In Memoriam: The Heroes of 9/11

Cable channels yesterday ran a marathon of documentaries about 9/11 while news networks covered the memorial services held at Ground Zero, New York; Pentagon at Washington DC and Shanskville, Pennsylvania.

Photo from scientificamerican.com

I realized last night that this day deserves to be written about. In my history as a human being, this is one of the most important stories in my lifetime. While my grandparents had the holocaust, my parents had the outrageous 60s and Martial Law — our generation had 9/11.

Photo from topusapost.com

But how to begin? How does one write about a day that brought unimaginable terror to thousands of people who did nothing to deserve their fate, save show up for work like they always do every morning? How does one begin to even put into words the emotions brought about by an event of this magnitude and the thousands of stories on why and how this even came together?

If we think about it, what is an act of terrorism, if not an act meant to dispel all the hope and valor in the human heart?

But on that day, hope and valor were not dispelled.

Discovery channel’s “The Heroes of the 88th Floor“ tell the story of 2 such people: construction manager Pablo Ortiz and construction inspector Frank DeMartini. Everyday folk just making a living and doing their jobs the best way they could.

Frank De Martini with his children Sabrina and Dominic. Photo from courierpostonline.com.

In the midst of one of New York City’s most terrifying hours, they found a way against all odds to find an open stairwell for the occupants of the 88th floor so they could make their way out of a building on the verge of collapse.

After evacuating their colleagues, they searched what remained of the floor with an area of over 40,000 square meters amidst smoke, fumes and debris to ensure no one had been left behind.

Photo immediately after the crash in the North Tower. From hitfix.com.

And when they were done with the 88th, they decided to keep looking. When everyone else was scrambling to get down, they made their way up to the 89th when they heard banging on the stairwell doors. Using a crowbar to pry apart the plastered walls, they eventually freed the stairwell door and got more than a dozen other people out of the building.

Still it wasn’t enough. Up they went to the 90th and rescued even more people who were just waiting with bated breath to be given instructions to evacuate.

They probably would’ve kept going up, taking them closer and closer to the crash site… Except the way was already far too blocked. From the 91st floor onwards, no one would survive.

So they started on their journey going down. An ordinary person would’ve kept going. They didn’t. They stopped at almost every floor to see if anyone had been left inside. Eventually they made it to the 76th floor, the sky lobby where they were able to free a man trapped inside the express elevator. Where many had failed to pry open the door, Frank and Pablo succeeded.

That was the last anyone had seen or heard from Frank and Pablo for within minutes of rescuing the man inside the elevator, the World Trade Center North tower had finally collapsed.

Pablo Ortiz with his family. Photo from blog.chron.com.

More than 75 people have a second chance at life today because of these two selfless acts of heroism.

In the same documentary, a few minutes before the North Tower collapses, a middle-aged man sits by the 12th floor stairwell holding the hand of his colleague — a distraught woman struggling with asthma from the trip down 72 floors, the smoke, fumes and her own body weight.

Some ways down their trip, she had taken long pauses to try to catch her breath. At the last few minutes just as they were getting closer to freedom, she tires and despairs.

The rest of their group had long since reached safety.

One man sat by her side refusing to leave her alone. He stayed until firefighters had finally located them and he was forcibly ushered to go on down (otherwise he would be thrown down the stairs), with the reassurance that they would carry his friend down to safety.

He finally exited the north tower just as the building began its final collapse. His friend, and the firefighters inside never made it out.

Thousands of firefighters lost their lives that day. The first ones to arrive when the call was sounded braved their way inside the growing wreckage of the World Trade Center to scour every corner of every floor to find people who needed to be saved. As time went by and it was imminent and certain that the towers were on the verge of collapse, they didn’t flee. They continued in, on and upwards in the attempts of scaling 110 floors to do what they could to find as many survivors as possible.

When the towers finally collapsed, no firefighter managed to even reach the floors above the 50th. There just wasn’t enough time.

Hundreds were saved by the courage and valor of these firefighters, all doing what they could in the call of duty.

Firefighter Dustin Stevens from Franktown Fire and Rescue and his fellow firefighters observe a moment of silence Read more: Metro firefighters remember responders lost on 9/11 - The Denver Post.

On the ground, inside the building and on the air, there were heroes all around.

The passengers of Flight United 93 was the flight that fought back and thwarted the attack on the White House. A handful of passengers took it upon themselves to try to regain control of the plane to whatever end. Perhaps none really knew what would really happen when they had regained control, they just knew they had to try something.

