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… 

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