Public Deaths

Death is one of the most universal of taboos. Not the rituals of grief, burial and mourning which are many, varied and almost always public in character. I mean the actual act of dying. This most mysterious of earthly transitions is done in private, even for the most well-known of persons, with a few family and close friends in attendance and maybe a man or woman of God around to ease the way.

Public deaths, on the other hand, serve a social purpose. For instance, public executions are meant to be cathartic events in which society extracts its pound of flesh, as it were. It supposedly serves as a deterrent to criminal or aberrant behavior and reflects the manner by which justice is served within a community. It’s also morbidly entertaining and can even be interactive, such as in the practice of stoning or the spectators’ participation in the gory events in the Roman Colosseum.

Other public deaths, such as the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, serve as a catalyst for social upheaval and change.

Suicide is a more complicated phenomenon in which no easy generalizations can be made. It can be done privately or in plain of view others, but even the most secretive act of taking one’s life assumes a public aspect upon the discovery of the body. The act itself is shocking under any circumstance, being so contrary to what we normally know and expect of human behavior. Thus, the ripple effects of a suicide extend beyond the immediate family or social circle of the victim to the society at large. I knowingly use the word “victim” as I believe those who kill themselves are casualties of one or another of life’s events which makes continued living unbearable. However, some suicides are more publicly significant that others. Continue reading

Last Words of the Dying Christ

There are two (actually three, with John having Him say a matter-of-fact summation of his mission on earth: “It is Finished”) versions of what Jesus Christ said as he suffered and neared death on the cross at Golgotha. The first: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?

Mark and Matthew attribute this to the dying Christ. It has been interpreted through the centuries as a cry of utter despair and fading hope.

Luke, perhaps finding such words repugnant as it suggests a slide into black doubt, says that Christ’s words were actually: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” Modern believers are more comfortable with Luke’s version, as His dying words are more in keeping with common doctrinal teachings that God will look after us and never leave us.

For all we know, He may have uttered both, they are not incompatible. Continue reading

The Company We Keep

Butch Dalisay wrote a post a week or so ago about his not being a fan of the rampant social networking on the web. What a relief. I thought I was the only cranky old man around. And while I do have Facebook account, it was only at the insistent prodding of those near and dear to me. I hardly visit my Facebook page and I’m afraid I may come across as cold and distant to my many well-meaning friends who have poked me and keep sending me this and that invitation to join a cause. It seems I don’t respond well to being nudged, whether electronically or physically, and tend to keep my distance.

Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate what an amazing platform for connectivity Facebook and its ilk are. People I haven’t seen or heard from in decades are now my Facebook buddies. And I know why it’s such a hit for us Pinoys. It’s rooted deep in our national psyche, the need to be part of a community and to interact constantly. Continue reading

Law Firm Gives Associates U.S.$ 80,000 To Take the Year Off

This item in the New York Times will turn a lot of us green with envy. My jaw dropped with when I read it.

The global economic downturn doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all, if you’re an associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher and Flom, the largest U.S. law firm in terms of revenue. Due to the recession, which would predictably cut into its projected revenues, Skadden has offered its 1,300 associates worldwide 80,000 U.S. dollars each to take the year off. They’re encouraged to find pro-bono work and render meaningful service to any cause of their choice although “the lawyers could also spend the year catching up on every episode of “Top Chef” that they missed during the boom years, or traveling around the world“. Continue reading


Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’re-fraught heart, and bids it break.

-William Shakespeare, Macbeth

I stumbled across a series of posts in Slate by Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye, on how she has been coping with the death of her mother. It’s one of the most honest, poignant and evocative pieces I’ve read recently on the grieving process. I think her being a poet gives her prose so much more depth and meaning in dealing with this most difficult of subjects.

I have been feeling raw this past few days and could not put my finger on any single specific reason. O’Rouke gave me some much needed perspective for which I am grateful.

A Grief Beyond Words

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. In this darkness, Lord be there!
(Psalm 130:1-2)

I have no fear of death or its images, of wakes and funerals and scenes of violence and mayhem. At least this is what I tell myself. If anything, I have gone through a phrase of inordinate fascination with death, looking into the face of it in an attempt to unlock its unfathomable mystery.

Except when the death involves a child and then I am overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and anguish. And anger. Old wounds I have struggled to heal from are reopened and I find myself flailing helplessly against a tide of sorrow.

A young boy was killed the week just past, and seeing his father trying to find words to express his family’s inexpressible grief broke my heart. He did a much better job than I could ever have done. When I was in his unenviable position years ago, I was struck dumb. It was my wife who stood up and spoke for us.

Looking at his stricken face during the last rites for the boy, I of course saw myself. The messages he wanted to impart were the very same ones I would have wanted to say, had my voice and heart not failed me. Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth Pacquiao

Tragedies will always abound, but I wanted my first post for 2009 to be about feel-good stories which give a positive spin to our otherwise dreary existence.

And what could be a more joyful occasion than that of the birth of a baby ? That’s what the whole Christmas thing is supposed to be all about, at least on a superficial level.

And Manny Pacquiao is a blessed man in this regard. Wife Jinky gave birth to a 7.9-pound baby girl at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Hospital just as the year was ending, with him present and even cutting his baby girl’s umbilical cord. Her name is Queen Elizabeth and is the Pacquiao couple’s fourth child.

Manny is no Anglophile, as far as I know, but the name is somehow apt. There’s no parent that wouldn’t want their daughter to be an empress, even if only in name, and her arrival can be said to be the crowing event of a felicitous year for Pacquiao. And the upbeat symbolism of a baby at the start of a new year can hardly be missed. She will be seen as a harbinger of better things to come. Our best new year’s wishes to the new queen of the Pacquiao household. Continue reading

Death at Christmastime

Rubens’ Massacre of the Holy Innocents from

Death takes no holidays. We all know this but it would be too painful to acknowledge it during this season of supposed joy. Sometimes we are reminded of this undeniable truth on a grand scope, as happened during the Asian tsunami of 2004, which claimed an estimated 230,000 lives, and displaced millions. Its 4th anniversary was recollected on December 26 in homes and beaches from Indonesia to India. It is believed to be the deadliest tsunami in recorded history.

More often death arrives on a more modest scale, although the tragedy is not in any way diminished by the numbers involved. Whether it be 1 or 100,000, the pain and anguish can be overwhelming for those forced to confront it. This is even more heart-rending in the case of children dying. Continue reading