Triporati Producer Gwynn Gacosta just returned from a remarkable trip to the Philippines to fulfill her mother’s final wishes. She wanted to scatter her mom’s ashes in the river where she used to swim as a child. The funny, challenging and poignant journey is captured in her own words—a blog post we wanted to share with you:

Final Resting Place

I planned my funeral, once, when I was ten years old.  I decided that I would be cremated, and my ashes sprinkled in all five oceans.  (Not only was I morbid, but I was also grandiose.) My future husband would travel around the world, leaving bits of me wherever he went.

My mother died 5 years ago of heart failure, and she told me that she, too, wished to be cremated. She also wanted her ashes taken to her hometown in Bulusan, Philippines, then scattered in the river where she used to swim as a child.  Immediately after she died, I started the process of making that wish a reality.  The funeral home placed her remains in a plastic box wrapped in a silk sheath so that it would go through airport security without hassle.  I wrote to my relatives in Bulusan and told them the plan.  To my surprise I was met with protests from my family, led by the parish priest, who insisted that she would never be at rest unless she was buried somewhere where people could actually visit and reflect.  Since no one in the family had the money to go anyway, we put her final wish on hold and her urn on the mantle.  But I always knew that one day I would take her.  She had counted on me.
When my mother’s sister died in Bulusan in the spring of 2008, I decided that I would go the following spring and reunite my mother with her family.

Dealing with death is hard enough emotionally, but the logistics of traveling with human remains can make it more complicated.  About two weeks before my trip, I contacted the funeral home to find out what I needed to get her remains on the plane and through customs.  For a service fee of $300, they would file the necessary paperwork with the Philippine Consulate, which, according to its website, included the following:

* Notarized Funeral Director’s Certificate, certifying the urn contains only the remains of the deceased, and should also include the following information:
* Last known address of the deceased in the Philippines (if available);
* If the urn will be hand-carried to the Philippines – provide the name/s of the person/s hand-carrying the urn, as well as their flight itinerary, and their contact information and address in the Philippines

In addition, they needed originals and three copies of:

* Certified Copy of the Certificate of Death;
* Disposition Permit for the transit of human remains to the Philippines – this can be obtained from the local health department of the county where the death was recorded;
* Letter Certification from the local Department of Health where the death was recorded, stating that the cause of death was not due to a contagious or communicable disease;
* Current Passport of the deceased - only four (4) copies of the Passport data page/s needs to be submitted, not the actual passport.

I called my Dad, who was irritated at the fact that (1) it was going to cost us so much; and (2) after 5 years, he had no current passport for her, because after all, she’s dead; and (3) as far as he knew, there are no official street addresses in the Philippines, not to mention that Mom’s “last known address” burned down years ago.

“Let’s just forget the whole thing!” he said.


Anyway, it took another couple of days but the paperwork was eventually filed.  Sure we might’ve made up a few street addresses in the process but who’s to know?

Dealing with the death of my mother made me feel ten years old again, and considerably less mature than I was when I planned my own funeral. When you’re ten, you don’t think about your loved ones having to go to the Consulate to pay for permission to scatter you around.  You don’t think about how much it will cost for the travel itself.   Nor do you think about the people in those countries – their beliefs and customs – if they would approve of someone being scattered in the very river they bathe in, wash their clothes in, etc.  In Death, even the most compliant, think-of-everyone-but-oneself kind of person will suddenly assert themselves and command you to go above and beyond. But you will do it because that’s what their last wishes are, and you love them that much.

At the end of the mass in Bulusan, the priest summoned me up to the altar and I carried my mother’s remains in my arms.  He read his blessing in Tagalog and though I had no idea what he was saying, I felt my body collapse in the realization that this was permanent, and I would be leaving her.  Difficult, sputtering tears followed.  Afterwards, I walked with my relatives to the family plot, and everyone took turns holding her along the way.  Much to her family’s relief, she was buried alongside her sister and her parents, in a place where the family could visit her, clean off her grave stone and leave flowers and offerings during All Souls day.  And where, most importantly, she would finally find peace.

But I still had one last job to do.  Because, in my own mind, family plot or not, she would not really find peace until she was in the river again.

I woke up early on the last day of my stay in Bulusan, and walked out.  The air was thick as usual, people were already up and puttering about.  But no one noticed as I ducked to the side of the doctor’s office, which is now where my mother’s old house stood.  The stone steps led to the back of the building, to a platform right at the river.  I approached the rushing water with caution, holding the tiny baggie filled with the last bit of her remains.  I knelt down on the platform, opened the baggie, and carefully sprinkled its contents into the wild, churning water.  And as she followed the current to the sea beyond, I thanked her for the journey.  She really was home for good, and I was the one who had made sure of that.

Filed Under Asia, Culture, Feature, final wishes


2 Responses to “Returning Home to Bulusan in the Philippines”

  1. Melodie on May 5th, 2009 11:55 pm

    Gwynn, great article. It really took me there along with you on your journey. I’m sure your mother is so grateful for your hard work and graciousness, she taught you well. I really hope that you get to travel as much as you want so that you can blog about it here. That was truly heartfelt.

  2. Lon a.k.a Dad on May 6th, 2009 12:46 pm

    Very nice, guess You, Dustin and the rug rats will have to make a few more voyages. But you will have to write much more stuff to make any money at $50 buck per hour. Also, if you want hubby to travel the world casting your ashes here and there someone has a ton of paper work ahead of them.

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