The struggle and distraction provided by the attempts of the passengers to get inside the cockpit made the hijackers lose control of the plane. Instead of making it all the way to the White House, the plane crashed at a 45-degree angle in a reclaimed coal strip mine a few miles from Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Motorists on the ground witnessed the plane falling rapidly and at an angle right above their vehicles as many prayed the crash would spare the school that was just a few miles away from that coal mine.

The crash site in Pennsylvania. Photo from thewebfairy.com.

None survived the crash. United Flight 93 fragmented violently upon the crash.

While speculations still abound about whether the target was indeed the White House, what we know is that their efforts spared any further deaths on the ground.

Yesterday we grieved, remembered and honored the victims and all our heroes. Whatever the purpose of the attack that fateful day 10 years ago was, it left an entire world devastated. I saw the footage last night and the cries, the expressions of utter despair on the faces of those who were on the streets of New York that day are etched in my mind.

But in the midst of that, many of us are also humbled by the courage and valor exhibited by these true-to-life heroes.

Lives that were irrevocably changed by acts of kindness and humanity to remind us all that in the midst of tragedy, the human heart still prevails. Let them be an inspiration to all of us who are fortunate to still be here with the chance to make a difference.

And maybe then, we can truly say that we’ve confronted terror in its face, and have finally defeated it.

Remembering One Year Ago

This Friday night, something compelled me to reread the posts I had written a year ago. This same time period last year, dad was already in the hospital fighting for his life while cancer cells eroded whatever healthy cells remained.

When I look back at all I had written back then, it’s remarkable how the constant refrain then was how badly I was looking for a semblance of normalcy amidst our crisis.

On hindsight, it seems rather selfish. But it is the way it is. We take normal for granted until it’s taken away from us and replaced by some big event, crisis or tragedy. Then we realize that the normal means all is right in the world and you wish you could just have it back.

Almost a year since dad passed away, I still cringe with the memories it brings. It temporarily eclipses any other thought from my mind when I remember. And for a brief moment, I find myself transported back to a time I wish I could forget. Not to forget dad, but rather, to forget the emotions that I still vividly recall. There are times when I almost wish he had just died suddenly and quickly. That way, the awful memories of how difficult it was for him in his last few months wouldn’t exist.

A parent’s illness and death changes you irrevocably.

While normal life is eventually restored, there will always be a part of you that exists in a layer of wistfulness. The memories, while dormant most of the time, will continue to resurface every now and then. There will always be a tiny, subtle hint of longing, with the unshakable feeling that something in your life will always feel incomplete. And the memories of his last weeks… God, those memories. Somehow, in some way, you’ll feel like you’ve aged just a little bit. Reached a different plane of adulthood that you don’t cross until you’ve buried family. In some way too, whatever other crisis comes your way in its aftermath, even a year later, will always pale in comparison to those months.
On the up side, I feel him always in my heart, always with me and always by my side. I feel like my recent birthday and the surprising peace I felt on that day was his gift to me. In my loneliest and saddest moments, I call out to him and feel that he sees and understands my pain. I feel reassured that there’s a force, an energy in the universe that’s surrounding me and keeping me company.

I visit his crypt in all important occasions that go by, at least whenever I can. I didn’t understand before the compulsion to visit graves, lay flowers and light candles. Now I understand. Since he isn’t with me anymore, his remains are the only tangible thing left of him I can see, touch and visit. Offering flowers and lighting a candle are the only things left I can still do for him.

Next week marks his first death anniversary. I still miss his scraggly, wrinkly, weather-beaten face as much as I did on the day he died. Someday, I pray my memories of him taking his last breath would be softened and finally overtaken by my memories of him as he was when he was happy and alive, and when all in our world was well.

35 Years Old

I celebrated my 35th birthday 5 days ago.

It was kinda cool. It was just a normal day filled with tons of work and problems to mend.

In the evening, since my birthday coincides with my office’s Anniversary, my team and I managed to put together a gigantic, grand party in the office with our Clients. The party left most people with happy memories of a classy but fun night with drinks, food, music, good company and loads of fun. And best of all, no scandals.

Halfway through the party, I went home to spend the remaining hour of the day with my hubby.

After last year’s debacle of one of the worst birthdays I’ve ever had, this year’s birthday was awesome. The normalcy, the predictability of it all but the difference — everyone’s nicer and kinder. It’s not such a bad thing.

