Letting Grandpa Go

A photo of my grandfather, Roberto Lumagbas Padilla (formerly Padullo), and grandmother, Antonia Villona Donaire. She was six years older than he was and had passed 20 years or years ago.

On Saturday, the world lost one of its kindest souls. Late that night, I received a text from my mom that my grandfather passed away back home in the Philippines. The news sucked all the air out of me. It felt like I was suffocating, that my chest was caving in on itself. Four days later, and I’m still trying to parse through the complexity of what his loss means to me. My therapist and family members have suggested I write it out, but it’s hard to put into words how much my world has shifted. I thought I’d share a bit about what a special man he was here.

My grandpa, Roberto, was well known for his friendliness and generosity. Nicknamed Lolo Wey, he was a perpetual optimist, a happy go-lucky man who was grateful for the small things in life. He’d had many, many jobs during his lifetime – boxer, soldier, governor’s cook, etc. Grandpa was the eldest of our family. That position now belongs to his younger brother, the last person left of the older generation.

I didn’t have the typical grandfather-granddaughter relationship with him that I’ve longed for and envied in others. It just wasn’t possible with the distance, his lack of English, and what little Waray I could speak. Though we couldn’t communicate well, his overwhelming amount of love was always apparent. I hope mine for him was too.

He was a kind, hard-working man.

I am thankful to have known him and cherish the few memories I have of seeing him in person. One of my most favorite (and hilarious) memories is actually of my grandpa stealing a pineapple 🍍for me! It happened when my mom and I were down from Japan for a summer visit to the Philippines. My grandpa, at the time, lived in a bamboo stilt house. I was nine years old, and it was my first experience of being in the Province and living with no running water or electricity. I strongly remember missing my N64 something fierce.

Anyway, one day during that summer, he caught me gazing longingly at the small pineapple farm next door that separated us from the jungle. I was sitting there, swinging my legs and sighing deeply. My mom had told me when we first arrived in the village that the pineapples over the fence were not ours and that I was not allowed to go there. But, in that moment, there was nothing I wanted more than one of those sweet, juicy pineapples. My grandpa came over and sat with me. After a while, he squeezed my hand and disappeared.

To my amazement, he reappeared not long after with a pineapple! Wide-eyed and confused I gazed at it, asking “Ako nene po?” (It’s mine?). We smiled at each other conspiratorially. Even though my mom came flying to scold us both soon after, stealing that pineapple was one of the most touching things anyone has ever done for me.

This is a photo of one of their original stilt houses circa 1980s. This one was destroyed in a typhoon. The house I stayed in was built like this, but it was more inland. Above photo is of my grandparents and a cousin. The photo below has my aunt Elizabeth and other cousins of mine.
This is sadly the only photo my mother could find of us together. Ironically, it’s from the summer of my pineapple story. This pic was taken during a family outing to a small island. Grandpa is caught off guard behind my mom. I’m holding some kind of cuttle fish? Squid? No idea why.

With him gone, however, it feels like I have lost yet another tie to my culture. His loss cuts really deep. He was the only one in the family to never ask for or expect anything from me. The only one to never question my belonging or try to gate keep my identity.

He was the only one to make me feel wholly accepted. So much of who I am was tied to helping to support him over the years and wanting to make him proud. I hope that wherever he is now, he’s happy and pain free. I hope he knows that he is loved and missed.

In our culture, you are taught to give your all to your elders. I grew up understanding that respect means giving them deferential treatment, offering some of your paycheck, and doing what you can to fulfill their needs. I know I will never be able to repay the sacrifices he made and hardships he suffered for the family. I am glad, though, that I was able to ultimately meet his final need by providing the means to give him the funeral he deserved. A huge thank you to my mom’s cousin, Alma, for taking such good care of him and for arranging a beautiful nine days of services. I wish I could be there in the Philippines with you.

Cherish your loved ones. Even if you cannot be together, treasure them, love them, and wish them well. ❤️


More recent photos of my grandpa:

Grandpa and his younger brother, Fermino!

After the nine days, another will be held at forty days and then once a year on the day he passed. Pictures of the mourners staying up all night for Day 1:

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