Life. Loss. Grief.

We lost a member of our family this week. My cousin’s husband passed away at 34 years old, leaving behind his wife and his 8 year old daughter. This experience has caused me to truly re-evaluate how I value the relationships I currently have and how I view life.

I met Kuya N in 2009, during a visit to Davao. It had been close to 6 or 7 years since I last went home. He and my cousin were a new couple; they had just started dating. I remember that Kuya N took it upon himself to drive us around during our trip. He took us sightseeing, reminding me of places I used to go when I was a teenager. He took us to the beach, where he pulled my kayak to the deep end and taunted me, threatening to leave me there, upon finding out that I couldn’t swim.

He took us out to buy halo-halo, he took us to his house in Samal, he helped us hunt down the best-flavored goat’s milk on the island, indulged in family gossip… I have very vivid memories of that trip. He acted like the quintessential older brother, only he wasn’t a blood relative.

After two weeks, I went back home and promptly went back to my normal routine. Back to real life, back to regular programming. A few months after, I heard that he and my cousin started a family and had a beautiful daughter.

In 2013, I flew back home with my boyfriend. My grandmother had come home from France and requested that I fly out to see her. I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to introduce my then-boyfriend (now fiance) to my family, so off we went. I only saw my cousin and Kuya N once during that trip. They took us out to dinner and brought their daughter along. My niece was a ball of energy. The first thing she said when she met me and my boyfriend was, “where’s your baby?” Upon finding out we didn’t have kids, she proceeded to tug us to a nearby playground because she needed someone to push her on the swings and help her up the slide.

At dinner, we talked about how much we wanted to climb Mt. Apo. Kuya N told us he knew people who regularly went up the mountain and would let me know as soon as a new climb is scheduled. I remember he did let me know… it just didn’t align with my schedule.

I ended up seeing Kuya N as a permanent member of the family… and ended up taking him for granted. Admittedly, I am this way with my family in the province. Because I don’t see them all the time, it’s easy to forget about them. I would sometimes ignore birthday wishes posted on my Facebook timeline, would halfheartedly reply to Christmas and New Year greetings.

I went back 2 months ago. Just after I got engaged. I was surprised at the Kuya N that I saw. It looked as if he had aged a few years. He was 6 years older than me, but it looked more than that. He didn’t look okay. That’s when I learned that he was very sick. He was still the same, though. When we visited him, he made every effort to say hello and spend time with us. At one point, he even drove me and his wife to a bar late at night. We could have taken a cab, but he wanted to drive us.

The day we flew back to Manila, he was there the whole day with the entire family. He even fried the leftovers from the lechon that we had for lunch, even if he wasn’t allowed to eat it, just so we could have dinner. When he found out that other people wanted to hang out but had no ride, he got his keys and drove over to pick them up. The last thing he said to me was, “Have a safe flight, Keshia. Congratulations, see you soon.”

Thank you, Kuya. It might be a while until we see each other again, but you have taught me something important. Thank you for always being kind and patient. Thank you for teaching me to value every single day and every relationship that I have. Thank you for wholeheartedly living a life of service. Your time was short and brief, but you made your mark.