I’ve always believed that there’s a good way to die. You can die by an accident or by a disease or illness but there’s always a better way. And that is to die in your sleep.
And then there’s a great way to be buried. I’ve encountered many deaths in the family – of aunts and uncles- and the state of the wake and burial has always been the same. There’s the casket, the wake and the traditions around it and then the mass before the burial.
Witnessing all this time and time again made me think — I want something different. Even in death I wanted something else.
I don’t want people to see me in a casket. I don’t want their last memory of me to be a dead body in a box. I want them to remember how I looked when I was fully alive. I also want a memorial service where people would speak about me – tell their personal stories of our encounters and remember me with songs and eulogies.
I envision my wake and burial to be a series of nights, with the people I know and loved present, gazing at my many photos and speaking (hopefully good) things about me. Of course no casket should be present for my remains are now in an urn.
Most of all, though there is grief and sadness because I won’t be with them anymore, I hope there will be joy that I am now where I’ve always longed to be – heaven.
Last week, I had the chance to witness the kind of death and burial I wanted. The person also lived a life worth emulating. She died in her sleep, fully prepared to meet her Maker and Savior. When she left earth she was able to lead a well-lived life having inspired hundreds, probably thousands, of people.
Dr. Eva Villanueva, known to me as Tita Eva, was a kind, old lady I met when I was in 4th year college. She was the CRL Council Chair and I was a student elder. For one year, we worked together in the council bringing about change in the church.
She was the one who taught me how to take down minutes of a meeting properly along the way inculcating in my mind the value of excellence at work. She taught me how to aim for perfection but be gracious when mistakes are made. She taught me that in my quest for excellence, I am allowed to make mistakes but I must learn from them.
She was the proponent of UPCYM’s Buffet Ministry. A food feeding program which gives free lunch and dinner to qualified students. I remember clearly during one council meeting, she announced that she was shocked that there are students who ate only one meal a day – those meals being only bread and instant noodles. I told her how true it was – me being one of those students. She was aghast and unable to believe the fact. Promptly she committed to sending me nutritious and well-prepared food every day until I graduated. Ate Mara, her maid, would bring me food every other day that are balanced and would last me for two days. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner – occasionally snacks and even dessert.
Her meals helped me get by through the most tedious moments of my college life. It was my final year and times were tought. When I asked her how I can ever repay her, she said — don’t pay me. Pay it forward.
Tita Eva has taught me the value of generosity. She taught me how pay it forward works and how to give without expecting anything in return. In a world where people are more concerned about their own welfare, she showed me how to be genuinely concerned for others.
As Carissa, her granddaughter said, Tita Eva showed us how simplicity and humility goes a long way. Tta Eva could buy anything she wants. She’s a rich lady. But she was always frugal and bought only simple things. She did not spend frivolously.
And because of these, she has learned to be generous. To put others before her needs.
Until the end, Tita Eva served the Lord. Her pastor shared how committed she was to teach the Senior Citizen Bible Study even after having been advised by her doctor to take it easy.
Tita Eva led a life well-lived. And until the end, people remembered her for the kind of lady she was – generous, loving, simple, elegant and God-fearing.
I can imagine God telling her, “well done my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).