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.

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. 

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… 

Day 46. Watching my Father Die, Religion and Pop Culture

While watching an episode of NCIS last night featuring a woman who witnessed a murder happening next door, I suddenly started having flashbacks of watching my father die.

On a separate occasion months before he passed away, I also remember one particular episode of Criminal Minds where Penelope Garcia rushes to the aid of an assaulted man, and holds him in her arms as he dies. She says something, “One minute he was alive, the next he was just… not.

While watching dad die, that line did pop up in my head for a brief moment in time. I recall his nurse also telling me then “look, he’s taking his last breath.” I don’t know how she knew that, maybe it comes from years of experience.

I didn’t feel as morose about that thought back then. But the flashbacks I had last night were alarming.

Yes, Penelope said it right. One minute he was alive and breathing, the next he was just… not alive anymore.

Literally watching life leave a human body is profound.

In Harry Potter, JK Rowling creates a distinction between people who have seen death as it happens, and those who have not.

Harry Potter: What are they?
Luna Lovegood: They’re called Thestrals. They’re quite gentle, really… But people avoid them because they’re a bit…
Harry Potter: Different. But why can’t the others see them?
Luna Lovegood: They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.

Watching dad die raises a plethora of new questions about mortality and life after death.

With a Roman Catholic upbringing, surrounded by nuns and Jesuit priests in my most formative years, not believing in heaven and hell is unlikely to happen. I’ve always had faith that these “places” actually exist.

As an adult, I’ve created a slight redefinition of who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell.

While the stiff and unrelenting Catholic Church strictly espouse all their traditional, conventional and outdated rules and regulations supposedly set by a very harsh, judgmental God; I believe my God is a loving and merciful God.

Blame the Jesuits, if I believe that when you’ve already exhausted all you can to make an honest and clean living, that stealing from rich people to feed your starving family is forgivable and does not merit a soul going to hell.

On this premise, then I always knew in my heart my God will welcome my father into heaven.

I believed that… until he actually passed away. Seeing the frailty of mortal human life, watching life leave his body, watching him take his final breath, it made me ask questions.

Where is he going?

Is he going anywhere at all?

If there’s no heaven and hell, then did he just truly, unequivocally cease to exist?

And if heaven and hell do exist, did my father just go to heaven?

What if he was sent to hell?

And in heaven, does he remember his life? The ones he left behind?

Does he “watch over us” as everyone keeps saying?

If he is “just around me and in me”, how come I can’t feel his presence anywhere?

Why does it feel like he really is completely gone, and I can’t even feel his spirit anymore?

What really happens when a person dies?

I guess I’ll never know.

It’s been a month and a half since dad’s death. The intensity of the emotions has gone, and in its place is some kind of calm and resigned acceptance.

Yup, life has gone on.

My mom and younger brother (who lived with my dad) are rediscovering a new kind of “normal”. Especially for mom, the time that passes doesn’t come without pain and the feeling of loss, but thank God for this invention called “work”, time passes more quickly and the mind is not left idle.

In the midst of all unanswered questions about what happens when we all die, and where my dad now is, I suppose I’ll just take comfort in a song that’s brought me comfort for many years now since I heard it the first time.

Jars of Clay wrote this song for a good friend of theirs who had already passed away from HIV. Before his death, he confided his fears about dying and what happens to him after.

In death as in life, we always pray that we won’t go through the journey alone. And this is the balm my heart needs to reassure me that in his death, my father is not alone.

Be still let your hand melt into mine.
The part of me that breathes when you breathe is losing time.
I can’t find the word to say I’ll never say goodbye.

I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

I saw the host of silent angels waiting on their own.
Knowing that all the promises of faith
come alive when you see home.
Hold still and let your hand melt into mine.

And I’ll fly with you through the night
so you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
My tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

Shed your heart and your breath and your pain and fly.

Now you’re alive.
I’ll fly with you through the night so
you know I’m not letting go.
I’m not letting go.
Tears like rain fill up the sky.
Oh my love I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.
I’m not letting go, I won’t let you go.

Day 32. Life Goes On

If dad were still alive, today would have been mom and dad’s 38th wedding anniversary.

Mom chose not to celebrate it, even with us. But she did pay him a visit at his crypt, lit some candles and laid out some fresh flowers.

