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Celebrating the Life of “The Voice” – Crisanto C. Sapaula 1935-2009 series

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This is a special series of blog posts capturing the experiences and activities of a how the Sapaula-Carballo family handles the death of a beloved family member, sparking an unplanned, international, trans-Pacific family reunion.  It is my intent with this series to help share and enlighten the celebration of the life of my late uncle, a pillar of the media in print, radio and TV broadcast journalism – Cris “The Voice of Davao City” Sapaula.

I was fighting through traffic,  simultaneously attempting to gather my thoughts and notes together as I headed to the radio station for my morning show on Chicago’s AM 850, Money Smart Radio.  I was fired up, looking forward to sharing some new money tips during the MoneyN’Motion Moment with Matt and interviewing top life insurance lawyer, Frank Darras,  during the Expert’s Corner.

As most Chicagoans would do, driving inbound to the city, I was gesturing to drivers all around me and barking orders as if they could hear me, in orchestrating how the traffic flow should be moving quicker than it should.  A futile effort, nevertheless, but it made me feel better.  (Some call this road rage? )

Getting the Call

However, this morning was different. My cell phone begins to ring.  I pick up, it is my father.  “Matthew, I have some bad news,” he says.  Now, I do not receive calls from my father very often, much less calls beginning with the words,”I have some very bad news for you.”

Suddenly, I mentally freeze up.  All the bad things that could happen in my life flashed before me.  I frowned and my mouth remained stuck open.  “Oh no,” I said to myself.  The last time he called me like this was when he told me  that my mother was admitted to the emergency room.  She was feeling faint at work and was admitted for precautionary tests due to her irregular heart beat.  Plus, thoughts pertaining to my three children gripped me.  I held my breath.

Matthew, your Uncle Cris is on life support“, my father says. “What?”, I said.  My Uncle Cris, my dad’s brother, had been a man I looked up to.  His two children, “Ate” Tessa and “Kuya” Mike, are my first cousins.  They lived with us and grew up together as they moved here from the Philippines to obtain their college education in the United States.  Since they lived with us, they were considered my older sister and brother.  (“Ate”, meaning older sister and “Kuya”, meaning older brother, are respectful titles Filipinos use in addressing an older relative or friend close to them, honoring the position they hold in one’s life.)

Ok Pap, I’m praying right now…thanks for letting me know,” I said as we hung up the phone.

My Uncle Cris had long been recovering from a stroke he suffered from eight years ago.  I felt frazzled, thinking about how my cousins were feeling.  I thought about how the voice of my father, a proud, strong man who expressed very little emotion, changed to a shaky, upset sound, while telling me this news.

I walked into the radio station and found it difficult to get started.  “Is everything alright, boss?”, as my board engineer Joshua asked.  “Yeah man, I just got some disturbing news…my Dad called me and informed me that my uncle is on life support,” I said with an uneasy look.  The only thing I could do was stop and pray, comforted only to know that God was in control of all things.

Fifteen minutes into the show I get a text message from my sister, Jocelyn, in Los Angeles.  It read:

Uncle Cris just passed away …

and then seconds later,

Dad’s home alone if u wanna stop by

Josh, throw a commercial spot in…I gotta take a break,” as I pushed the mic away, hung  up my headphones and got up out of the sound booth for breath of fresh air. Whew…

I called my father from my cell phone as I paced up and down Milwaukee Avenue.  “Hello?”, my father answered with a crackled voice, something I have never heard before.

Are you okay, Pap?”, I ask.  He replies with a more collected booming voice with added bass, “I need to know if you want to come to the Philippines for Uncle Cris’s funeral.  Your Auntie Nena and I are already booked to fly out.  We’re meeting in San Francisco and flying together to Manila.”

No Hesitation – Family First!

A recent memory of our family at a recent  Thanksgiving dinner, popped into my head.  It was at these times, after many years of my father and aunt immigrating to the United States, that I began to learn of the struggles and pain they underwent during their childhood surviving World War II in the streets of Manila.  My sister, Jocelyn and I, had just recently learned of these stories within the last few years, finding them invaluable and for once, began to learn of our identity as Filipinos and what it meant to be a Sapaula.