Turning 35 was a bigger deal than I thought though. It must be the warnings of my Obstetrician that getting pregnant on or before I turn 35 was highly recommended.

Well, my 35th birthday has come and gone and I remain, as always — very unpregnant. No matter. It’s not for me to decide when we do have a baby, when we don’t really do anything to stop it from happening.

But one thing I realized though.

Being in my mid-thirties, married and childless sometimes makes me feel a teensy bit lonelier than I thought I’d be.

At our age (plus/minus 5 years thereabouts), my girl friends are either married with kids, or completely single. I can’t think of a close female friend who’s married with no kids.

So I find myself often in the company of  single female friends who either talk about the guys they meet and like; or married-with-kids friends who just talk about… well… their kids. It’s not so bad. But sometimes I do find myself wishing I had someone who understood the adventures, triumphs and travails of a childless married woman.

But anyway, that’s a topic that deserves its own entry someday.

For now, I am grateful for this birthday that came without the blues, for the first time in a long time. I think at some point, one starts to accept that birthdays aren’t all they were cut out to be when we were kids. So no expectations and gratitude for a normal pleasant day makes for… well, an extremely awesome way to spend the day.

Last. I haven’t posted in awhile, and I do apologize. I will make it up. Soon.

Seasons of Love

525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. 

How do you measure a year in a life?

My aunt’s passing opened a new set of floodgates that forced me to contemplate on the topic of life and death all over again.

These days, I’ve been having numerous conversations with my immediate family about how dad died. Contrasted against how my aunt passed away, dad actually died beautifully. If there ever was a perfect way to move on to the next life, I’d say dad’s manner of death was just perfect.

The months when he was sick, all the way until the precise second his heart stopped, he was always surrounded by those whom he loved best.

We all made our peace with him, and he with us.

We all had the chance to let him know and feel that whatever else had happened in his lifetime, he will always be husband and father to our family, and that he is loved.

Even while confined to his hospital room, we found a way to make sure we’d spent quality time with him — watching TV together; sharing magazines; talking and arguing about my younger brother’s love life (or the absence of one); contemplating the mystery of my work and persistent busy schedule; alternately teasing him and annoying him while his grumpy nature would cause send us into fits of uncontrollable laughter…

While transitioning from life to death, there we were again. All around him, holding his hand, whispering words of love and encouragement to let go and take God’s hand while soft music played by his bedside, guiding him toward the path of light and into God’s lovely dwelling place.

Whatever else happened in the course of our relationship with him during his lifetime, he knew at the end how well he was loved.

Somehow, these memories now help soften the agony of remembering those months. Close to a year later, we can finally look back and remember him fondly. While the images of his pain and struggle still remain in our heads and hearts, the passage of time has also cushioned the intense pain it used to bring about when remembered. Now, we can talk about him with less sadness. We can laugh in memory of our grumpy, ultra-sensitive and clueless dad and wonder if he’s already found a new cigarette buddy while his spirit has finally found a peaceful resting place.

My aunt’s passing is a different story. Separated (physically and almost legally) from my uncle, and physically apart from her daughters, my cousins.

At the time her illness was discovered up until her death, my cousins were in Canada. I hear that even during the difficult months of her chemotherapy sessions, they weren’t talking much then either.

When she died, my uncle and cousins were all in Canada. On her death, her sister was in the ICU waiting room along with my brother and sister-in-law.

My aunt is not even a blood relative. My/Our blood connection with her exists because of my cousins.

(Though this biological fact doesn’t lessen the gravity of her death to me — of all my aunts, she was one of the few I was close to while growing up. Apart from being the one to introduce me to reading romance novels, she was one of the few who took the time and had patience enough to spend time with me and play with me as a child.)  

On her death bed and in the last few hours of her life, she couldn’t see, feel, touch or hear those dearest to her because they were all too far away. They couldn’t even bring in a mobile phone for her kids to be able to say their goodbyes — her body was too vulnerable to germs that even mobile phones couldn’t be brought into her room.

After 2 years since they last spent time with her, my cousins came home to Manila to see their mom already embalmed in her coffin.

I cannot imagine the pain and grief they must be feeling now. And somewhere in there I know is a guilt that won’t easily go away.

I’ve always believed — and, since dad passed away, I’ve known — that death is hardest on the ones left behind.

