PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - December 28, 2015 - 9:00am

NEW JERSEY —The last time the family was together was when we buried our dad, Frank, in 2010.

It was a searing, draining reunion we had in 2010, and we were all emptied — of our tears, of our joy, of our wholeness as a family. We clung to each other to keep afloat. Dad was our rock. We bobbed up and down the sea of life when we no longer had him to hold on to.

And then last Christmas happened.

Despite a life threatening bone fracture last September, our mom Sonia led my sisters Mary Mae, Geraldine, Valerie and I, her two sons-in-law Ed Ramirez and Ping Sotto, and four grandchildren Chino, David, Miguel and Tricia, in a reunion in New Jersey. If there is one word I would use to describe it, it would be, “Cherish.” Just like the song.

The last time my parents’ grandchildren were together for Christmas was during Dad’s last Christmas in 2009. We knew his days were numbered after he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in September 2009. We kept the faith, but we knew that for anyone, not just for those who are ill, that any Christmas could be one’s last. And with Dad’s illness, we all celebrated that Christmas in 2009 as if it were his last. And it was.





But he was remarkably strong then — amazing his doctors by being able to drive his grandkids to their last Christmas dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse. He was a living miracle, fuelled by the desire to cherish the holidays with his beloved grandkids.

He died seven months after, in July 2010. His remains were flown to Manila and when we laid him in his final resting place, we were complete.

And then we went our separate ways. I to Manila, Mary Mae to California, Geraldine to Philadelphia and New Jersey, Val to Manila. We would get together in the years following Dad’s death, but one sister would always be missing. One grandchild would not be in the photo. On my mother’s 75th birthday in January 2015, my sisters flew to New Jersey to celebrate but I couldn’t join them.

When you take absences in the family for granted, you are allowing a hairline crack to be a fracture. And then one day you wake up and the family is like a mosaic.


This Christmas, the stars aligned, the schedules jibed, and most of all, God willed for all of us to be together.

With 14 new additions to the family — of the four-legged kind — we were thankfully still all complete. Though Val had to leave her six dogs in Manila, Mae brought her dog from California to New Jersey and suddenly we were 11 people and eight pet doggies under one roof in my sister Geraldine’s post-Victorian style home in a charming neighborhood in New Jersey. It was a rambunctious, chaotic and joyous reunion, a refill of the joys that were spilled when Dad passed away — till our cups and our wine glasses runneth over.

How do you feel, I asked my mother. “Happy,” she smiled, though she would shake her head as if to say, “Happy, but I wish your Dad were here…”

My nephew David summed it up. “Fabulous!” he said.

That’s how the beloved missing member of the family would have wanted it.


Temperatures in New Jersey and Philadelphia hit record highs this Christmas, and so it was a warm celebration for us, literally and figuratively.

During Christmas Eve Mass, the Indian-born priest remarked, “I thought I was in India rather than in New Jersey.”

From New York to New Jersey, we would be visited by our uncle Edward, the quintessential guide and go-to guy.

My sister Val’s in-laws Joey and Ellen Sotto de Leon and their daughter Jen and her family joined us on Christmas Day. They are the epitome of a support system.

On Sunday, the feast of the Holy Family, my sister Geraldine said that her parish priest was going to visit us for lunch. Geraldine laid out her best china on the table and we donned our Sunday’s best. After 1 p.m., the car stopped and lo and behold — instead of the monsignor, my first cousins Jojo and Ian Loleng alighted. Geraldine and my cousins had conspired for this surprise and my sister Mae’s shrieks and squeals made me think Alden Richards just walked in the door.

 I had not seen Jojo for years and suddenly we were all hugging each other and choking with emotion. It was my dad who first taught him how to drive, he recalled. Jojo came with his wife Beverly, a doctor, and Ian with Susanne, a bank executive, and their children Julian, Anton and Hanne. Susanne came with her freshly baked specialty “Kringle” — which is a Danish roll stuffed with almond paste and topped with toasted almonds.

I read somewhere that Christmas is where the feeling is. Celebrating Christ’s birth and the ties that bind so that we, too, could be the face of Christ to others.

For the Mayors, the feeling was in a Victorian home in New Jersey, chaotic and cherished.

And we had our own Kringle, and ate it, too!

Merry Christmas, everybody, and may the new year be laden with cherished memories!


(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)

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