Too many people are dying these days.
Every day, there’s some new death being talked about on mass (and social) media. In fact, I could be shot dead during one of my nightly Pokémon hunts, and the application of a badly-lettered cardboard sign would be enough to render my murderer a hero-vigilante. (Oo, adik ako, and that I continue to hunt Pokémon despite the potential threat to my life is testament to that addiction. Gotta catch ’em all, after all.)
The last two deaths I paid attention to, though, were thankfully non-violent: my officemate’s grandfather passed away after a long battle with illness, and my mum’s old spiritual advisor died suddenly of what I assume to be heart problems. Despite the context, both deaths were unwelcome–there is no way to prepare for someone to die. Every time that kind of news hits, it always comes as a shock, as if it were not one of the few inevitabilities of being mortal: people die.
I don’t dislike death, per se. The fact my life will eventually end feels like a foregone conclusion, considering the amount of running ragged I do. What I hate are death’s circumstances, the why of someone dying rather than the dying itself. If they die in a sickbed, death is cold consolation. If they die young, the fact that life is a sickbed is cold consolation. We’re always having to be consoled for something. Death is always sad.
I guess that’s why I latched on to something that was said during a eulogy for Pastor Doy, my mum’s old pastor: “Nakauwi na siya.” In the context of my Christian faith, such a sentiment makes sense–we see Heaven as “home,” and so death represents a triumphant return to it, free from worries and cares. That image, though, has always been far too dramatic for someone like me, whose life is essentially a sitcom and thus has far too much drama than I could know what to do with. English can sometimes be such an overwrought, austere language. But in Filipino, “Nakauwi na,” isn’t cold consolation; it actually sounds comforting.
There’s something about that word, uwi. It means, roughly, “to return to a place where one comes from.” We could technically use the word alis, “to leave,” to refer to death–“Umalis na siya,”–and we do use pumanaw, which means roughly, “to pass on,” but neither of those words has the same warmth as uwi, which bears the subtext of going somewhere where one is happy to return. For the Christian, that is exactly what death is–going somewhere one actually wants to be, a place that has only ever been approximated in scenes and snippets here on earth. Paradise, it’s called, where there are no more tears past the gate.
“Nakauwi na,” manages to suggest death–the idea of being absent–in a way that doesn’t have all the melancholy of “passing on,” or “passing away.” Instead, you imagine a text message call in the middle of storm season, updating you about the whereabouts of one of your friends. “Nakauwi na siya,” it says, and you are instantly relieved. They’re home. They’re safe.
Life is storm season. Life is the long journey in EDSA traffic. Life is a strange and dangerous country, and a part of us is always homesick. In these circumstances, returning after a journey’s end–especially if it has been a rich one, full of side-quests and adventures–isn’t a totally sad occasion at all. The person is now home, and he is safe. We don’t have to worry about them anymore.
There are no tears past the gate.
One more thing: When you say “Nakauwi na,” it means you know where that person’s home is. From there, it is not so much of a stretch to imagine you share that home. A person has gone ahead, but eventually you will join them.
One day, “Uuwi ka din,” and you will see a light burning in the window. They will welcome you at the door. You will have stories to tell, and all the time to tell them.
You’ll be safe. Home.