It’s been a little over a month, and life has gone on. The “normal” that I longed for is back. I don’t find myself staring off into nothingness anymore on idle moments. I’ve remembered what it’s like to do things I used to love doing. I can watch our DVDs again. I can read the tons of books waiting for me again. I can surf the Net, chat with friends, spend time on Facebook, and blog about other things apart from my dad.

The flashbacks have decreased significantly. When they do come, pushing them out of my head is easier — almost second nature. I find that there are still many things I have not come to resolve within me. Memories of his last few months are still too painful to remember and think about. It will take some time.

I dream about him sporadically. In all my dreams, he’s already ill but still alive. It’s different variations of the same scenario come back to haunt me in my dreams. Once or twice, I remember crying in my sleep – only I can’t remember if those were caused by dreams I had of him, or if it was something else entirely.

Life goes on, and we all grieve in our own way.

My older brother has seen fit to take over the role of dad. In the hopes of not repeating his mistakes or his perceived “shortcomings” when it came to my dad, he’s obsessed about spending more time with mom. Which is okay, except that sometimes it’s bordering on coddling her.

My mom alternates between being okay, being sad, and dredging up the not-so-good moments of their marriage. It didn’t help that supposedly, one of the household helps in their compound told my mom a few days ago that dad tried to put the moves on her. Two days ago, she was dreadfully mad and sad at the same time.

My younger brother seems to be the one who has recovered the quickest. I hope it’s for real, and I hope he’s not just sweeping it all under the rug convincing himself that he’s fine.

My husband has yet to fully recover from the trauma of all the ceremony that came with dad’s passing. That’s a story that deserves its own post. But I’m not writing about that today.

As for me, for the most part I’m already at peace with his death, and have slowly accepted that he’s no longer physically around.

One of the hardest things I still deal with nowadays though are small triggers that elicit memories I’m not yet ready to confront.

When he was in the hospital, twice I went around the hospital neighborhood looking for magazines that could keep him entertained. Thus, seeing magazine stands now make me cringe and bring forth a barrage of recollections and emotions that overwhelm me.

When we thought we could already bring him home from the hospital, I promised dad that I’d buy him a DVD of the movie “Expendables” since we were just chatting about it that day. Of course we already know he never went home. And so perhaps it will take quite some time until I’ll be able to watch that movie… if at all. Thankfully the reviews weren’t too good.

Even taking a crap stirs a memory I push away every time. I’ll never forget that the day before he passed away, he soiled himself and the entire room since he had already lost muscular control. Afterwards, he was already in a diaper all the way until his crematory services.

It’s little things like this that still stir up emotions I’d rather not deal with yet.

While some would say it’s an unhealthy way to deal, I say it’s setting aside until such time that it becomes easier and less recent.

And so, after 32 days, life for me, goes on. Yes, time makes things a little easier. But I still miss him.

And always, I pray that everytime I whisper a prayer, that he’s up there helping convince the powers that be, to grant my prayer.

Day 18. Back to Regular Programming.

It took some time but I think my subconscious has finally stopped looking for the chaos, unpredictability and toxic-ness of day-to-day life that was characteristic of the months when dad was ill, up to the time of his wake.

The first two weeks collided with much resistance to moving on. There was a feeble voice who demanded that I try to recapture the noise and confusion that was, instead of dealing with the silence and calm that is.

Little by little, the once-forgotten yet familiar monotonous routine of everyday is beginning to feel comfortable again.

So much so, that when random people suddenly ask me about anything related to dad, or ask me how I’m doing — I get shaken up. At certain moments, I have to physically stop myself from snapping “I don’t wanna talk about it.

The past few nights, I’ve been dreaming about dad.

Not the kind of dreams I longed to have immediately after he passed away. It wasn’t dad as he is now, gone but come back in my sleep to comfort me and tell me he’s alright.

No. A recurrent dream takes me back to the weeks he was in the hospital.

In another dream, he’s alive but ill – and has apparently separated with my mom, so now mom is dating another man. I saw the “other” man in my dream, and he didn’t look anywhere close to the kind of guy I’d want my mom to be with. He was skinny, short, had long, limp and greasy hair and looked like a homeless giggolo.

I don’t know what any of this means. In my conscious mind, I actually wish for my mom to find someone she can grow old with… not immediately, of course.

