Danding Cojuangco's Granddaughter, Michelle Juban, Remembers Her Late Lolo
Today was my grandfather’s 40th day in heaven. During the Mass celebrated for this occasion, the priest said that letting go is done in three parts. That helped, though it is only now that I am coming to my own understanding of each phase of letting go, even as I am still grieving.
Through the last 40 days, I have found myself grateful for being surrounded by family and friends. They have made the grieving process more bearable; and through shared stories, I have learnt more about my Lolo than I ever thought I knew. God works in mysterious ways and showing just how great a man my Lolo was one of them. To many he was “The Boss” who always looked after his employees, a tycoon with a heart for the less fortunate, a true friend till the end, and a farmer-turned-businessman who never forgot his roots or the persons he met along the way. It was most moving to meet so many persons whose lives he touched and listen to their stories. Many of the stories brought me to tears, realising just how great his heart was for his people.
To us, my grandfather was always simply our Lolo—or “Wowo” to my younger cousins. He was our friend and the supporter of our dreams. I see his face and warm smile every time Moon River plays, hearing him whistle over the instrumentals. I am so thankful he whistled often because this is how I carry him now in my everyday life.
My earliest memories of my Lolo are of our Christmases spent together. Every year, we would have family photos after Santa came with gifts. I distinctly remember one Christmas when I thought Santa was upset with me because of a gift that I later treasured. I tried to hide, but Lolo sat me on his lap and gave me a hug. Even back then, he was not a man of many words; but I remember the love and security I felt in his arms and in his smile.
Later in childhood, Lolo became responsible for our love (and addiction) to horses. He took us to the farm where he asked one of the staff to “make sure [his] grandchildren like horses”. He wanted us to share his passion— but we took the “liking” a little too far. Before he knew it, he had four of his older grandchildren completely obsessed with riding. It was something that really made him happy, initially. You see, his plan was for us to learn enough to repurpose his former racehorses and turn them into competitive equestrian athletes, a plan that worked up to a certain level. Our dreams then took over and we needed more than just ex-racehorses.
A couple of years down the track, we were all treated to a night in town to watch Cool Runnings in the local movie theatre. It was through that movie night that our World Championship/Olympics dreams were born. My cousin, Danielle, and I excitedly decided that we would compete for the Philippines in the world arena, all the way to World Cup/World Championship/Olympic level that night. The faces of Lolo and Ta (short for abuelita or grandmother) lit up at our excitement, but we were made aware of the hard work ahead if we wanted to make our dreams a reality.
Our journey to the international arena was not all glamorous, but my grandparents made sure they showed us their support all the way. Early mornings were spent getting the horses ready for the local shows. Ta would then join us for an early breakfast, making sure we didn’t leave the house a bundle of nerves with empty stomachs. One morning I managed to have a little too much carrot juice instead of a hearty breakfast and realised all too late that I should have had something a little more substantial. Thankfully, Lolo and Ta showed up at the showgrounds with my parents, complete with a cooler full of adobo sandwiches, BLTs, and drinks. They pulled out their picnic chairs, sat by the tailgate of the horse float, and stayed there all day while we competed and discussed our results with them. That day, Lolo and my parents told me that losing is part of winning because it teaches you what to improve on and to take losses as opportunities to improve and become better in whatever it is that I do. This is one lesson I continue to apply to every aspect of my life.
I was blessed to spend quality time alone with Lolo when he would pick me up at the break of dawn for our morning drives to check on the horses. We did it so often that after a while, I had memorised the horses in each paddock and was able to talk about their bloodlines with him. He would always ask me which was my favourite and why; then he would tell me his and give me his reasons as well. Sometimes we would even have friendly bets on which horse would turn out better on the racetrack.
It was through those mornings with him that my “eye for a horse” developed and I was subconsciously trained to look for certain features that gave horses an edge on the track. Later, I was able to apply that knowledge to my own horses as well as to the horses I helped source for friends.
When the time came that I needed a more talented horse, my grandparents and parents surprised me with Kayak Van Het Granvenhof (aka Fatty), who would change my life. But first, they made sure that no gifts would be handed out to any of us on a silver platter. We were given great horses, but they still needed training and maturing. They were safe and would hone our skills. They were talented, but tricky enough so that we had to do the right thing by them to get results. Fatty was my best horse, and perhaps soulmate. I remember being afraid of him because he was so big and tall, like a giraffe, when he arrived. He had all the talents but was still raw. He became the perfect horse for me to grow with; so we went through all the levels together—with blood, sweat and tears—to get to world-class competitions. When I would talk to Lolo, he would ask me about our progress and encourage me whenever my confidence faltered. My dad did the long days of training and competitions with me. All the way, he and my mum made just as much sacrifice—if not more, along with my siblings—as I did to get to where I wanted to go. The horses and my family’s constant support taught me another valuable lesson: In life, you get only as much as you put in.
My cousins and I achieved our dream together in the 2002 Asian Games. As usual, Lolo and Ta watched and supported us throughout the whole trip. I’ll never forget Lolo hugging me and telling me how proud he was of me that day when we brought home a silver medal for the Philippines. He knew the struggle I went through, yet let me be until the end so I could figure out how to make things work. He fed the fighter in me, and I appreciated him for always encouraging the good fight in us. That regional championship victory at the Asian Games was the first of many. The years following saw us win World Cup Qualifiers; qualify for the World Championships; win a SEA Games medal; and represent the Philippines and the Pacific League at the World Cup Final.
It wasn’t always all about the horses with Lolo though. Growing up, I have fond memories of us sitting with him at the round table in his playroom as he introduced us to eating crispy fish heads, trying a local delicacy of locusts with Ta, and educating our taste buds on some of the most bizarre flavour mixes out there—like patis (fish sauce) with santol (cotton fruit) and mangosteen, or hotdogs in a bun with ketchup and mayo and, of course, peanut butter with jelly.
When it came to my love life, Lolo did not meddle. In earlier days, he said I should tell people that he was my boyfriend to keep the boys away. Later, he stayed quiet and kept his distance until a suitor would warm up to him; but he was always protective. He only ever commented on my relationships twice; and only because he knew something that I did not. He did it very lovingly, however, taking me aside, reminding me that he never commented on my personal life, then said what he had to say. Gentle as he was, his few words of caution and the simplicity and truth of what he told me cut deep and stayed in my heart. They were times that, when I look back, I see just how great his love and genuine concern for me was. I am so grateful he was at peace when he knew I was engaged to marry my now-husband, Santi; and that he was at the church when we were presented after our pre-Cana seminar.
My Lolo’s life was full, and it overflowed with love and happy memories, memories that will make him live on in our lives and the lives of those following us. The work he started and the good he did will be celebrated by all who were blessed to know him or to work with him. He is, and will always be, missed; but I am at peace knowing he did so many wonderful things in his “short” lifetime that helped so many. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, there is A Time for Everything. The last 40 days were times for crying then laughing, then grieving. Now, my dearest Lolo, it is your time to dance, to whistle, to rest and to have endless peace. I still feel pain, but I know that it will mend. My Lolo never said “goodbye”, so I won’t either. Instead, “See you soon, Lolo [but not too soon]”.