In the moments after sudden loss, the world falls away. For a while, you live in a vacuum where nothing exists except sudden emptiness. There is no formula for dealing with that kind of loss. There are no answers to questions left hanging in midair. Resolutions made, half-spoken plans–things not quite wrapped up. You are left there–hanging in midair, seeking for a foothold, trying to find stable ground again.
For a while, writing becomes a struggle. The words are too heavy–or not enough–the suddenness of loss is too startling. One moment there, then gone. Just like that. Photographs cannot answer back and memory rubs across the surface of the mind like rough paper over an open wound.
There is nothing to say. There is a lot you still want to say. No more questions can be asked. There are still so many things you want to ask.
Life moves on relentlessly. Life is too short to dwell on loss. Rather remember the good. Rather remember to embrace life and live life because the end is never expected.
So let us live life, I said to my friend.
And I think…I have to be bolder. I want to be stronger. I want to cherish those who are dear to me and to let those I love know that I love them. Each and every day. Life is too short for fear, for pride, for hate, for regret.
Part one of a four-way process conversation has been published on the PUSH blog. Do go and check out this conversation with writers Paolo Chikiamco, Dean Alfar, Kate Osias and Alessa Hinlo.
I’ll be putting up the second part of this conversation sometime this week and in upcoming updates will be posting about the Eschacon workshop as well as publishing work produced by participating writers to the workshop.
Keep an eye on PUSH and keep supporting our authors.
Someday, I will stop being the widow. Someday, I will be completely myself again.
It’s been more than a month since my husband died. Already, I want an end to the tears and to the sadness and to the numbness that plagues my heart.
Yesterday, my eldest son and I went to pick out a gravestone for his father. It was a sunny day–almost as beautiful as the day when we buried him. We took the train to Rotterdam and from Rotterdam we took the metro to the shop where we could pick out a stone.
The same tension pervaded us as in the days when we knew his father would no longer return to us. You know the smile that you force past your lips, the effort it takes to not break into tears in a public space. You hold yourself together by strength of will and don’t know how you manage to get to where you’re going. How is it that the world is still turning? How is it that life still goes on as is? How is it possible that I still walk the earth?
We sat there listening to the woman tell us about the different kinds of gravestones and all I could feel was a pervading numbness.
We ended picking the simplest stone. Shiny black granite to be embossed with silver letters and the shadow of a flying seagull.
Flight comes with a cost.
I think of the future that has opened up in front of me. How I must learn to navigate life as a mother alone.
My mother’s heart, I said to a friend. Is inclined towards my children.
More than anything, I want my children to be happy. I want to see them grow strong and secure regardless of this sorrow that has come to us.
My sons tell me that they want me to be happy too.
But sometimes, it’s too hard to be happy. Any little thing is enough to bring me to the edge of tears. If I take a walk and someone speaks to me–all it takes is a little kindness and I break apart. There are no words for grief. There is only the hollow cry of mourning.
My eldest son and I had a talk this morning. It’s been a month since their father died–a month filled with turmoil and agony of losing someone you love so unexpectedly. There are not enough words to speak of it. That I was able to go through the motions of living–that I was able to go to eschacon–that I was able to still keep my children fed –these are things that happened, not because I was strong, but they happened inspite of my weakness. In all these things, I have been constantly upheld by the strength that was offered to me and I am thankful for that.
Looking back is like gazing at the remains of a storm. In a split second, our lives fell apart. Everything that was known and familiar changed.
I said to my sister, I got through the funeral and stayed strong because I had to. There was no one else who could do that for me. I got through and we brought my husband to his final rest in a fitting manner.
Afterwards, in the aftermath of the storm, I felt bereft. Adrift and lost. Filled with grief and agony and not knowing how to deal with the intensity of these emotions.
I fell apart, I said to my son.
But now, you’re being assembled again, my son quips.
It sounds funny, but it’s true. Looking at the chaos of us, I realized that I couldn’t allow it to go on like this for much longer. I couldn’t let my children fall into the abyss of despair.
Everything starts with structure. It costs effort. I reminded myself that I’m a big girl now. As tempting as it is to escape–to run away–to hide from the facts of life, I must face them.
We lost someone we loved and for a while, we lost ourselves.
Today, the ground under my feet feels more solid. My head is clearer. I know it won’t be easy. I know it will be a challenge. But I am here. We’ll be okay.
It has become harder to write. All my words turn into tears. I choke up. I stop. I have nothing to say.
My heart aches constantly. My head hurts. There is too much to do. My dreams are interrupted. I cannot catch them.
My friend tells me that good days lie ahead–that the sun will come again. I grab hold of those words and hold them like a promise.
I am afraid of being left behind. Of losing everyone I love. Of becoming a burden that is too hard to bear.
My quiet moments are curtained with tears.
Comfort me, I say to those I love. Send me smiles. Send me hugs.
I know I cannot ask anyone to carry my grief for me.
I will make a nest in the attic for me and my children. Up there, where we can look up at the sky through the wide window. Perhaps, if we look up long enough, if we hold each other close enough, we will be able to find the path of our dreams again.
For now, I continue to be grateful for warm hands, warm hearts and for the knowledge that we are still surrounded by love even if we have lost someone we love.
My sister is here. There are not enough words to express how glad I am for her presence. To finally be able to let go of control, to be able to cry my heart out and to know the warm shelter of home’s loving presence–it is a tremendous gift. I’m thankful for the generosity that has made my sister’s presence here a reality. Until she arrived, I had no idea just how much I needed the physical presence of someone who accepts everything without any judgment or any conditions. I am grateful beyond words.