While a loved one is going through the agony of an illness, you’ll never really know what to do and how to behave. While dad was sick, it hurt me that some members of my own family could not find it in themselves to be there for him. On his death bed, none of his own kin (siblings, aunts & uncles, etc.) were around, even if they knew it was just a matter of time. During his wake, his blood nephews and nieces weren’t even around — when his nephews and nieces from my mother’s side were around almost everyday.

What I realize now is that we all deal with these things in our own way. Not everyone is equipped with the strength to withstand the pain that comes with a loved one being terminally ill. Many just naively hope for the best that death is not yet around the corner and there will be days yet to spend together.

In the end, the best thing anyone could hope for is the reassurance, the knowledge and certainty that when their loved one was still around, that they did everything they could not just to ease their time while they were still around, but also to do everything they possibly could to make them feel loved and cherished.

It’s the gift of bestowing the knowledge on one you love — that they lived a life worth living; that he/she can move on to the next life at peace and in harmony with the world, knowing that he/she had truly loved and was truly loved in return.

How do you measure a year in the life? Measure in love. Seasons of Love. 

Written in memory of Josefina Martinez Qua-Hiansen. Ever-loving wife, dedicated mother, loving aunt and friend. June 1957 – June 2011. 

Another (Lost) Battle with Cancer (and more thoughts about Chemotherapy)

My aunt passed away late last night. Once more, cancer had taken another member of our family.

My aunt’s cancer this time around began in her uterus. How sad though that she thought of seeing a doctor only after 2 years of excessive bleeding. We’ve been through enough cases of cancer of the uterus in our family to immediately recognize the symptoms of its beginnings. Of all the cancers, cancer of the uterus is one of the easiest to treat. When all else fails, a hysterectomy would have been more than sufficient to prevent its spread to other organs.

Her surgery and chemotherapy were just sadly, too little too late. 

Her cancer though was not as advanced as dad’s was.

Which was why for all of us, her sudden death remains to be an alarming shocker.

She was rushed to the hospital late at night on Sunday since her blood pressure had plummeted. She had a case of UTI (urinary track infection) which on normal people would be nothing… but because her immune system had been compromised from her last chemotherapy session, her white blood cells and platelets were close to none.

Her condition stabilized a few hours later.

Tuesday morning, the doctors had already planned on sending her out of the Intensive Care Unit since she seemed to doing fine.

Until an hour or so later when her blood pressure plummeted again. By this time, the bacteria from her UTI had spread to infect her blood. Because of this, her kidney failed. Her lungs were struggling. It didn’t help that she was diabetic.

A few hours before midnight, her heart just stopped.

Complications from chemotherapy was the cause.

I wrote about chemotherapy sometime last year when we were contemplating treatment options for dad. I’m no doctor so don’t take my word for it. But if you’re reading this and are in a predicament where you have to deliberate on chemotherapy or no chemotherapy, this is my advice:

Research first. Study. Know what it is you or your loved one are getting into. Chemotherapy for most does more harm than good. While it is the “one in a hundred shot of a possible remission”, for most it just intensifies the pain they go through, and frequently hastens death. 

My aunt is the 3rd close family I’ve lost to cancer. My grandfather spent a year having chemotherapy. He died after one year. Before his death, he told my mother that he regrets having gone through it.

Chemotherapy is not for the weak, nor for the faint-hearted. The few I’ve known who survive chemotherapy whose lives are either saved or prolonged are those who have the spirit and will to keep fighting even it means bearing with all the agony treatment will put them through.

Til Death Do Us Part

I started writing this post two months ago but couldn’t bring myself to finish writing it.

Yesterday, an officemate’s husband passed away and I remembered this unfinished post. I had a moment of intense sadness then, and suddenly found myself with just the right words to write to finish this post. It’s long and may bring a tear or two, but do stay with me. I promise (I hope) that the end of this long post will evoke a reaction, strike a chord or just make you smile. Cheers!  


Growing up, what I knew of marriage was confined to the world I saw within my childhood home.

While friends would share stories about how their parents were either separated or about to be separated; or some of my friends’ fathers were caught to have had affairs, mistresses or worse, illegitimate families — my biggest marriage sob story was that my parents fought and bickered almost on a daily basis — like cats and dogs who’d snap and bark at each other all day long. Their fights could last for as long as an entire episode of Champoy, an entire day, sometimes several days of sniping, snapping and barking. At its worst, cold war ensues.

