Willy's burial in Malay, Aklan.

A funeral service and farewell song for Willy

One of the most memorable, human, authentic experiences I’ve had yet in world exploration during slow travel: a farewell song for a man killed in an accident, sang just before his coffin was entombed in a Philippine cemetery.

I listened to people sing in Tagalog, and while I didn’t know the words, I felt their grief. It was a ‘farewell’ song to Willy, a fish salesman run down by accident as he walked the road in Malay last month.

Women and children wiped their eyes with handkerchiefs to catch tears from reaching their pandemic face masks. Some people held hands.

The family wore white, which is tradition here.

The sky was light gray, the normally lush green trees seemed dull without the sun’s shine. I walked by tombs painted bright white, and also covered in tropical moss that eventually coats the above-ground chambers that fill so many Philippine cemeteries.

A typhoon spun to the north of us. It was a cool, breezy day, relatively speaking. The rain held off until most people had left the cemetery.

At the funeral mass before interment, I sat in the back corner of the town’s Catholic church. I listened to the priest speak mostly in Tagalog, with a few words of English. It was enough for me to feel the meaning.

He talked about the ways God calls us home – sometimes by sickness or natural causes, or by human accident. (Though nothing is by accident in God’s world.)

The priest also talked about forgiveness as a way to find peace. I have found that to be true, although sometimes my ego and pride prevent me from empathy and love.

It is easier for me to forgive, personally, when I look around and see people holding hands, crying, mourning the loss of someone they loved.

Such visible emotional display reminds me that we are all the same: simply people trying to work out how to live life, whether it’s a tomb-filled cemetery on an island in the Philippines, a flat-plate burial site on Long Island, New York, or a military cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

I’m grateful to Willy’s family members who walked with me – the only obvious foreigner – from the church to the cemetery. They allowed me to be a part of the goodbye to Willy.

I miss seeing him around town. I can only imagine how sorely he is missed by his family.

To his family: I send you love, and pray you find peace.

And to my young friends reading this who were directly related to Willy: let his memory live in your hearts forever, and let his memory help you smile.

Rest in peace, Willy.

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