“There are eighty-seven things that must be done when death occurs in a family – from property/monetary matters such as will and banking books, to your favorite music, choice of flowers and what to wear on your funeral. We, Filipinos, avoid talking about it; thinking that such might be a premonition. But the reality is until no one has invented what will make us immortal, we will all come face to face with death.” – Aldous
With Halloween fast approaching, most of the conversations are about what fancy costume or scary mask to wear. How we all wish that death is just like those costumes, after wearing them for a day, we go back to our ordinary clothes. However, death brings permanent changes to the family. I asked Aldous Guzman and Mithus Cabrera to share to us their perspective about death and their experiences with grieving families. Aldous and Mithus are among a few of our kababayans working in the end of life funeral planning and services industry.
“Death is cherishing the memories we have. Death is love and success. Success is when people come to you to you to say thank you.” For Aldous, death is a gift from God. It is the time when God tells us to ‘come to Me’ or ‘report back to Me’. “God gave us one life. It is a gift, and any time God can take it away. However, there is a challenge with the Filipino culture. To many of us, talks about death are avoided. As a Family Services Director of Chapel Lawn, I engage in educational conversation with people to make them comfortable in discussing the topic. Because it is very important, death is inevitable. There are important things to talk about and plan for, starting from the most basic which is what is your final wish.”
Aldous adds that if you are not ready for this life changing event, death in the family becomes an emotional, mental and spiritual burden, and worse financial hardship follows. As an example, there was someone who called up Aldous, the caller’s young niece died. The family was devastated, they were not ready. The caller’s first inquiry was, ‘Give me the price range’. Aldous answered that it depends on what the family wants. The caller was emotionally stressed that Aldous could not elaborate anymore and had to give the information. ‘You are looking at $9K to $23K’.
For the case of the client that Aldous once visited at St. Boniface Palliative Care Unit, she was not ready to die, not until she had chosen the color of her final curtain. She was a successful person, a wife and mother. She had life insurance, and existing resources for whatever kind of celebration of life that she wanted for her exit, however none of her family members showed interest in initiating any conversation with her about it. Aldous guided and assisted her until all her final wishes were embodied in her plan. She asked Aldous “It’s all set, can I die now?”. Aldous was not sure if she was just joking, he responded “Not yet, your papers still need to be signed in our office”. The client asked, “Then when?” Aldous responded, “On Thursday everything will be in order.” Came Thursday that same week, the client passed away.
Mithus is one of the active 204 Neighbourhood Watch patrollers. On weekends, she spends time with grieving families. Mithus is a Funeral Assistant in the same company where Aldous works. The job is challenging for her, because she is a cheerful person. But she also feels a deep connection with it. Mithus, a cancer survivor, had a near death experience with the illness. It is a story she shares with the bereaved family members when she assists them during the wake. “The start and middle parts of viewing are normally not as heavy. When viewing is over, it is my task to close the casket and lock it. That is the family’s last glimpse of their dead loved one. It is the time when emotions are heaviest, but I try to remain composed. There are very few Filipinos who work as Funeral Assistant. When the grieving family are Filipinos, they are grateful that I am there. I speak the language, I know the culture. Even if I do not know them personally, I make them feel that I am just there for them. I do everything to make them comfortable.”
Aldous’ advice is that if you want a beautiful and peaceful exit that reflects your final wish and talks about the story of your life, then while you are still alive you have to come into terms with the fact that death is part of the cycle of life, and having a memorable end of life journey should be in your plans. “It is best to get expert opinion from those who have guided families in realizing such for their loved ones. There are very affordable payment options available. In fact, there is one where you will just pay 29 dollars bi-weekly or just equivalent to how much you spend for your two weeks Tim’s coffee.”
If you have questions for Aldous, you may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 204-885-9715.