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Remembering friends

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 31, 2020 5:00 pm

When did we become friends? Maybe around 25 years ago. Then, I worked as president of the advertising agency J. Romero & Associates and as a member of the Management Association of the Philippines and that’s where we first met. I think I met Mayo Lopez first. He invited me to give a talk on how to creatively turn around an organization, something I had done at our agency, and we became good friends after that.

I don’t remember precisely when I met Greg Navarro. Not long after that. I think the three of us belonged to the same committee and so we always sat together. Those were the days of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and I remember Greg Navarro coming into the lunch meeting holding what looked like a leather notebook plus a cigar. I looked at the cigar and asked him, “Are you planning to use that on Monica Lewinsky?” Then the three of us burst out laughing.

Maybe that’s why we almost always sat together. We were equally irreverent and we loved to talk, joke and laugh. Plus they were both taller than me, so we looked good together. They were both married. I knew their wives, their families. I even taught Greg’s oldest daughter how to write.

At the time we met Greg was in the upper management echelon of Punongbayan & Araullo. Mayo was one of the outstanding professors of Asian Institute of Management. We were all of us active in the business world. I was the oldest among them. I retired first. They always gave me things to do. When I was making jewelry they ordered from me. When I was teaching writing, they sent me students. We stayed in touch.

We would meet for breakfast occasionally. Greg would always pay the bill because he was still gainfully employed. It was at one of those breakfasts when Mayo told us that he had cancer. “But I’m doing all right,” he would always say and Greg and I would avoid looking at each other. We took the news as good friends do and continued to meet for breakfast and for birthday parties.

I don’t really know when Mayo went. Or maybe it did not surprise me because we knew his cancer was getting worse. I don’t think anyone told me or maybe I was out of the country. All I know is that, one day, he was gone and I was sad. I hate it when a dear friend dies. I don’t want to go to the wake and dissolve into a puddle of tears. I go to wakes of people who are not too close to me. When a dear friend of mine goes I just pray and say, “I’ll see him again one of these days.” Then time marches on.

So you can imagine how shocked I got when, on a Father’s Day, after having lunch with my son to pay tribute to his fatherhood, I received a text that said Greg Navarro had died. He was supposed to have a heart operation early one morning but he had a heart attack much earlier and he was dead. He was lying in state at the Heritage Park.

I got that text as I was walking into my son’s garage. I turned on my heels and left, almost running towards the Heritage Park. Greg was so young. How could he have gone just like that? I just went to his birthday party a few months back. Now here he was, lying peacefully in his coffin. I couldn’t even cry. All I could do was talk to Joe Araullo and his wife, Ampy, and wonder why this happened. How terrible it was!

Why am I writing this now? Greg died maybe three or four years ago. I haven’t really thought about him. I don’t know why I dreamt of him last night. In my dream he was my husband and I was angry with him because he was working so hard, I didn’t see him anymore. He would come home and walk past me then leave again. He didn’t even stop to say hello or goodbye. 

I got so angry in the dream I decided that I, too, would go somewhere, do something. So I got dressed, walked past him without saying anything and left the house. I went shopping but could not find anything that I really wanted to buy. Since I had run out of places to go I decided to come home. He was there looking for me. “Why are you angry? What did I do? Will you forgive me? I am so sorry. Let me kiss you. No? Then let me hold your hands.” I agreed. We were friends again. In love again.

That’s when I woke up wondering: why did I dream that? What did it mean? Maybe it simply means I must remember my friends who died before me. After all — sigh — it is All Saints Day and friendship sometimes comes pretty close to sainthood.

(Painting) Eleven A.M., 1926 by Edward Hopper