Oct 30, 2017

My grandfather died when I was only four years old. I was told I was his favorite grandchild but sadly, I don’t have any graphic memory of him. If there are, they’re just like images from a bad VHS copy of an old film.

I remember visiting him in the hospital, but I don’t remember his voice or the expression on his face. What I remember was a foil balloon floating in one corner of the room—the first time I ever saw one. The other memory is after his cremation. I can’t remember the name of the place, but I was with my brother eating junk food near a pond. I threw the packaging of the junk food into the pond and my brother scolded me. I cried.
Every time undas arrives, we stay at home and bask in our lack of traditions when it comes to commemorating the dead. However, we have one tradition I always look forward to the lighting of the candles.

Before the clock strikes six in the evening, my grandmother prepares over a hundred candles by the gate, around the house, on every step of the stairs, beside the box of my grandfather’s ashes, and one on her bedside table. She lights them up and lets them burn slowly until the wick is gone and the wax is completely deformed. The candles remain lit even up until the wee hours of the day.

Lighting a candle is a common act during undas. For some, they only light candles based on the number of their dead relatives. My grandmother, however, believes the candles guide the spirit of my grandfather back home, back to us. When we first commemorated undas in our new home, my grandmother feared that my grandfather might get lost. So, she still lit candles in our old home even if my grandfather’s remains are already in the new home. It’s not clear what’s supposed to happen when the lights go out, but my grandmother did it religiously every year.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

In a discussion with my colleagues recently, I realized that we have rich traditions for the dead. The most common ones include cooking bico or sticky rice for some reasons I don’t know—my mother says it’s because of its long shelf life. Then, there are those who offer the deceased their favorite food. Someone would even go as far as offering a bottle of beer or gin. Those are beliefs that some of us may find unreasonable or even stupid but those are not mere traditions.

One time, my grandmother went to sleep early. My mother asked me to put out all of the candles inside our home. I blew each one from the living room up to the altar where my grandfathers’ remains are. Before I extinguished the candle’s light, I looked at the portrait of my grandfather for the longest time. When it’s time to put out the candle in my grandmother’s room. More than a tradition, I realized that it’s also an act of remembrance particularly for my grandmother. Because when the physical being is lost and the memories fade, it is through these little acts that memories regain their colors.

I was my grandfather’s favorite. At least, that’s what my mother told me. It’s such a shame that I don’t remember the things he did for me—like the time he stopped my mother from hitting me because I played with dolls. The memories I have are distant images I conjured after my mom told me about them countless times.

Unfortunately, this occult-like tradition still doesn’t awaken memories of my childhood with my grandfather simply because I’ve lost them as I grew older. And when you don’t have much to remember, it’s just fair to lean on traditions no matter how stupid or funny they sound to compensate for the lack of memories. Even if the reason behind this tradition is culled from imagination and desperation, the simple lighting of candles evokes a feeling of reconnection to someone who no longer exists in this world and is somehow lost in our memories.

Header photo courtesy of Unsplash

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TAGS: biko candles dead grandfather nolisoli.ph november tradition undas