(Another Nagueño of the old generation is gone. Feliciano “Choy” Ojeda was the last surviving member of the family of former Naga City Mayor Victorino “Vitoy” Ojeda. Below is my final tribute I prepared on the day the family celebrated his life.)
I must confess that one of hardest things a person has to do in life is to write a eulogy of the passing of a loved one. Now that I have finished writing it, another hard task is to deliver it with a dry eye.
And yet there is a third task, and that is to deliver this at Christmastime when you suddenly realize that Choy will be absent this holiday season. This time, he will be spending Christmas in heaven.
The great Bengali poet of India and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once said:
“Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
My friends, I am honored and privileged to say that Choy who has joined Our Lord in His heavenly home is now living in that eternal light, and we are all blessed to have been a part of the sunshine he brought into our lives.
The last time I visited Choy about a month ago, he was already oxygen reliant, could no longer drive, could no longer leave the house, and many other “could nots.” Basically all that he could do was to sit, eat and sleep.
But the sunshine and the good humor had never faded from his eyes.
When I asked him how he was doing, he responded by asking how I was doing.
That is Choy all right, always thinking of your own comfort, never his.
If there is one attribute prominently characteristic of Choy that I could ascribe to him that is head and shoulders above every trait, it is this: When you are with Choy, the word “God” was always part of the conversation, a “given.” I remember once, during a fiesta reunion, I introduced some friends of mine to him. By the time we ended up our get-together, a couple of my friends were casually addressing him as Father Choy.
Once I asked him pointblank, alluding to the Biblical Prophet Job, if he had ever blamed God for his health issues. You know, the “why me” question.
He said it never occurred to him to ask God “why me?” -- never -- because what if God responded by asking “why not you?” We laughed at this quick retort, and the whole afternoon after that was all light and laughter.
I told him we’ll talk about the Penafrancia Fiesta the next time we meet. For Choy, like a bona fide Nagueño, was a great devotee of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
“Of course,” he’d always say, “we always look forward to that!”
That was the last time I saw him.
As I lay in bed last night I suddenly realized how our lives race swiftly like a waterfall over a mountain. It is almost Christmas, but soon it will be September again and Choy will permanently be absent at our yearly reunion to celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s fluvial procession by the Hudson River.
This fiesta celebration, my friends, is so special to us because both Choy and I were born, raised, studied, and lived our early years in the Pilgrim City of Naga.
That is why when I first came to NY more than four decades ago, alone and confused, the first person I looked for was Choy. And Choy was one of the first persons who looked after my survival.
Those more than four decades with Choy in family gatherings, outings, reunions are now part of my fondest memories. For one, how can I forget someone who was always the life of the party? Choy was a born storyteller. What was amazing was even if he had left Naga more than a half century ago, most of his stories revolved around the old Naga that he knew. And they were all stories of celebration.
For every time you’re with Choy, it is always a “this calls for a celebration” kind of thing. Choy brings back memories of fiestas in Naga when our families and visitors would watch the fluvial procession a block away from their house.
But all good things, like fiestas, must come to an end. For now.
Choy is now absent from us, but present with the Lord in heaven. Perhaps all these fiesta celebrations with friends and family in honor of our Blessed Mother are but a tiny glimpse of what heaven is like. Up there, no one will be absent. It is the Fiesta. Although Christmas will be a difficult time without Choy, come to think of it – he will be celebrating Christmas with his parents and all his siblings with the angels and the saints.
Like the dawn declared by the poet Tagore.
Thank you for all the support and prayers for Choy and his family. The outpouring of love you have demonstrated could never be repaid.
The dawn has come for our dear Choy. We in this other side of the veil are going to miss his kindness, his sincere concern for others, and especially his good humor.
As the Apostle St. Paul once said, we see through a glass darkly for the time being. But through our dark mirrors we know that you Choy are now face to face with Our Father whom you loved all your life.
Your favorite chair at your home will be empty. And so will your usual place at the dinner table. Nobody is going to put up the lights in the tree outside. Even if we will be cooking your favorite dishes, noche buena will not be the same. In a word, we will be doing some things differently.
We will miss you this Christmas.
I remember a Hermie Uy composition the December I left my country many, many years ago. It was sung by Susan Fuentes:
Ang disyembre ko ay malungkot
Pagkat miss kita
Anomang pilit kong magsaya
Miss kita kung Christmas . . .
But you know, I am not too sure if Choy is missing us.
I think he is too busy with the Lord and too happy singing that he is finally Home for Christmas.