JONATHAN VITUG, 21 DECEMBER 1970 TO 06 JUNE 2014: HIS DEATH AND CREMATION

At 9:28 PM Manila time on Friday evening 06 June 2014, my brother Jonathan leapt from the 31st floor of a condotel in Makati to his death.  Earlier at 8:20 PM, I departed the house for work and bade him goodbye and told him to keep his head up and to hang in there and believe that things will get better.  I assumed then that he would just stay put in his room, distract himself with the ABS-CBN telenovelas that he loved to tune in, and perhaps just figure out how to carry on another day being unemployed and clawing his way out of it. Little did I know that 10 minutes after I left, he then left the house (our helper, Josie, saw him depart, and he told her he would only be out for a little while) to perform the drastic act that changed our family forever.  He left behind a brown manila envelope on our computer table addressed to me (“To Joseph–Very Important”).

Two hours after his death, my dad received a phone call–it was a Makati policeman who had to relay the horrible news to us.  He first wanted to have my dad come to the precinct so he can relay the news, but my dad insisted he relay it to him straight over the phone.  The police relayed that Jonathan was dead, and that there was no foul play as they checked the CCTV footage from the building that show him going up the elevator alone and confirmed his hand and footprints on the railings on the building’s penthouse balcony where he took his leap.  After hearing the news and relaying it to my mom, sister, and Josie, my dad then called an uncle of mine and relayed the tragic news; my uncle then relayed it to my aunt who then relayed it to other relatives.  One of my relatives had friends among my high school batchmates and relayed it to some of them.  They deemed it best to relay the news to me only when I come back home from work on Saturday morning.

My father was instructed that my brother’s remains were now at a funeral parlor in Pasay City, and they can go there to identify the body and make the appropriate arrangements.  My dad, mom, and sister proceeded to the funeral parlor.  The remains were in a body bag, and the staff offered to show pictures on how my brother looked at the time of death.  My father and sister saw the photos and deemed it best that my mother never saw it as it would make her even more distraught than she already was.  He landed face-first on the ground, crushing his face–a face that many people would deem handsome.  His clothes were torn from the impact, his belt and eyeglasses were crushed.  Ironically, pehaps because it was placed on his backpocket, his mobile phone remained intact.   They were told that the police needed to perform an autopsy on the body as a routine medico-legal procedure in incidents like these, and that it would be performed Saturday morning.

My family had to return home after identifying the body to gather more proof on why my brother did what he did.  They decided to check our bedroom and lo and behold they found the manila envelope on the computer desk in our room.  They opened it and found a six-page letter–it was my brother’s suicide note.  His direct messages to each one of us in the family (and our helper) were sweet and loving, but throughout his note he kept on repeating how it was unbearable for him to wake up every morning with the dark, gloomy thoughts he was thinking, and considering that since he is no longer employed he would be unable to help out in my family’s financial situation that he deemed it best that it was time to end his life.  He also instructed that his remains would be cremated as soon as possible and no wake is to be held.  My family decided to then go back to the funeral parlor to make the arrangements complying with my brother’s wishes.

At 5 AM Saturday morning, I took a scheduled break from my work (I had two hours more to go before my shift ends) and I decided to check on my Facebook.  I was shocked when I saw the message by a high school classmate about Jonathan.  Initially it was disbelief, and then it was, “Oh no, he didn’t–he pushed through with his threat.”  I had to call my mom from my cellphone, and she confirmed the news and relayed how he died, though she told me to stay put and complete my work and we’ll deal with this matter when I get home from work.

Alumni post

I relayed the tragedy to my seatmate in the office, who relayed it to my boss.  My boss deemed it was best that I had to end my shift early so I was instructed to gather my things and go home and my teammates will take care of all my pending cases, and my seatmate will accompany me to the taxi bay to grab a cab home.  They also advised they’ll keep tabs on me to make sure I arrived home safely.  So at around 5:30 AM, I gathered my things and went home.  Since it was early in the morning there was no traffic so I made it home within 25 minutes and went up to my parents’ room.  My distraught parents first asked if I know of an envelope addressed to me and I told them I was not aware of it–we had a conversation and pieced together what happened, that Jonathan placed the note after I left for work, and we all read the suicide note together.  They also advised that I take some sleep as they work on finalizing the arrangements as they will hold a mass later that afternoon before Jonathan’s remains were cremated.