There is a lot to process–as someone once said to me, you might be surrounded by so much busyness that you hardly even have time for grieving. There’s still a lot of paperwork to do, a lot of sorting through things–there are still car keys that need to be found, but it’s restful knowing that my sister is here. I am surrounded by love–her presence here is the tangible proof of that love.
In the future, I may have to make a lot of difficult decisions. Do I still want to remain in The Netherlands? Is this place still home for me and my children? Do we still have a future here? These are questions that I sometimes think about, but (as my friends and my sister reminds me) these are not questions for now. For now, I must focus on the necessary things. Paperwork must be done. A gravestone must be ordered. Christmas season with all it’s painful reminders of an absence looms before us.
Will you marry again? My younger son asks me.
I sit him down and talk to him.
Listen to me, I say. I can’t predict the future, but I know one thing for sure, that having been loved so much, I’m not willing to settle for anything less. I have you boys and you have me.
I can’t say what tomorrow will bring and as a good friend reminds me, I must never shut the door to possibility, but right now, in this moment, I believe that we’ll make it–just the three of us.
You wrote me a letter once, telling me about flight. You told me of wonder–how being borne on the wind gave you this feeling of freedom that nothing could equal. Your words brushed across my skin and I tried to imagine what it must be like, to soar–to fly side by side with a gull, to look a bird in the eye.
One summer, when I was a child, delta flyers also came to the mountains. I remember them descending from the skies. Some of them landed on dry ground and some of them landed in the ricefields. In the air, they looked like strange birds…the shadow of their fliers casting shadows on the ground made me think of things that didn’t exist in those in mountains.
I dreamed of flight. I wanted to know what it was like to ride the wind. To follow its compass and go where it took me. I wanted to see beyond the green of my horizon. Reading your words, I dreamed of you high up in the air–earth passing below you, the blue of the ocean topped by white, the long sky and the eternal quiet.
When we met, you put away flight. You did not want to risk vanishing from my life without a word. Instead, you flew across the ocean and came to me.
I am remembering magic and danger. Of how when you saw my desire to stretch my wings and find a different kind of flight, you decided to let me go.
Did you ever fear that I would vanish suddenly from your sight?
You never said so.
I hope you knew that no matter how far I flew, I would still always come back home to you.
My sister is arriving from The Philippines today and I am so thankful for that. But my joy at that reunion is dimmed by the decline of my youngest son. That grief manifests in physical pain is true. Going to school has become the height of stressful experiences. He’s aware that he must go to school, but he is in so much pain that he experiences this as a pain in his physical body. He throws up, has headaches, feels feverish and whimpers in his sleep. For a short period, the symptoms seemed to let up. We slept through the night and he didn’t cry as much. Today, we’re back at square one and I tearfully phoned our doctor as well as the school to let them know that our boy won’t be at school and all is not well with him.
A great part of my pain comes from seeing my children suffer. My eldest son maintains a stoic facade. He’s unable to cry. He tries to go on as if nothing has changed. He does his best at school. I worry–how long will that facade hold?
And my youngest–when his teachers told me about the worries he brought to school with him, I broke down in tears. My children are in pain and there is nothing I can do to take it away. This is what hurts most of all.
I try to look to the future. I remind myself that these too will pass. But right here and right now, I feel like I’m drowning.
For the first time since my husband died, I have had a full night’s sleep. Not only that, after a brief period of consciousness in between the ringing of alarms and my eldest son leaving for school, I fell back into sleep again and luxury of luxuries, woke up at around 11 a.m.
I have lost my husband, but life has given me so much that I cannot and should not complain. Perhaps it’s a combination of a good long rest and meds, but my mind feels more settled. I can feel again that core inside me–that place where story comes from and where the vision to see things happen is born. This week, I’ll be updating PUSH with a conversation between four Filipino authors, Kate Osias, Dean Alfar, Paolo Chikiamco and Alessa Hinlo very kindly participated in a long process conversation and I’m excited to share that with the world. I also have work from participants to the workshop we did for Eschacon.
A lot of paperwork still needs to be dealt with, but I have the offer of helping hands. Even the clearing up of our attic and the realization of our attic project is coming to pass because of the helping hands being extended to us. My greatest joy though is the recovery of photos and files from the laptop that got destroyed. To be able to have those tangible things from the last year that we spent together brings me so much comfort and thankfulness and joy.
For the first time since my husband’s burial, I visited the gofundme site. I found myself moved to tears by the love generated from the lines written by Aliette and Mia and by every person who took part in this campaign. I couldn’t let such kindness pass without remarking on it.
These past weeks have been filled with anxiety and sorrow–with so much grief, that I didn’t even have the time to think about how we would live from now on or whether we would have enough to make it through until I could find a job.
As time passes, I’m faced with the reality of now and I am so incredibly thankful for the help that’s been extended to us. The future is still uncertain, but it is a great grace to know that for now, I won’t have to worry about how I will put bread on the table or pay the bills that have started coming in.
On behalf of my children, I want to say thank you to everyone who supported the fundraiser. More than what was raised, the love that came to us from this support sustains and lifts us up and reminds us that there is still a tomorrow. Someday, we too hope to extend the same kind of support that was extended to us.
**Thanks too for all the messages, the cards, the care packages–for every gesture, no matter how great or how small, I have drawn strength from all of these and my sons have experienced it as a knowing, that we are surrounded by love. We are never alone.