No doubt Paps, I’m therewe’re there for you,” I told him.

What was upon me, was a bitter-sweet moment.  Bitter that a great man, a great brother, a great uncle of ours, had just passed away.  Bitter that I had to hear and feel my father act in a way that I never experienced my whole life.

On the other had, a sweet moment that our family would come together again.  An international family reunion was to take place, after having “life” take over, in pursuit of our American dream.  This caused us to get more and more distant throughout the years.  I swear, if it wasn’t for email, text messages, Facebook and Skype, our family communication would be less consistent.  I mean, who takes the time to write letters anymore?

Facing a Little Nostalgia

The last time I was in the Philippines was fifteen years ago, in 1994.  Ironically, this was the final week of my grandfather’s life, “Lolo” Sergio Sapaula.  He was the father to my Uncle Cris, my own father Adelmo, Auntie Crispina, Auntie Macrina and Auntie Rosenda.

“Lolo” (Filipino title, meaning grandfather) Sergio Sapaula would raise up these five children as a single parent after World War II, as my grandmother had died during events still unknown to us grandchildren.  We grandkids dare not ask, for some reason, waiting for our aunts and uncles to open up and share.

We heard stories of how brutal the Japanese soldiers were walking the streets of Manila during World War II.  The would share near-death experiences they faced during the bombing of Manila.  In fact, my Auntie Macrina, the oldest of the five children, had to teach my father who was two years old at the time, how to play “dead” in the streets.  This was a survival tactic she taught in order for the Japanese soldiers to mistake them for dead, or risk being stabbed by a bayonet to death.  Imagine trying to keep a two-year old quiet, let alone having to play “dead”.  Incredible.

Back to my last visit, in 1994, I was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps.  I was stationed nearby on active duty upon “The Rock” known as Okinawa, Japan.  I recall only having $200 with me and it sure went a LONG WAY in Davao City, Philippines.  I was on a seefood diet,  then, that’s right SEEfood.  I SEE food, I ate it!  I had tons of barbecue chicken, rice and plenty of San Miguel beer with family and new friends.

Building the “Family Bank”

My Uncle Cris had taken me to the popular radio station he managed and sit alongside the DJs while on-air.  I thought it was awesome introducing new songs and taking calls from listeners.  Perhaps it was at this time, fifteen years ago, my Uncle Cris planted the “media seed” in me.

Perhaps this signals the beginning of the “passing of the torch” – building and leaving the legacy of the work our family had started and will continue.  After all, my Uncle Cris was “The Voice” of Davao City, a highly respected journalist and broadcaster.  I find it compelling to realize that I am reaching an age where the people I have grown up with are having their parents pass away.  As in the Disney movie, The Lion King, this IS the circle of life.

As I write this from 35,000 feet in the air above the Pacific Ocean, I have the great opportunity to travel with my sister Jocelyn and mother, Roni.  We have had the last 9 hours of flight engaged in conversations, laughter and appreciation for the gift we have called FAMILY.  I discover that I am becoming more and more satisfied with the wealth of family and relationships than I am with money and fame.  NOTHING can replace this richness…money can’t ever buy it.

I look forward to our connecting flight upon reaching Manila, heading to Davao City.  It turns out that the airline magazine of Philippine Airlines, Mabuhay, has a contributing article from a friend of my cousin Michael.  Jojie Alcantara wrote a wonderful piece about the rich attractions of Davao City. I’m looking forward to prestine beaches combined with the upbeat contemporary lifestyle of Marco Polo Towers, fresh tuna and relaxation at Villa de Mercedes.

Check in with us tomorrow as we’ll upload photos, perhaps some video, as we celebrate the life of my Uncle Cris, the legacy we inherit and the gift of a family reunion before us.  I am pretty sure it will have heart wrenching moments as well as outbursts of laughter.  Thank you for joining us as I look forward to sharing insight to our unplanned for family reunion…but with purposeful intention.  Stay posted!!

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