by Caroline Aquino
I went through it all: the baptism, the first holy communion, the confirmation. Being Catholic and Filipino meant I was immersed in both a religion and culture that foster the practice of love of being of service to others.
Whether it was simple prayers before bedtime or rosaries every hour, my parents and grandparents have an unwavering relationship with God. That relationship has been passed down from generation to generation. And it informs how we look at both life and death.
My education at Ateneo de Manila University, a prominent Jesuit institution in the Philippines reinforced what I learned at home. I was given opportunities to deepen my faith and shown how to apply its teachings in daily life.
One class – A Theology of the Catholic Social Vision, under Fr. Georg Ziselsberger SVD – introduced me to the papal encyclicals. We took an extensive dive into Pope Francis’ Laudato Si as we discussed our on-going climate crisis and what we can do to educate others about protecting the world that God has given us.
Whenever I had questions, my parents and teachers were open to listening and guiding me. Like my paternal grandfather I have learned to practice my faith by focusing on personal spirituality.
How do we treat one another? How do we let God shine through our lives? We offer up all our wins and losses, and trust that God has a plan for us. We offer silent prayers throughout the day, even if it’s as simple as saying “thank you”, to remind us that no matter the hardship, we are not alone.
Choosing burial, flame creation or eco-friendly water cremation
My father grew up on a military base looking up to his father, a Brigadier General of the Philippine Air Force.
Even as a young girl, my parents never shied me away from attending funerals and wakes. They used that time to answer any questions I had. We learned that while we may mourn the passing of a loved one, it is also a time to celebrate a life that has been lived.
Inevitably, we talked about how we would want our remains handled after death. My family is split between burial and cremation. But one thing we all agree on is that our exit from this planet is a sacred ceremony, treated with reverence.
I find myself drawing on those values as I now work for a company that is focused on giving families a final send-off for their loved ones that is consistent with their culture and traditions.
Aloha Mortuary is also leading the charge to introduce water cremation as an earth-friendly option once the legislature approves it. It is already available in 21 states in the country. The Mayo Clinic and the UCLA School of Medicine are among the institutions that have embraced it wholeheartedly because of its many benefits, including dramatically lowering energy use and carbon emissions.
I wish we had had the option of water cremation for my grandfather. He had wanted to be buried with full honors in his white uniform which he kept hung in his closet. It was a belief among fighter pilots that cremation was for those who had died in a crash.
However, due to COVID protocols in the Philippines, when he passed earlier this year, we had to come to terms with cremating our Papa and interned his remains in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for the Heroes). I believe with everything I learnt about water cremation that he would have liked the dignity of the process.
My grandmother and father have already decided that they would like to be cremated. “From dust you came, to dust you will return.” As for me, now that I find myself immersed in this industry, I believe I too must decide on how I want to go. It is never too early to make these decisions and share them with family.
As a 25-year-old, I am acutely aware of how threatened my generation feels by the climate crisis. We each have a part to play. Every decision we make impacts others.
My generation is suffering from the impacts of the decisions by the generations before us. But rather than wallowing in fear, we’re actively making a difference. It is now my generation’s responsibility and those that follow, to nurture nature and be protectors for the environment that God has provided us.
I take comfort in having found my professional niche in an industry that even as it handles death, can do much to improve life on this earth. I will happily share what I know of the merits of water cremation with anyone wanting to do something good for the health of the planet even as they leave it.
CAROLINE AQUINO is a practicing Catholic who is discovering the many ways that her faith intersects with her professional life. Against the shadow of death from COVID these past two years, working with the team that is leading the effort to bring water cremation to the people of Hawaii has been a
by Caroline Aquino