But for the most part, on family day-Sundays, they’d be back walking hand-in-hand while taking us kids out for a stroll in the mall or a short frolic in the park. Every now and then, we’d catch a glimpse of them stealing a quick kiss on the lips or a peck on the cheek. In the car, they’d tease each other (wholesomely, I might add — or at least I hope it was) and laugh uproariously at a joke that only the two of them would understand. At the dining table, they’d get into long discussions and debates about the latest news report, their friends, my grandparents or whatever blazing new topic is the pick of the day while my brother and I would wish for the long conversation to end so we could just get back to our rooms. At night while my brother and I were tucked into bed sound asleep, they’d spend hours in the family room catching up on their late-night soap operas.

Because of what I saw and heard, I grew up thinking that this is what marriage should be.

Looking back now without the rose-colored lenses of innocence, I know their marriage was far from perfect.

Some of my most painful memories as a young adult involved some of the biggest fights mom and dad ever had.

In one fight, I had seen my mom so distraught and blinded with anger that she lunged at my dad without realizing she was holding a pair of razor-sharp giant scissors. Thank God she missed hitting him. But that same fight made my mom so angry that she left home for the very first time ever, leaving all of us behind. She wasn’t gone long, she also came back that same night. It was a big deal though, for someone who never set foot outside the house without my dad in tow.

On another occasion, they had a fight and dad left home. He was gone for several days without anyone knowing where he had gone. Again, a first for him. He eventually came home four days later stinking from filth and alcohol. By then, my mom was barely coherent from panic and worry. Especially when she discovered that the night before, he had been seriously contemplating jumping off the Guadalupe bridge to drown himself in the Pasig River.

I still remember the scene that greeted my eyes when I eventually checked up on them an hour after dad had finally come home. They were seated on the couch with dad’s arms around her while she cried her heart out.

Days before dad passed away, I marvelled at how volatile mom and dad’s relationship continued to be even after almost 4o years of marriage. I saw for myself how my dad’s fight for his life was rallied on by his love for my mother; and how the absence of her presence, her love and patience (when they fought) even for just a few hours would evoke in him a feeling of incomparable despondence, enough to make him wish he could just end it all.

As all happily-ever-after love stories go, they kissed and made up again a few hours later and she was back to holding his hand, cajoling him out of his morose mood, and simply taking care of him the same way she’s always done all these years.

But as we already know, happily-ever-after would end there as days later, his body succumbed to his illness. On his death bed, I saw my mom crushed and broken for the first time in my life.

The tears I shed and the ache in my heart at that exact moment when she had to let him go is something permanently etched in my heart.

Because in some way, I caught a sudden glimpse of myself…. and crumbled with the intensity of a new kind of emotion I’ve never felt before — pure, raw, unadulterated fear.

The fear of realizing that how much I love my husband… is no different from how much my mother and father loved each other. How their worlds were so fused together, that their worlds could not exist without the other in it. How they were each others’ sources of lightness, darkness, sorrow, happiness and everything else in between. How they spent almost 40 years of their lives together from morning til evening; from sleep to wakefulness. How their lives took on meaning only because they had each other.

And how ultimately when it was time to let him go, it didn’t only leave my mom a grieving widow. It left her suddenly alone, suddenly incomplete, suddenly… just one.

It strikes fear in my heart to suddenly comprehend that this kind of love — its depth, its intensity  —  can turn you inside out, rip you apart in ways that nothing else in the world can.

Already, I see the similarities. How my sun rises and falls with my husband. How tuned we are to each others’ moods. How one frown, one bad day from either of us can dampen the spirits in our home. How days that we don’t speak to each other can make me feel like wanting to just drown my sorrows until I’m numb from the pain. But conversely, how just a simple text from him to say hello in the middle of a workday can lift my heart and bring a smile to my face. How one touch, one hug can make all my troubles disappear for a fraction of a second. How at the end of a long day, all I long for is the sight of his face cracking a joke to dispel the ache in my bones. How I can’t even have a restful night’s sleep without him beside me. How at the end of it all, my world only feels right when I know he’s feeling alright.

Til death do us part. I never really thought about what this marriage vow truly meant until I saw it unfold right before my eyes.

More than my own pain as a grieving daughter, my biggest undoing upon dad’s death was seeing my mom battle a new kind of demon all on her own.

A primal and raw pain when his body was lowered into the crematorium and later on, when his remains took its last trip and were finally laid to rest forever. A sunken, defeated and panicked heart the first few months upon being truly alone now after 40 years of having him always by her side, for richer or for poorer.

