I’ve always known the definition of a leader but feel like I never truly understood what it meant until very recently. Several weeks ago, I made a trip to San Diego, CA to attend the funeral of my uncle and godfather, Raul Dela Cueva (or, as I call him, “Daddy Raul”). Despite being both my uncle and godfather, I didn’t know much about Daddy Raul. Having grown up in the Philippines and moving to Canada at 14, I never had the opportunity to spend much, if any, time with him because he lived in the US. So, as unfortunate as it is, my trip to San Diego was the first and only time that I got to learn more about him as we—his family, friends, and community—all gathered to celebrate his life.
Daddy Raul was born in the Philippines on August 08, 1949. He was a very humble and hardworking man who felt great pleasure in helping others. When I visited his home in San Diego, I found out that he was extremely smart and loved to read. He had shelves of books that he collected over the years and I am told he often shared his knowledge with people. During the funeral visitation, I also learned from those who knew him well of how he lived a life of service dedicating it to his country, his people, and the Lord. At just 20 years old, he joined the military. He served in the US Navy for 24 years and earned the position of Master Chief Petty Officer, the highest enlisted rank in the US Navy. He spent much of his time doing volunteer work in his immediate community. He volunteered at the Church of Most Precious Blood in San Diego where he served as a parishioner for more than 35 years, sang in the church choir, helped feed the homeless, and more. He also volunteered as a hospice worker at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, sharing his love and compassion with the terminally ill.
But what amazes me the most, is that Daddy Raul didn’t stop there. He made sure to extend his blessings to the people in his home country. He was a member of Palauig Association USA (PAUSA) in Southern California and was involved in their medical missions in the Philippines. And each time Daddy Raul would visit the Philippines, he provided tremendous help for the poor and those who were less fortunate than he. He built houses, set up scholarships, provided financial assistance to families by paying for medical bills and funeral services, gave church donations, supplied people with basic resources like food (rice, sardines, noodles, etc.), uniforms, and musical instruments, taught English, and so much more. He was involved in and supported the good cause of different organizations in the Philippines including the St. Augustine Cathedral and the San Isidro Labrador Church in Iba, Zambales. He did not discriminate, even giving a helping hand to the indigenous people of the Philippines called the Aetas who are often displaced and marginalized; and wherever he went, he always set a positive example for others to follow.
Of course, Daddy Raul didn’t let his dedication to serve others get in the way of family. While visiting my relatives in San Diego, I got to know more about them. Daddy Raul has two children, Christopher and Jennifer whom I call Kuya Chris and Ate Jen. He also took in my cousin, Kenneth (Kuya Kenneth) into his home and raised him like his own child. To them, Daddy Raul was a kind and loving father who deeply treasured his family.
Daddy Raul reached out to everyone. From family to relatives, friends, and even strangers. Hearing all of this from others as I sat silently in church watching person after person after person go up to the podium to say nothing but good words about Daddy Raul during the visitation ceremony, all I could think of was the magnitude of difference that he made in the lives of people and how inspiring the way he chose to live his life was. And at this moment, I thought to myself,
“This is a leader. This is what it means to lead others and to lead a good life. And this is what I aspire to be and do.”
When the day of the funeral arrived after two days of visitations, I watched in awe as the US Navy paid Daddy Raul a tribute. It was a very bitter-sweet and honourable experience. But as the funeral ceremony went on, I started to feel more and more uneasy. The whole thing reminded me of my own father’s death back in 2003 and a lot of the feelings I had then came flooding in. During the burial, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness. I kept thinking about how I wasn’t able to be a part of Daddy Raul’s life and that I missed out on something big…something important. And now I wouldn’t get another chance to get to know him and make up for the opportunity that I missed. But as I hugged Daddy Raul’s wife, my aunt and godmother, Marie Paz (Mommy Marie), who was his partner and right hand in all of his missions and any and everything he did, I realized that his legacy continues. He left this world a different and better place than he found it. So that others may live on and keep moving forward. And that is not something to be sad about, but rather something to be proud of.