In March 2010, I became a funeral director. My job was to be an on-site coordinator and host during funerals, take care of the bereaved family, tend to guests, and do crowd-control during the procession. It was basically being the Martha Stewart of death.
This fact often comes as a shock to people when they hear about. It comes in handy as an ice-breaker whenever conversations at dinner parties reach an awkward lull, where people are just silently taking sips of wine, hoping someone would bring up something outrageous or when people tell stories and wait for you to tell yours.
The late National Artist. F. Sionil Jose once quizzed me about this in one of his parties in Solidaridad after he read a profile about me in the Philippines Graphic years ago. He listened and laughed with other literary luminaries in the room.
This story was a crowd favorite.
One of the cases I had was a husband and father who passed on in his 50s who we were getting ready to bury. I was tending to the mourners when the wife approached me and whispered if she could have a minute with me, privately. I ushered her behind one of the trees where we wouldn’t be seen by anyone else. She informed me that her late husband’s mistress was there and her children never knew she existed. She didn’t want a scene. She just wanted to have these last moments to themselves as a family and asked me to get rid of the other party. I nodded and told her to return to her kids and I would deal with the situation.
I approached the woman quietly and introduced myself. “The wife is asking very nicely for you to leave for leave for reasons I believe you understand,” I said, straining to be as diplomatic as possible.
As she started to make a scene, I stopped her saying: “The wife is asking very nicely but I am not. In this cemetery, in this property, I. AM. GOD! Unless you want me to chase you out of here while screaming “KABIT! KABIT! KABIT!” and have you banned, you’re going to do as I say. Let them have this. When they’re gone, I will come with you."
Under threat of not being able to see her lover’s headstone, she left.
You might be wondering how I found myself in this job. Before this, I was miserably working nights and feeling burnt out in one of the most sought-after industries. A grade school classmate called me after seeing my social media rants and asked me to apply for this job with him. I was desperate to get out of the graveyard shift that I’d sooner work in an actual graveyard. Like most decisions I made in my early 20s, I didn’t give it any second thoughts. I jumped at the chance as if I was a hungry squirrel and it was the last peanut on earth!
I enjoyed my time in the mortuary industry. It was a far cry from the job I had before where I dealt with angry callers cursing me to high heavens for grievances towards the company we were representing. Here, my customers never complained. They just lay there. The silence was refreshing and relaxing. I loved it there. I don’t have the words to say except, I truly loved it there. I wished I could stay forever.
Okay, being completely truthful, the biggest reason I accepted this job is I, myself was in mourning. I lost my grandfather months before accepting the position. It was a loss with which I was struggling to cope with. He was one of the people who raised me, and taught me unconditional love.
Being in this job allowed me to be of service to others while I dealt with my own bereavement. I found a place where I could be solemn and mournful without being a downer to those less charitable viewed my grief as morbid self-indulgence. But don’t tell them that.
What I didn’t know is I would end up cremating loved ones. I am the one they ask for on their deathbed for their last instructions. Relatives would cry when they see me show up in hospitals because my presence meant the end was near. It's as if I was the Grim Reaper. That’s why I avoided going to hospitals even if I just wanted to visit and show support.
My customers never complained. They just lay there. The silence was refreshing and relaxing. I loved it there. I wished I could stay forever.
Over the years, I planned the wakes of two uncles, an aunt, a cousin, and my dad who suddenly died. I cremated them myself. I pressed the button which burned them till they glowed and crumbled to a fine gray sand. If it was the last thing I was going to do for them, I gave them the best I could. That made me feel less helpless.
Which is why I always tell my loved ones, “If you don’t behave and you die, I will stuff you in the single ugliest casket I can find.”