What it’s like

Today, someone asked me what it feels like.

“I mean, you lost your husband and then now you’ve lost your sister.”

How do you put into words what it feels like to lose the other half of your heart?  She was always there–my sister. In the darkest periods of my life, I hang onto the thought that my sister was always there. She was witness to my wildest dreams and imaginings and she was the person I confided in the most in times of deep despair. She loved me steadfastly even when she didn’t agree with the choices I made and even when it grieved her to see me walk away from the path that was familiar to us both.

I have a memory of my elder sister from when we were in grade school. Back then, going to school meant climbing down the mountain path to the gravelled road and then a 10-15 minute hike to the central school. I was always slow back then and a little bit of a spoiled child.

(My sister, being much quicker on her feet always was at least a few feet in front of me. )
In this memory, my sister has reached the bend in the mountain path–a couple of meters down from home. I am still at the top of the path. It had rained in the night and the path was a bit slippery and being the scaredy-cat that I was, I wanted my sister to come back and help me down the slippery slope. She, on the other hand, was already impatient to go to school because the first bell had already rung.

I remember my sister telling me to hurry up and I remember crouching there and crying for her to come get me.

Finally, she came marching back up the mountain slope. I still remember the look on her face.

Regardless of how aggravated she was, she helped me down from the top of the slope. She held my hand until we got to a place where the earth was less slippery.

My heart aches.

I have so many memories. Of stories shared in the dark of night after the lights went out–of listening for the crunch of gravel outside our bedroom window–of running up and down the mountainside.

There are not enough words to say what it’s like.

 

 

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My sister

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Yesterday, my neighbour brought me lights for my sister. I made a spot on the living room table with these roses that seem to keep on blooming and a print of a happy selfie from the time my sister was here with me.

Loss is an ache inside my chest and it takes a lot of effort to keep on going.

One never dreams or hopes of losing their sister. I never thought or imagined that I would lose mine so soon. How is it possible?

My sister who I laughed with and cried with. The one I fought with and made up with. My sister who always won the contest over who got the read the books first…because she was (of course) the eldest. My sister who irritated me and encouraged me; who challenged me and didn’t hesitate to confront me. My sister who lives in so many of my stories; whose voice I hear when I am on the verge of throwing in the towel. My sister who refuses to let me give up and surrender.

My sister.

My sister who started the bookblog together with me; who made me understand that there are readers who just want to enjoy a book and who see its flaws but love it anyways because that’s how they are.

I remember fiery discussions over the dinner table, pillow fights in the bedroom, whispers in the night when the lights went out, secret conspiracies, mad adventures.

My sister who saw no need to conform to societal expectations but who chose to be exactly as she was.

My sister who loved and forgave wholeheartedly. My god. I shall miss my sister. There are not enough words for the agony of this loss.

I can only go on and do as she would tell me to do. Live because you have your sons. Live because you must write. Live because your path in life is not yet done. I must live because she wanted me to. Someday, I too will pass through the veils. I will see her then.

 

March 7,2016

Heartbreaking news reached us on Sunday evening. My beloved sister, Weng, passed away after a bout of a pneumonia compounded by problems with her liver and her blood. She went quickly and did not suffer long.

I have no words for agony.

Loss followed by loss. Sorrow upon sorrow.

My sister has gone from this world.

That moment when you don’t know anymore

Ah life. On some days, I think I can take on the world and we are moving forward and we can do it and we can come out stronger. And then there are the days when I am reminded that loss is still an open wound, when it seems like every step is weighted down and all I really want to do is lie down and go to sleep for a long time.

There is a limit to how much friends and loved ones can carry together with us. There are things we cannot ask them to bear for us. We must bear these things…the three of us. My sons and I.

And the psychologists tell me that the job of moving forward rests mainly on me because mother determines how the children deal with their sorrow. How I am determines how my kids face up to their grief…with how they push forward and carry on.

Most days, I can carry on. But on some days, I can’t see beyond one moment to the next. There are moments like now, when I just don’t know anymore.

Today is almost done. I did my best. We all did. It wasn’t perfect, but we are getting there.

Tomorrow is waiting to happen. Tomorrow, we will move forward again. Tomorrow, things will be better. Tomorrow…

I have to keep on believing–

 

Remember…

I remember what it’s like to love…

How I am incredibly moved by the kindness of those whose lives touch mine.

And this is what it’s like…

To be embraced by gentleness

To see the face of generosity

To be touched by hands and hearts across the miles.

How do I say thank you?

How do I convey what’s in my heart?

I can only write the words and hang onto this knowing

This is love

Love is stronger than fear, is stronger than death, is far more powerful than hate.

And so…I remember love.

Morning

It’s cold in the house. I can’t decide whether it’s winter moving into Holland or if it’s in its final throes. I like the days when the skies are clear and blue and where the sun comes out even if there is a chill in the air.

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to music so much as I have in the past few months. It’s as if my entire self is striving to compensate for an absence.

This morning, I’m listening to a group called Fun. They sing…it gets better. And I believe it does get better. At present, I am struggling to find the balance where I can be the Mom my kids need me to be and still carry on with the things that fuel me. Finding the headspace to write has been the most challenging of all. I’ve had my computer open to scrivener and the pages I worked on previous to the trauma of loss. Just a little bit more, I tell myself. Just a little bit more. My novel is almost done.

Let me gather up my brains…they’re scattered all over the place.

I fluctuate between now and then…and I grab onto the things that anchor me to now. Now and the future. Now and the future. Push onwards. Push.

I’m slow, but I’m gathering up the things that have fallen by the wayside. The thanks that haven’t been put into writing just yet because there are too many things demanding time and attention and it takes so much energy to focus on now and the future. I am still here. It’s morning. Waking up isn’t easy, but I am greeting the day.

Back to Life

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.

Doing the work

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…

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.

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.

Where I am

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.