A mother’s hobby became this son’s way towards healing 2
Rafa Ojales with a portrait of his mom Susan. Photo courtesy of Keeta PH

How collecting antiques became this son’s way of dealing with grief

After losing her to cancer, Rafa Ojales found a way to remain in touch with his mother: by taking on her hobby.
RHIA GRANA | May 10 2022

It’s Mother’s Day and Jose Rafael Ojales, like many whose mothers have passed on, is at a memorial park visiting his mom’s grave. Unlike many, however, the Cebuano bachelor does not wait for a special occasion to pay his respects to the woman who gave him the gift of life. Rafa has been doing this weekly for a while. His mother died of breast cancer in July 2015. It’s his way, he says, of updating her about the goings-on in his life, and in the lives of his father Dioscoro and older brother Paulo. His approach to coping with grief and loss. 

Apart from these weekly visits, however, there’s another way the 29-year old Rafa finds healing: by taking on his mother’s hobby of collecting antiques. Over the pandemic, he opened Raphael’s Antiques, a shop of vintage decor and furnishings located beside the Ojales family home in F. Escario Extension, Cebu City. Rafa’s aware it does sound like it was named after him, but it’s really after the archangel Raphael who represents healing. 

Susan Ojales
Mrs. Ojales liked collecting and curating antique items.

Rafa’s mother, Susan Ojales, started collecting and selling antiques when she was only in her late teens. The hobby continued on until the Tacloban native got married and started a family in Cebu. She was an accountancy graduate but was very much into fashion and home design. “She liked collecting and curating antique items,” shares Rafa.

The Ojales couple used to have a shop at Isabelo Arcade along General Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City. They opened in the year 2000 but Susan would decide to close shop 14 years later. Unknown to her husband and two sons, she was then already diagnosed with breast cancer and was taking various herbal medicine. The only person who knew about her condition was her sister. Susan had requested her illness be kept secret from her own family.

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Raphael's Antiques
Raphael's Antiques houses a huge collection of vintage decor and furnishings.

Rafa, the younger son, started to notice his mother was not in good shape only in mid-2015. He had just finished his BS Biology degree at Cebu Doctor’s University Hospital and was on a break. “She asked me to drive her around, which I found weird because she liked to drive by herself,” recalls Rafa to ANCX. “Sabi niya she’s tired.”

In June 15 of that year, Mrs. Ojales complained of intense pain and requested Rafa to bring her to the hospital. “We thought it was just pain, nothing serious. Then the following day, the doctor told us that she had Stage 4 breast cancer. It felt like my world fell apart,” Rafa says, his voice beginning to shake.

Raphael's Antiques
Thru collecting antiques, Rafa feels that he's somehow able to connect with his mother in mind and spirit.

Ako lang ang kasama niya noon. When my dad and brother arrived at the hospital the following morning, I went straight to the car and burst out crying. I never imagined losing her,” he adds, moving away from his phone camera as he wipes his tears. 

Mrs. Ojales, only 55, would pass away a month later.

Rafa describes his mom as a fierce woman—strict and a perfectionist when it comes to matters related to business. But as a mother, she’s the kindest. “Sobrang mabait,” he says. 

Ojales family
Rafa describes his mom as a fierce woman—strict and a perfectionist when it comes to matters related to business. But as a mother, she’s the kindest. “Sobrang mabait,” he says. 

“What I miss most about her is her unconditional love. She loves without expecting anything in return. She’s also God-fearing. She always tells me to pray every day, thank God even when I’m not in a good situation. She’s also very compassionate, she helps the less fortunate,” Rafa adds. 

Prior to her illness, she advised him to take up Culinary Arts. He followed her wish a month after she died. “I excelled and became a head chef in three years. Then I decided to challenge myself by working abroad. I got a job in San Francisco,” Rafa tells ANCX. The plan was to stay in the US for good but a vacation in the Philippines would open him up to something he never thought he’d be interested in—antiques collecting and restoration.

Ojales family
Rafa with father Dioscoro and older brother Paulo.

Since Mrs. Ojales’ death, her antiques collection has remained untouched in the family bodega at home. But when Rafa started checking them out, and restoring some of the pieces, he felt an unexplainable joy. “It makes me happy that old items can be of use again,” he says. And this happiness just adds up when he’s able to share it by swapping antiques with other collectors.

Currently, Raphael’s Antiques houses a variety of items, from Chinese porcelain to aparadors, comoda, and day beds, from altar tables to dining tables and lamps. Clearly, if there’s a special gift Susan Ojales left behind, it’s this passion for collecting. And thru Rafa, this fascination for everything old has found new purpose. Maintaining the antiques shop has become a bonding activity for the three Ojales men. And of course it’s allowed Rafa to somehow commune with his mom, connecting with her in mind and spirit, and possibly, eventually, lead him to inner healing.