In accepting this cancer work, I knew that facing loss was part of the deal . . . although part of me was hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with it so soon. Sadly, I lost my first cancer client last night at 6:55 PM. And even though I mentally prepared for that moment, it still hit like a major blow to my heart.
Magne (pronounced like Maine, the state) was one of the women I got to know and coach through Carewell. She and I took an instant liking to each other, so much so that even after I stopped doing group coaching there, she still came over to my house several times a month for private coaching.
She was an amazing advocate of my coaching and knew that cancer coaching was ‘my work’ before I even realized it myself. Even with stage 4 cancer her light couldn’t be dimmed! The photo above was taken in April of 2010 when we were spending the day with Carewell friends in Bulacan. Even 8 months ago, while the cancer was ravaging her body, she still looked like the picture of health. And quite honestly, that was her legacy. She made cancer look easy and she helped all those who were ‘new’ to cancer to believe that they could handle the fight.
One of the unique things about Magne was that she was frequently surrounded by her family. They always traveled in a pack and I came to expect that each time she showed up at my house to be coached she’d bring anywhere from 2-5 family members along with her to ‘listen in’. It was strange but I tried to roll with it. The ones I came to know best were her daughter Nadine (pictured on the left), her son Von (not pictured) and her grand-daughter Annika (pictured right). The family-togetherness sounds extreme, but I promise you, it’s actually quite the norm here.
When the text came last night telling me that she died, (yes- I found out by text, how strange is that??) I immediately felt the need to connect to her family. Fortunately, the wake was scheduled for today (Thursday). In the process of mourning my friend/client, I got a fascinating education on how death and dying is celebrated in the Philippines. Here’s a deeper look into my experience over the last 24 hours:
At first I intended to go to the funeral, but the only information sent out was regarding the wake (again, by text), so I assumed that perhaps it was a family-only funeral. What I didn’t realize was that the wake extends over a 72 hour period (unlike our 2-4 hour evening wakes in the States) and visitors are encouraged to come and spend extended time with the family. It actually makes a lot of sense, given what I know about their All-Saints Day celebrations at the cemetery. The whole event was centered around celebrating her life with all the things Filipinos love best – Food, Family and Fun!
The Funeral Home was a series of small chapels in which each family had their own private space, which was roughly the size of a large living room. There were approximately 20 wakes going on at the same time, so people were streaming in and out all day long. Everything, including the Funeral, takes place in this small room.
I had no idea to expect when I walked into the chapel. As expected, I was the only non-Filipino there, but within a matter of seconds I was surrounded by smiling faces and being encouraged to eat. I had the honor of spending a good 45 minutes talking with Von, Nadine and Magne’s husband Danny. It was comforting to know that she died exactly as she wanted to, with her entire family around her bed praying for her. What I wasn’t expecting was for them to share all the details of her death. It felt very intimate to know what it was like for her in those final moments, uncomfortable on one hand but also comforting to see a family able to talk about death so openly.
After about 15 minutes we went up to the casket where she was lying under glass. We proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes standing in front of the casket sharing our favorite memories and looking down on her beautiful face. The experience was such a stark contrast my past funeral experiences of moving through a family receiving line and then saying a quick prayer in front of the casket. This wake truly felt like it was about her, whereas I’ve often felt like in the U.S. our funeral customs are more focused on being there for the surviving family members. I’m not quite sure how to explain it, but this wake definitely had a different vibe to it.
There were a few moments that really stood out for me today:
- Nadine telling me to come up and see her mom in her ‘angel dress’ (complete with rhinestones on the neckline!)
- Getting to talk about Filipino death traditions and educate them on what it’s like in the U.S.
- Being hugged and kissed by Magne’s mother who ignored the language barrier and just used non-verbals to let me know how much she appreciated me coming
- Kuya Rudy telling me in the car afterward that he snuck in to see her when I was talking to the family. He had driven Magne and her family around several times and I was touched that he felt the need to say good-bye to her as well.
- Norma asking me if I wanted to take off my clothes right when I walked in the door so she could wash them (Apparently Filipino superstition says that after a wake you should not enter your bedroom until you’ve removed your clothes. Isn’t that fascinating?)
I will forever be grateful that Magne came into my life, even though our time together was briefer than I would have liked. She was pure sunshine and her bright light will be missed by many, including me.
~Rest in Peace Magne, I know you’ll be a great addition to Heaven.