Before I Forget

My sadder ‘Undas’ this year

‘Although we miss our children, they are not gone. Like butterflies, they have merely metamorphosed’

Maningning Miclat drawing by Elmer Borlongan

Maningning poems posted in the Miclat mausoleum

With the coming of All Saints’ Day, Todos Los Santos, Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, or in our vernacular, Undás, sadness engulfs me. Grief gnaws away at my heart and mind. For in this year’s Undás, I, together with my youngest daughter Banaue, am lighting a candle not just for one, but for two loves of my life—my eldest daughter Maningning, who took a leap to be in the bosom of our Lord in 2000 at age 28, and my husband of 50 years, Mario, who passed away only in April this year.

Mario Miclat’s urn and bust by Julie Lluch, and Maningning Miclat’s bust by National Artist Napoleon Abueva

Mark Twain referred to the death of his favorite daughter Suzy as a “thunderstroke” which a parent can only mysteriously survive. Mysteriously, I’m still alive! Even after 21 years! I guess Albert Camus was right when he wrote, “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” But those summers of 20 years I fortunately shared with Mario, who was my light and anchor in the melancholy journey I had to traverse to accept the finality of our firstborn’s demise, and to find ways to give meaning and redemption to such a death.

On April 15, 2001, Maningning’s supposed 29th Earth birthday, the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation Inc. (MMAFI) was founded.  By September 29 of that year, Maningning’s first death anniversary saw the launch of an anthology of poems and prose, Beauty for Ashes: Remembering Maningning (Anvil Publishing, 2001). The book’s editors, Mario and Romulo Baquiran, Jr., wrote in the introduction: “Maningning, as a child growing up in Beijing, was taught the Marxist definition of literature and the arts as concentrated representation of life and nature on a higher plain. Precociously maturing in Manila, she started creating her representations of beauty through painting and poetry. The ashes she left behind are now kept in a quiet sepulcher surrounded by nature’s verdure at the foot of Subic’s hills.”

‘Maningning’s whip must have been unbearable’

The introduction continued: “The muses are very jealous, and as Truman Capote remarked, ‘The gift comes with a whip.’ If we may be allowed to venture, we say that the greater the gift, the sharper the whip. Maningning’s whip must have been unbearable. Like a faithful slave to the muses, she now chose to stay forever with her virtual owners. If inadvertently, she turned into a muse herself. Through their work (in the anthology), poets and artists have made their elegies and tributes to her.”

A dear friend, Dr. Emma A. Llanto, who lost her 23-year-old son to T-cell lymphoma in December 2005, sent me this note a year after his death: “Although we miss our children, they are not gone. Like butterflies, they have merely metamorphosed—escaped the cocoon of our (imperfect) human bodies. They reside in our hearts and in His garden, free from pain and suffering. (I imagine Maningning writing poetry in a thousand languages and painting with a palette of a million hues.)”

All these years since my artist-poet daughter passed away, we’ve been endeavoring to honor her memory and her legacy by encouraging creativity and recognizing and supporting young poets and artists 28 years old and younger through the Maningning Awards in art and poetry. And in all these activities, my husband was there, giving his all-out support and love. He was not only my partner in his fatherly duties to his daughter in life and in death. He was, first and foremost, my other half in life who knew and who could anticipate all my wants, my likes, my fears, my joys. One who would buoy my spirits when I was down and out and would bring smile and laughter when everything seemed dark and hopeless. Not that he didn’t brood, for he had his own demons to contend with and he could be sullen at times. But he had a good heart all his life and added sunshine to my own. He had that childish streak in him, the natural wit and funny bone which made us, the people around him, laugh and love him more.

Many times, Mario would talk about death and perorate about his leaving me ahead, for he had escaped its clutches for so long and countless times. I would often dismiss it and reply about the unpredictability of life, that we never know who goes first, and it might be me. He would turn very serious and declare that he wouldn’t want that to happen, for he wouldn’t know what to do. I suppose nobody is ever ready to face the finality of death and the agonizing ritual that follows.

Clan gathering on All Saints Day at Miclat mausoleum

But rituals have been in existence for centuries, millenniums even. Our veneration for the dead in the Catholic or Christian way has existed since the planting of the cross in our land by the Spanish colonial power. The celebration of All Saint’s Day, Todos Los Santos, on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd, is very similar to Mexico’s El Dia de los Muertes, Day of the Dead. Practised originally by the Aztecs and the Mayans, this holiday is said to date back hundreds of years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Like it, our own Undás is a time when people from different places travel to get together with their families, light candles, and offer flowers in veneration of the dead and hold their feast. Apart from the Philippines and Mexico, this day is also celebrated in Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil, Spain, Ireland, and India.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to grant Mario his wish and get a real Manunggul jar

In our country, however, reverence for the dead did not start only when Spain conquered our country. Prehistoric burial earthenware jars excavated since the early 1920s show jar burial practices dating back to the Late Neolithic Period, from about 1000 B.C. to the 16th century, before the advent of Christianity. Early Filipinos were practising secondary burials using elaborately designed earthenware pots shaped like humans.

The Manunggul Jar is a secondary burial jar excavated from a Neolithic burial site in the Manunggul cave of the Tabon Caves at Lipuun Point in Palawan. It is said to date back to 890–710 B.C. The two prominent figures in a boat at the top handle of its cover represent the journey of the soul to the afterlife.

Mario, my historian husband who was passionate about our ancestors and their pre-historic culture, told me one time he wanted to be buried in a jar. He even crafted his own mini version of an earthen Manunggul jar cover. Ever a practical one, I just laughed it off. As I look back now, perhaps it would be a good idea to give in and grant him his wish and get a real Manunggul jar to replace the marble urn containing his remains. Then perhaps his journey to the afterlife would be as he wanted it to be.

Mario I. Miclat’s version of Manunggul jar cover

Read more:

From Mindanao to Angono: ManilART 2021 braves the pandemic

Bien Lumbera, our family’s mentor and nurturer

Mario Miclat’s confession of faith

My Tanay interlude: A respite from grief

How to mend a broken heart

A black sheep’s mission accomplished

The Chinese New Year I met Premier Zhou Enlai

Soul searching at 70, long after grief and loss

About author


Alma Cruz Miclat is a freelance writer and president of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. She is the author of deluxe books Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles and Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II, and co-author with Mario I. Miclat, Maningning Miclat and Banaue Miclat of Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, a National Book Awardee for biography in 2007.

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