Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fly High! Bidding Amiel Good-bye

Even grown men cry.

At 11:30 AM today, the Chapel of the Holy Angels at the Ateneo de Manila University Grade School was filled to the rafters as members of his family, friends and the school community bid Amiel Alcantara good-bye in a mass that was concelebrated by university president, Fr. Ben Nebres, and Fr. Kit Bautista, grade school headmaster.

In a tribute to his youngest brother, Avie Alcantara said that Amiel had wanted to achieve three things in life -- "to be an Eagle scout, a soldier and to be legendary." By dying early, Avie said, he managed to achieve two -- now he is a soldier of God and in a manner of speaking, has become legendary. "I know understand why he seemed to be more advanced than me even if I was older than him. Why he used hair gel at an early age, why he had a celphone and I didn't, why he used Axe deo cologne and why he was so adept at YM. I guess it was because he was going to leave us early."

Avie's talk was followed by a beautiful, moving five-minute video tribute made by his uncle, set to the song "Gone Too Soon". At this point, there was no dry eye in the entire church, including mine.

Pepe Alcantara gave the response on behalf of the family and in his message he made some salient and very insightful points --

For his son Amiel he said -- "Forgive me for not being there with you. I would have wanted to be there, to hold you, to protect you." Pepe recalled tearfully how at 6:45 AM on the day that Amiel died he had wondered why after their family van had backed out of the driveway, Amiel asked the driver to stop and he got off, rushed to Pepe and gave him a tight hug. "It was unusual for him to do that. Now I understand why," Pepe said, his voice breaking. "It was a day", he narrated, "that began with the tight hug of a much beloved son and ended with him inside a coffin." The lesson here, he says, is that when someone hugs you, makes sure you hug the person back and that yoiu do it well because you'll never know if it will be your last." He then shared with the crowd how, on the second day of the wake, a third grade student approached him and gave him an envelope, "I need to return this to you..." the young boy said. And when Pepe asked him what was inside, the boy told him that there was 111 pesos inside -- Amiel had been giving him money to supplement his allowance because he lived all the way and had to travel from Cavite. Amiel, was truly selfless even at such a young age.

Pepe then spoke about his family and how he saluted his son Avie for his courgaeous act of pulling Amiel out of the wreck that tragic Tuesday morning. He thanked Yaya Tata for saving Avie and daughter Jana from harm and in the process putting herself in harm's way instead. "Tata has been with us for 40 years, she was Melanie's yaya and is a second mom to my children. We are forever grateful to her."

Lastly, Pepe spoke to the community, asking them to be more protective of "the seeds in this community." He asked them -- "How can we regenerate, or even begin the process of regeneration if you are unable to protect the seeds that you have here." "Magpakatotoo tayo," he said solemnly, "How can regeneration happen if a child cannot even finish his sandwich..." and his vboice trailed off.

He spoke to Amiel's classmates from 4-Manobo-- "Amiel will be your angel, but I am sure he will not haunt you," he said in jest. "You will always be with us, every moment of every single day," he finished as he threw a sad gaze at where Amiel lay.

The morning's mass was ended with a beautiful release of blue and white balloons, an act that gave momentary joy as each member of Amiel's class released a balloon withg a message attached to it. The balloons were emblazoned with "Fly high Amiel" - a line that holds special meaning to anyone who has ever spent time as a student at the Ateneo. The balloons were released by Amiel's Grade 4 classmates and family members at the hearse slowly made its way to through the grade school driveway.

Fly high, Amiel. Fly heavenward, back to your real Home. As Avie Alcantara put it so beautifully, "In God we trust. In God, Amiel, we entrust."

Special Report On Amiel Alcantara

GMA-7 News came over yesterday to get my thoughts on Amiel's passing. In this video also is my friend, Noemi Dado who founded The Compassionate Friends where we are co-founders as well.

Amiel's story is one that has riveted every parent because his death shakes every parent's heart to the core. Later today he will finally be laid to rest. The saddest part of the grief journey is when everyone has left, when the loved one has been buried (or cremated) and you return home and realize that your family is no longer complete. This is when the anguish, the longing and the sadness truly sets in. Now more than ever, the Alcantara's will need our prayers. Let us all remember them as they begin the long road to healing and finding their "new normal" without Amiel.

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