I tried to sleep at around 7 AM, but I could only manage about 1 1/2 hours and I couldn’t get back to bed.   My well-off aunt, uncle and four of their six children came over our place to visit at 9 AM and console us.  My mother and sister were weeping as they are being consoled.  But my sister collected her wits enough as she acted as the key coordinator handling the nuts and bolts of making all arrangements run smoothly. She had to deal with the funeral parlor to await when the autopsy was completed and about scheduling the cremation while my mom was coordinating with a priest friend of hers to officiate a final mass before Jonathan gets cremated.  The autopsy was completed at 10 AM and the cremation was scheduled at 2 PM.  But the priest’s scheduled mass at UST would be finished at 1 PM, and he would be coming from UST in Manila, so we needed to move the cremation to an hour later so we can hold the final rites.

We had to claim the body and prepare for the cremation anyway, so it was decided my mom and dad will proceed to UST to pick up the priest while my sister and I ride with my aunt and cousins to proceed to the funeral parlor to finalize arrangements and prepare for the final rites and cremation.    Fortunately once we got to the funeral parlor they agreed to move the scheduled cremation.  So it was a matter of settling all bills.  My aunt and cousins stepped forward and offered to pay part of the bill.  The funeral parlor gave us a room where the body would be temporarily placed so we can pay our last respects.  Initially, we refused to avail of a temporary coffin and would rather have the remains in a body bag when the funeral rites were performed  instead of paying the extra cost for the coffin, but a temporary coffin (a whitewashed wooden casket) was provided anyway–apparently the charges were waived.

My sister also notified three of my brother’s closest friends back in high school, and they promptly dropped by the funeral parlor about an hour after we arrived at 11 AM.  Some other friends of these friends also came by with us, and also some other relatives from both my mother and father’s side came to pay their respects.  One of my cousins and one of my brother’s friends stepped out and provided snacks to the guests present.  My mom, dad, and priest arrived at around 1:30 PM and we decided to promptly hold the service there and then.  It was relatively quick and was done in 30 minutes.  We were ready to leave by 2:30 to bring the remains to the crematorium but my dad instructed us to wait as another cousin (you can describe her as a celebrity) called in and advised she’ll drop by to pay her last respects.  However, that cousin was caught in traffic and after around 3:15 it was decided to proceed to the crematorium, which is located at the Pasay City Cemetery, a 30-minute drive (with traffic) from the funeral parlor.

From our previous experience with a cousin who passed away over 20 years ago, we presumed the cremation process would take around four hours.  But the crematorium advised the process would only last one hour.  They first showed the process of entering the body into the furnace, and then when the process was almost completed (in the previous longer process, I was told, they used to display the body in gradual stages–this creeps me out and I don’t want to look at that).  I ventured to look at the first stage as they entered the body in the furnace, making sure that I don’t see his face, as I was told that even if they fixed it up post-autopsy, it was unrecognizable.  My sister, a cousin, and a few other guests ventured to look at the body at the end-stage of the cremation, when it was reduced to ashes and a few bones that would be crushed to fit into the urn.  My sister noted at the end-stage, there was no more intact skull but only a few intact bones.

At around 5:00 PM, the ashes were now gathered in a marble urn and handed over to my sister.  The family and guests formed a circle and we took turns stating our last remarks and prayers.  Then we all departed for home–though my mom felt it was too soon to head back home and wanted to go to a restaurant to unwind.  So we decided to have a late snack/dinner at Shakey’s Quirino.  My dad invited my celebrity cousin to join us there since she didn’t make it to the last rites and cremation, and she (with other relatives in tow) joined us and paid her respects and condolences.

After that meal, we head home and placed Jonathan’s urn on the coffee table in the living room area with his college graduation photo accompanying it.  There were some neighbors within our townhouse compound who came to our house to visit and pay their condolences, and with them we prayed a novena for Jonathan’s soul.  We  then all called it a day as we slept and tried to recharge for Sunday mass the next day.

COMING UP:  HIS MEMORIAL AND INURNMENT

 

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