kuya puti

Loosely translated, kuya puti means "uncle white-guy" in Tagalog.

I now respond to this, because it's what Ben's little nieces and nephews call me. The older ones call me Uncle Jeffrey, the title rarely dropped as dictated by culture and tradition. There are ates and tatays and many more, but Ben is a kuya, and by default I am now a kuya too.

I don't fully understand it, but I go with it.

I've been hearing it a lot more lately, because Ben's brother passed away last week. It was sudden and unexpected. Per tradition, nine days of prayer are held somewhere, and that somewhere is our living room. There's a makeshift shrine on our buffet where I've come to memorize parts of the Rosary, the Virgin Mary atop a spare bed sheet.

I don't fully understand it, but I go with it.

There are many milestones and events that form a long-term relationship, but no one talks about what happens when, together, you first encounter death. You're suddenly thrust into new territory and realize you're awkwardly unprepared - an emotional pop quiz on chapters you've both yet to read. You know eventually the darkness will give way to light, but you (naively?) hope to not make such a fuss the next time he doesn't replace the toilet paper. The lines of grieving blur, and on any given day it's unclear who is comforting whom.

You want to do everything but most of the time there's nothing you can do. You internally debate where to sit, what to say, how to be present while still allowing space, where's the sympathy card from "people who aren't blood related but swear they have every intention of getting some form of married eventually but for now are living in sin and didn't really know the deceased?"

Small anxieties, sure, but let's not pretend they don't enjoy coming out to play.

The one thing I've learned through all this is that we will be okay, which is as vague a description as it is deliberate. The disposable pans of food will slowly disappear from the fridge. The flowers will wilt, the doorbell will stop ringing, and we'll soon discuss when to get a Christmas tree. The holidays will be rough, but who are we kidding, when are they not?

Understatement of the week? This is hard. But this is not about me, a valuable lesson I'm slowly learning that goes far beyond this week. I don't know how to be a partner, a kuya, an emotionally stable person...I'm usually two for three at best. But I'm going with it. Doing my best, celebrating life - this emotional wound a fresh reminder that life is too short to proceed any differently.