If it did happen, I wouldn’t mind. My dad will always live on in each one of us, and if mom falls in love with someone else, it’s not a betrayal of what dad was and who he meant to mom. We all deserve to be happy and taken care of.

Hence, the big question mark about what my dreams are telling me.

Nonetheless, I know my dreams of late manifest the thoughts I refuse to now confront in my conscious mind. It’s not “sweeping under the rug”, I think. I think this is just me setting aside the painful thoughts, to be resurrected again when I’m finally ready to deal with it.

It’s some comfort. Now I don’t quite feel as strongly about isolating myself anymore from the world and my friends. I think I’m ready to rejoin the rest of humanity again and get back the little joys I used to derive from reconnecting with the rest of the world.

Day 15

Exactly one month ago was the day dad took a drastic turn for the worse.

This was the day we had to rush him to the hospital because he had started losing overall muscular control.

We all thought he would just stay in the hospital for a few days to regain his strength.

Little did we know then that it would be his last car ride ever. And that he would never again leave the hospital alive.

I recall during the seemingly endless and painful ride going to the hospital while dad was gasping for breath, moaning with pain and trying to hold back his bladder — I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think. All that existed at that point in time was how unbearably painful it was seeing and hearing him that way.

15 days after dad’s passing, little bits and pieces of images continue to flash in my head every now and then. Images come unbidden of those moments where my once strong and happy father was feeling his worst inside out. The moments when his desire to live had deserted him, and all that was left was despair and hopelessness.These were the moments when he would cry, weep or shed a tear wordlessly. The moments when he would ask permission to just pass away and leave us behind.

I wish I could just erase these memory flashes, take away all the horror and despair that surrounded our family during these times. And I wish to God that my memories of my father would be nothing but the good memories.

It’s not to be so.

Those who’ve grieved all tell me it will take some time for the painful memories to become a little less harsh. It will take an even longer time to start resurrecting happy memories that don’t leave an empty gaping hole in your heart.

Over the weekend, I told mom that one of the most difficult things I have to live with now is the fact that in his last few years, most of my interaction with dad was very unpleasant. The last few years of his life characterized the worst part of our relationship. At some point, we had not spoken to each other for several months because I was angry. Mom acknowledged this, saying that the sad part about our relationship is that the last few years, our relationship was all about money.

My birthday was a perfect example. On that day, (my birthday was the day before we rushed him to hospital), dad never even texted me or called me to greet me a happy birthday. True that maybe he was feeling extremely ill already. But my mom reminded me… he was strong enough to text to ask for money.

Dredging up good memories is harder for me than it is for the rest of my family.

The hard part about all this is realizing that while I couldn’t change the nature of our relationship, I could’ve spent more time with him so that we could create better and happier memories to offset the memories we don’t quite want to remember.

In the hopes that this blog, and this entry would resonate with one or some of my readers, here’s something I want you to remember.

All human relationships have imperfections. We can’t all always get along. The closer we are to someone, the bigger the chances of encountering conflicts, problems, and the better chances of getting hurt or angry along the way.

But really, if we take time to nourish those relationships that matter, investing more time and more in the relationship is bound to give both of you more memories to cherish. So much so that all the things you wish had never happened; all the negatives that surround your relationship — would pale in comparison to all the happier times.

Photo from

Day 10

I finally went back to work today in spite of a progressing cold and a slight fever. I think I couldn’t bear to spend one more day cooped up in the house trying to keep my mind occupied to avoid having flashbacks of the last 3 months.

It gets easier as the days go by.

And it certainly helps to start bombarding your head with other simple problems or obstacles to get through. It helps to put a temporary halt on reliving in your head the most painful moments of the last 3 months.

Since dad passed away 10 days ago, I’ve been keeping a mental list of the things that struck me the most throughout this ordeal.

First, an alternative career as a funeral planner is not such a bad idea. I heard a couple of friends talking about it a couple of weeks ago. I found it funny then. But now I kinda get it. Minutes after my dad passed away, we already had hospital staff bombarding us with questions we couldn’t quite answer properly. Where are they bringing my dad’s body? What is he wearing? Are we cremating or burying? Where will the wake be? Are we cremating now or later? Will the funeral parlor pick up his body, or should we put him in the morgue overnight? Who will settle the hospital bill?

In the middle of all of this, there were family and friends to call. Calls to answer. Text messages to send and reply to.

Now I understand why one of my best friends immediately offered that she and her husband could act as our errand guys just minutes after I told her about the news.

