilled onto me, and I hope to pass that on to the next generation of our family through my daughter and any other children I am blessed to have in the future.