Batuhan: You did for me

·4 min read

“Christians believe that death is not the end of our existence. That belief has shaped the Christian faith since Jesus Christ rose from the dead after his execution 2,000 years ago. This does not mean that Christians are somehow immune from or unaffected by the pain of grief and loss when a close friend or relative dies. But it means that they have a hope in something eternal that goes beyond life and death as we know it. And that hope sustains them in such difficult times.” (https://christianity.org.uk/article/life-after-death)

For my family, “difficult times” is probably at best a slight understatement, at least as far as last week is concerned. On Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, my aunt Dr. Bella Banzon Larosa passed away in the United States, and just a couple of days later on Thursday, Oct. 7, my father-in-law Fernando Arguelles Jr. died in Bacolod City. Two wonderful people painfully taken away from their grieving loved ones. But at least with our Christian belief in eternal life, we are secure in the knowledge that the grief will only be fleeting, and the separation temporary.

And yet, when such wonderful people are taken away from us—our Christian belief notwithstanding—the sorrow is still gnawingly deep. Not the least because both of them were such exemplary Christians in their own way, that their loss is made even more acute. In order of their passing, I would like to recount how each of them has, in their own unique manner, ensured that their time here on earth counted for more than just an individual life well and truly fully lived.

Auntie Bella was the second of eight Banzon siblings (of which my mother is the third), and was an early emigrant to the United States, settling there with her family in the early 1970’s. Married to another doctor, Jose “Joe” Larosa, they are survived by two children (the eldest, Dr. Ethel Larosa passed away some years ago) in Dr. Joseph Larosa Jr. and Jeffrey Larosa, who are likewise now successfully raising families of their own in America.

While her story may be typical of the journey of many Filipino immigrant families to the United States, it is the way theirs became a blessing to many other families and individuals who would follow in their footsteps to America—some related, and still many others unrelated —but whom they still wholeheartedly assisted in transitioning to a successful life in their new country.

The Larosa home in Louisville, Kentucky became a “consulate-cum-hotel” of sorts to many Filipinos arriving in the US, many setting foot outside the Philippines for the first time. Whether needing some words of settling-in advice, hankering for the taste of home-cooked meals, or needing a place to stay while looking for more permanent accommodations—the Larosas always welcomed any and all comers with open arms. I remember that whenever I would walk into their house on any given day, the comforting smells of Filipino food cooking in the kitchen would always welcome me, as if to reassure me that I am never far from home. Anyone in need of a warm meal, whether Filipino or American, friend or stranger—was always welcome to have a seat at their dining table. The Larosa kitchen was always open for business, round-the-clock, seven days a week.

Mind you, Auntie Bella was a very busy physician herself, driving daily to and from Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, where she was caring for members of the US military and their families. And yet despite the unrelenting demands of a busy medical career, not to mention raising a family of her own, she still found the time to be foster parent and immigration adviser to those finding themselves in need of a warm and comforting presence in a strange and foreign land.

As Christians, we know not when Auntie Bella will finally enter the kingdom of heaven, but I can almost visualize the scene when she does, asking the familiar questions and getting the reassuring answers like those in the gospel of Matthew, as to why she has finally been granted her place in the Lord’s eternal banquet.

“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?

‘When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?

‘When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’

‘And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:37-40)

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