My mother and I went to the cemetery to visit my elder brother, Dominic. He died young from a serious disease. My parents didn’t keep a photo of him, but they say that my Kuya had my mother’s eyes, nose and lips. Moving on a year later, I was conceived and the throne of the “eldest son” was vested on me.
My mother was trying to recall the exact location of my Kuya’s grave. We were looking at a wall stretching for about a quarter of a kilometre, populated with squares from top to bottom. Each square is like an “apartment block” for skeletons. Almost all have been repainted white. Several flowers added colour and candles were lit, giving light to these squares. But some were left untouched, unvisited, no life like what it was meant to be.
Unfortunately, my Kuya’s grave doesn’t have an epitaph. The markings on the grave were carved in a substandard manner. When I asked my mother why they didn’t bother to put a decent epitaph for Kuya, she said they couldn’t afford it then. “At hanggang sa napabayaan na lang.”, she added.
Until finally, after almost an hour of searching, we spotted my Kuya’s grave. About twenty-something squares from the left and 4 squares from the top.
As usual, the familiar scenarios in the Philippines during November 1st, the cemeteries are once again flocked by the living not only to commemorate the dead but also to make a living. Candles, flowers, food stuff. They’re everywhere. It was business as usual, even street kids found their way to collect money for services rendered like cleaning and/or repainting the graves. My mother hired a young boy for twenty pesos to repaint Kuya’s tombstone.
Shortly after the task was finished my mother went to the cemetery caretakers, asking for how much was our financial obligations for letting the bones of my Kuya rest in that small space in the cemetery. I was left standing in front of my brother’s tomb, now newly painted all-white, staring blankly on the faded substandard markings on the epitaph. Honestly, I felt detached. Maybe because I didn’t have an inkling how it feels to have an elder sibling, some sort of a “big brother” figure.
Then my mind started to speak,
"Siguro, kung nabuhay ka lang, mas magiging mabuti kang panganay. Siguro, mas mabibigyan ng justice yung word na ‘Panganay’ kung nabuhay ka lang. Mas matatakot yung mga kapatid natin sa’yo. Mas irerespeto ka nila. Malamang mas malakas ka kesa sa akin. Siguro, kung ikaw ang naging bread winner, hindi ka magiging dissapointment sa pamilya natin. At siguro din, kung ikaw ang naging panganay, palagi tayong magkaaway. Natural daw yung minsan eh hindi magkasundo ang panganay at pangalawang anak. Katulad ngayon, may mga pinagtatalunan kami ni Avin minsan. Sana nakita mo yung iba pa nating mga kapatid. Masyado masipag ang mga magulang natin eh, kaya kami dumami ng ganito. Kung minsan, nararamdaman ko na rin ang pagod. Bread winner na, peacekeeper at shock absorber pa kapag magulo ang sitwasyon sa bahay. Ganunpaman, alam ko may dahilan si Lord kung bakit kailangan mong iwanan kaagad sila Mama at Papa. Salamat Kuya."
When my mother came back, she brought candles and a small vase filled with flowers. I placed them beside my Kuya’s grave.
“Aba, malinis magtrabaho yung bata ah!“, my mother said, inspecting the finish product.
We were planning to put a new epitaph...
Note: This is a repost from my old Friendster blog, written five years ago.