Have you ever seen a dead body, like in a morgue?
I’ve seen dead bodies a few times—on the road covered with newspapers after an accident. Relatives who had died in the hospital. Or dead bodies in the coffin.
But I had never seen a dead body in a morgue.
My last lola died recently at the age of 93. By last lola, I mean she was my paternal grandmother’s youngest sister. All the lolos and lolas I had known are gone.
Last March 11, I got a text from my dad that my lola had died and there would be mass at 7 PM at Arlington in Quezon City.
My boys and I had already booked a dinner at Mamou, Serendra which I cancelled.
I then went to the boys’ room and informed them that there was a change of plans.
My last lola had died and we were going to the wake.
Thank God my boys agreed.
We left the house at 5:30 PM and had a quick dinner at Robinson’s Magnolia before heading out to Arlington funeral parlor.
We got there at 7:15 PM, but my lola’s name was no where to be found on the sign board.
I went to reception to ask for the whereabouts of Lydia Salas. The man behind the desk told me the body wasn’t ready but I could proceed to the “viewing room” down the hall, turn right, behind the sliding door.
So I though the viewing room was where I would find my cousins waiting.
When I got to the viewing room, I found my lola’s two caregivers—a mother and daughter who was a deadringer for singer Ciara Sotto.
I found them sitting on a couch, while another couch near the door was empty.
I saw a frosted glass window with a narrow opening. My brain immediately told me, I think we’re in the morgue.
Knowing my sons are duwag (scaredy cats), I motioned for them to sit on the empty couch, but my son Markus nearly peeked inside the window. When he realized what he could have seen, he immediately stopped and said, “Oh, shit.” (He is 13.)
I dragged them outside the room and looked for our relatives.
I found my three cousins—Vip, Judd, and Jay at the lobby and hugged them.
Judd and Vip were choosing flowers from an album. My lola had died the morning at the hospital, and they thought the body would be ready by 7.
Jay looked very much harassed and told me he needed to run to Chinese General Hospital to get a signature so that the body can be cremated the following day. I offered to take him there.
Meanwhile, I told my two sons to wait in the car.
I wanted to see my lola one last time.
“Jay, before we go, can I see lola? I’m not gonna make it to mass tomorrow.”
“Yes of course,” Jay said, and escorted me back to the viewing room.
And so I saw my lola lying on the metal table, her head slightly raised, naked, with her private body parts covered in cloth. Her hair and body were being washed.
I couldn’t believe she was 93. She looked so young.
I kind of saw we had the same body type, sort of.
I watched the expressionless mortician washing her body, and thanked her in my mind.
Thank you for doing this. Thank you for doing this humble job.
I wondered about my own death, if it were my turn to be on the metal table. I can only wish that I were handled with much respect too.
It was like watching a movie. I was afraid, but I wanted to look. I held the hand of her caregiver and exchanged some humorous comment just to lighten the mood. And then I left with Jay.
The boys and I dropped off their Uncle Jay at Chinese General and decided to make “pagpag” at Robinson’s Magnolia, where I treated them to Uniqlo and H&M.
All the while thinking of my lola who said she was missing her sisters who had died before her.
No tears were shed. She was 93. She wanted to go. She was devoted to Our Lady.
I am sure she is in a better place.