Just a year and a month passed by, and we lost another key family member to complications through illness. Losing our Oma last year was difficult enough, but she had led a great life to 80. Her final few years may have been tougher and lonelier, and yet I feel she was able to finally let go seeing her family will be okay. Uncle Toby though, had just turned 61…his life was not without challenges, but he received them with courage, and it seemed all too soon to say goodbye.

Although I believe in some kind of afterlife, there is very little comfort there when I bring to thought: my aunt – whom we fondly call Tita Banana – and my cousins Kimbo and Derek.

Their family, to me, was the epitome of unity despite life’s hurdles. One can say that Tita Banana loved Uncle Toby fiercely. They were literally ‘two peas in a pod’ whose togetherness was bound by great humour, a light-hearted yet deep love, crazy attraction, shared dreams, pain, and understanding.

To the outsider, it would seem like Tita Banana had sacrificed so much, and she gave herself completely to the care of Uncle Toby. Very rarely do you observe this type of dedication in a spouse these days. Yet, she never saw her dedication as a duty, it is simply who she is: a loving, giving, strong, courageous woman.

This is a tribute to my favourite couple, the couple who would call each other “love” and “sweetheart” unashamedly in public; who, for 35 years, held each other’s hands while doing one of their favourite things: checking out food deals at the mall. From moving to the US, Canada, and back to the Philippines, they were unified in their movements and decisions. On long drives, Tita Banana would endure Uncle Tob’s excitement at a new favourite song, which he would play over and over. She would roll her eyes at some of the silly things he came up with, but she stood by his side anyway. They found satisfaction in the simple activities of everyday life, occasionally playing pranks on each other.

I will never forget Uncle Toby’s endless enthusiasm to take me to the next shopping mall, or check out a restaurant whenever I visited the Philippines from abroad. He always made people feel welcome and important, often introducing our foreign friends to the “delicacy” called Balut. His eyes would bulge out and his nose would flare in a comical way that seemed to say, “This is the best thing ever!” And we would all candidly humour him, because this is what was so endearing about Uncle Tob. He would always arrive at least 40 minutes early for a gathering, having nabbed the best table in the space.

Their family spent time together, eating meals together, watching films, going on family outings – true quality time. They always showed support for each other; whatever Kimbo and Derek decided to choose when it came to careers or partners, Uncle Tob and Tita Banans were there to encourage, discourage, or negotiate. They found happiness amidst struggles and this is what I admire most in them: they never left each other’s side where other couples might have given up.

I am cloaked by sadness knowing that life will change so much for their family. Kimbo, having to take the lead role now, Derek will deeply miss his Pops, who taught him how to drive in the most unforgettable way, (thanks to a video taken by Kimbo)…and Tita Banana – I cannot even begin to imagine what she is going through now. With her family by her side, I am sure she will find strength knowing Uncle Tob is in a better place.

This brings me to reflect on life, rather than death – and how precious it really is to know the value of each person in our lives, and to communicate this value to them; whether through actions or words, even a short message to let them know they are in our thoughts…because it is a rare blessing to know when it will be time to say goodbye…or perhaps – it is not really goodbye, but ‘see you later’.