It’s not the easiest thing in the world making decisions such as that when you’re still in the process of recovering from shock and grief.

Second, “last days” are the worst. I thought nothing could compare to the pain immediately after a loved one’s passing. I thought seeing his body being put inside the crematorium was already the worst. Nothing prepared me for the pain that comes with the last day of the wake, and the day of the inurnment. The days of the wake keep you busy and numb you to anything you might feel. So you go on thinking that it’s all okay already, and you’ve already gone through the worst.

Apparently, the “last days” are unbelievably difficult. It’s not the eulogies.

It’s the horror of finality. It’s the fear of knowing the “what happens next” is just around the corner, and sooner or later it’s time to deal with reality. It’s the emptiness of putting the urn inside the crypt and watching them seal it for good. It’s knowing that whatever physical form he had is now truly, utterly and completely gone.

Third, “condolence” truly is the emptiest word in the Dictionary. What does it really mean anyway?

It takes one who’s lost a parent, to know what to say to someone who’s just lost one too. The most comforting words I’ve heard are from those who just outrightly say that nothing they say can make me feel better. It’s the truth. And it’s comforting because I know they understand my pain, and they’ve been through it and have survived it. Which tells me that I’ll survive it too. That someday, it will be okay.

Because truly, when reality sinks in, the hardest part to deal with is fear that life as you’ve known it, will never be the same again. Life without your parent will never be the same again.

But when I see my friends who’ve been there, then I know that yes, it will never be the same again, but it will be okay.

Fourth, getting home after the final inurnment is perhaps also one of the most difficult hurdles to get through. Whether the death happened abruptly and quickly; or was a long drawn-out process — the sudden eerie silence can drive you insane. All of a sudden, there are no phone calls, no text messages to answer. No news to fear. No relatives to update. No errands that need to be done. No money to raise. No hospital shift to go to. No wake shift to go to.

Suddenly, there’s just nothing… just, silence.

Suddenly, you have all the time in the world to do the things you used to love to do, but don’t remember how to do anymore. And you can’t eat, can’t sleep — even if you’ve been running on empty for weeks already. You find yourself just sitting, staring off into nothingness as memories of what you’ve just been through suddenly come crashing down on you on that first silent moment.

It’s still difficult talking about these things with others.

I’ve found that the first few days after, I didn’t really feel like going out, not even to just take a stroll in the mall. It’s a bit painful seeing that for everyone else around you, it’s the same old thing and life goes on for them. It’s just another day, nothing new. And yet, in your heart, you feel so crushed and so empty that you just wish the world could stop for one minute and grieve with you too.

But that’s not the way the world works.

So often I’ve hungered to just be able to spill all the disturbing, dark and painful thoughts lingering in me, but hesitated. Maybe I just didn’t want to burden anyone. Or maybe, I’m not yet ready to talk without breaking down, yet again.


Written on September 4, 2010.

Grief was such a foreign emotion to me that when it hit me, suddenly, everything I just used to see, hear or read about just clicked into place. And suddenly, it was all clear.

It’s difficult to even articulate.

The feeling of emptiness, the longing just to get a glimpse of the man who’s been a part of me from the moment I was conceived. The urgent painful desire to just have one more hour with him, just to tell him how sorry I am for any pain I’ve caused him all the years of our lives together. The burning need just to tell him and assure him how much I love him, and how much I appreciate all that he was, imperfections and all.

I thought that “talk” we had was enough. But maybe nothing is ever enough.

So many words that should’ve been said before it was ever too late. So much time wasted on a battle of wills, fighting for what now seems so inconsequential. So much anger and bitterness getting in the way of something that could’ve been better.

Yes, I have regrets. I suppose that’s all normal and part of the grieving process.

I miss my dad with an intensity that’s making my chest ache.

This morning, we brought him to his final resting place. It is in a beautiful garden surrounded by flowing waters and angels keeping watch. I know in my heart that he’s finally found the eternal peace and rest that’s eluded him all his life.

But how I wish that when I close my eyes tonight and fall asleep, he will be in my dreams as I long to see him – happy, peaceful and bringing me comfort from that emptiness and pain that I don’t quite know how to dispel.

Life must go on, but it will be a life without him in it. It wrenches my heart just to write it.

Dad, wherever you are, I love you, I miss you and will always do.