For weeks she wouldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. What has become her routine of cooking dinner every night for 3 (mom and dad + my brother) would now just be a meal for 2. What help he used to give her in keeping the household organized, the small things — taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, heating the bath water — would now be tasks no one would help her with. What used to be their 40-year routine of watching a movie or a new show after dinner before they turn in for the night would now be something she would have to rediscover all on her own.

During that time, she would succumb to sudden fits of crying and stay crying for the rest of the day. She told me back then her crying fits and bouts of depression were uncontrollable and took on a life of its own — she wanted to stop but couldn’t. She was always afraid to be alone. Eventually she found a way to keep herself so busy that she would come home at night ready to just drop dead.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months.

But little by little, I saw small, subtle changes. It started with a dream. A fleeting glimpse of his familiar figure hunched over the rickety armchair he loved sitting in.

One day, I saw mom smiling again.

And I began to realize that how much they loved each other in life doesn’t change nor go away in death.

At home, she has the picture of dad we used during his wake. In it, he’s happy, smiling, jolly — wrinkles, whiteheads, age spots and all.

Every day, she begins the day talking to his picture. During the day, she whispers questions or stories to him in her heart. While going about her household chores, she pauses and silently consults him in her head. Every week she continues to visit his resting place, lay flowers and light candles. She sits by his crypt for hours and speaks to him as though he were just right there beside her. She looks around for signs that he’s still around. Every now and then, a butterfly lands on her shoulder as she walks the length of the mall with my brother. Sometimes she smells the scent of candles or flowers at home. Once, she slipped… but miraculously did not fall. Once still, she sat silently by his crypt wondering if he could still hear her, when a yellow petal softly touched her cheek. There were no yellow flower beds anywhere nearby.

At night, she takes his picture to bed beside her and bids him goodnight. He visits her in her sleep and she wakes up feeling calm and at peace.

And now she looks back and remembers all that he was, and all that he is to her. And she knows that all that he is, all that he was — wrinkles, whiteheads, age spots and all — will always be with her, will always be a part of her.

And that in the end, it was all worth it.

And suddenly, my fears take a pause.

And I realize — this is the kind of marriage I want.

While there are times when I wish my marriage wasn’t as co-dependent as ours is; while I sometimes envy friends whose husbands didn’t mind it even if they spent days away from each other for each of them to spend time with their respective friends; while I sometimes wonder what it would feel like to not care as much I do when we’re having one of our bad days and aren’t on speaking terms…

…I also see how blessed I am.  Few people are lucky enough to find someone who makes going through the sometimes-painful, sometimes-exhilarating roller coaster ride with — all worth it. Despite the constant ups and downs, despite the tumultuous everyday — I do marvel that after 10 years, he’s the only one who can make me laugh myself silly til my sides ache (even if I’ve heard the same joke over and over and over again). He can still make me feel giddy and excited even when we’re doing something as mundane as going to Greenhills or Robinsons Galleria on a weekend. He can still make me feel like the prettiest, sexiest woman in the planet — cellulite, sun spots, unwanted curves, white hair and all. He can still make me look forward to something as simple as movie night at home with a bowl of pop corn, the airconditioner turned on at full blast and us lying side by side on the bed while snuggling under the covers.

After more than 10 years and hundreds of fights later (and anticipating the hundreds more coming our way in our lifetime), I’m blessed enough to know that he is still and will continue to be the only one I want to grow old with; the only person I want to hold-hands with when I’ve reached the last years of my life; the only face I want to see every morning, everyday for the rest of my life; the only one to sit on a rickety old couch with while watching reruns of old movies.

At the end of it all, perhaps everyone deserves nothing short of a love like this. The kind that makes you weep with its intensity and depth, the kind that makes you tremble with fear, but also the kind that makes life worth living.

For richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, til death do us part.

Thank you Mom and Dad, for the gift of your love for each other and showing me that the only kind of love worth having is the one you’d give your everything for, til death do you part.

Written in memory of G. Wang Jr. and V. De Ocampo. Clickable photos for original source.

The Color of Mourning

I’ve always loved vibrant splashes of color.

A year ago, my wardrobe consisted of bright yellows, deep reds, jade greens, aqua blues and splashy oranges. Paired with black leggings, white jeans or khaki pants, choosing my wardrobe for the following day was always a pleasant few minutes of rummaging through my rainbow-colored closet. On bad days, wearing happy colors created a lift in my heart and caused me to feel just a tad bit more cheerful.

When dad passed away last August, I had to shove all my colors to the back of the closet and start taking out my blacks, whites and grays.

In Chinese tradition, the immediate family mourns the death of a loved one by wearing mourning clothes for one year. The strictest Chinese families stick by the 365-day uniform of a white top paired with a black bottom. In some families, the customary black mourning pin is always attached to the white shirt.

In our family, we were a little less strict. No happy colors first. Stick with subdued, muted colors.

So I spent the first few weekends after dad’s death weaving my way through shops and stalls with the intent of rebuilding a new wardrobe that made way for a grieving daughter.

It’s been almost 9 months since then. Inside these 9 months, I’ve gotten used to directing my gaze immediately to clothing racks that held blacks, whites and grays in my shopping trips. My office mates had also gotten used to seeing me in these colors.

And so it was that last week, I thought that perhaps it was time to start easing my way back into color. ‘Course, the supremely hot weather in Manila now isn’t doing much to dissuade me from rummaging through my closet again for the summer dresses I used to wear in search of anything that could help ease the heat. So I began with the blues. Royal blue one day. An aquamarine scarf the next. (I’m not quite ready to start with the shades of red and yellow quite yet. That will wait til one year is done.)

Not surprisingly, it evoked a lot of reactions from friends who no longer remembered what I looked like in color. I recounted the story many times. The story of why I had to give up color all this time.

It’s no surprise that these days, I’ve been dreaming of dad a lot more often than usual.

The months have flown by. Inside these 9 months, we’ve all had to cope with all the repercussions of dad being gone in our own way, in our own lives.

It’s been a wild roller coaster ride.

The first two, three months were a struggle to recover lost balance. To find some level of physical normalcy after the months of agony. Get back the hours of sleep you’ve all lost. Try to regain some of the weight lost to lack of food and proper rest. Bouts of illness that were testament to the stress the body and spirit had to endure.

The next few months was all about finding a new level of normal.

When the dust has settled, what’s left is a woman who is now a widow, alone for the first time in her life after almost 40 years of having my dad by her side almost every minute of every day. She goes to sleep at night clutching dad’s picture tightly to her chest, and wakes up every morning bringing that same photo downstairs with her to keep her company in the dawning hour of the day.

And among us left fatherless, we go on with our own lives and deal with the impact it has left on us and our families.

While I struggle to recover normalcy in my own marriage after the toll it has taken on my husband and I; my brother embarks on a journey to find himself and reach a state of balance as he accepts his new role as the head of the family.

All this, as my younger brother who grieves the least among all of us during the days of dad’s wake — is besieged by intense emotions he can’t explain, can’t express and can’t deal with as easily as he’d like to.

Throughout this time, I think we were all on the brink of an emotional breakdown.

I know that for many months, I was sinking in a pit of despair I tried to ignore and brush aside. There was a restlessness in my heart, a sense of anxiety that something bad was about to happen again. And that nothing but bad things would happen to me, and to those I loved. And the responsibility of putting it all back together was on me.

It’s silly, I know.

But 9 months later, I think we’re all ready to try to start living again. To start enjoying life again. To have hope again.

I dream of dad a lot nowadays. Suddenly though, thinking about him isn’t as painful as it used to be anymore. I missed him for the first time early this week without feeling a tug in my gut.

For the first time, I’ve come to understand and accept that I will never see him again, not in this lifetime anyway. I will never receive another text message from him again where he either talks about money, asks me when he’ll see me, or complains to me about mom, my siblings or uncles. I will never walk into their home anymore and see him sitting on his favorite worn and sunken armchair as he puffs cigarette smoke in the air. I will never sit in the dinner table in front of him again with his corny jokes always tinged with a layer of moroseness. I will never again ride in the car with him as we try to cram months-worth of stories in a 15-minute ride to work.

I will never get to see, hear, touch or smell my dad again. But that’s okay.

Cliche as it may sound, he is in my heart, in my mind and always will be a part of me. In my moments of despair I call out to him and pray to watch over me and take care of me. I don’t know if he does, or if he’s still busy looking for a new cigarette buddy.

Wherever he is, I think I’m ready to start bringing my colors back out again. In my head, I think to myself — hey dad, you like my outfit today? It’s blue.. not your favorite color but I’ll get to it someday soon. Til then, I hope you like me in blue…