Updatery and such

It still continues to be busy. In some ways, it’s busier than it was. In other ways, it’s a bit more quiet. I like that I get to have alone time when I can do whatever I like but the house has its demands and there are things that need to be done.

This past month, I finished working on an essay I’d promised Maurice Broaddus. I think of the encouragement that comes to me in emails, in publications (Magnifica Angelica Superable was published on Lightspeed this month), and in conversations had with beloved ones. It may sound strange but I feel like I am coming back from a long way away.

I think of Laura telling me how deaths of those close to us change us. I think of one of our friends telling me that when his father died, the world narrowed down and became somehow sharper. Different.

I think of what it’s like to fall in-between cracks and how there is that moment between losing someone and being alive when it feels like the left behind are hovering somewhere in a place like indefinite limbo while the world goes on.

It feels just right that I am reading a Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Intelligent Rodents with my youngest son. Youngest son can read the book all by himself, but we borrowed this book expressly to read together. A bedtime ritual where he listens and imagines while I try to make the story feel as real as possible with the reading of it.

There is death in this book. In the past two nights, two of the intelligent rodents have died. Pratchett doesn’t turn away from those deaths. Rather he lays it on the page, factual and clear. It happened. A rat died. We stand still for a moment, thinking on that death and then Pratchett moves us onward–the story continues. It’s not that the death doesn’t matter. It does, but life goes on and characters move forward and think about what happens next.

On some days, it’s a dilemma. How to make it so that a child doesn’t sink into the quagmire of sorrow and despair.

Tearing a book out of Pratchett’s page, I acknowledge my child’s sorrow. It’s sad and it’s a terrible thing, but tomorrow is a promise. Let’s think about what we want to do tomorrow. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What about next week? What about next month? What about next year?

I understand very well that grief doesn’t ever go away. That grief is not a neat and orderly process but it comes in waves and flags and sometimes at the most inconvenient and untidy of moments. It is as it is. There is no changing the reality. But we go on. We hang together. And then, I find myself thankful and glad that I can still be here for my children.

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You don’t get over it

I am reading a book about grief and grieving children. Sometimes I think that with the passage of time, we will get over it. If I am strong enough. If I am cheerful enough. If I keep a positive outlook and greet everyday with a gung-ho attitude…we will reach a space where we are no longer grieving.

For a while, I hated the idea that my children were without a father. My first impulse being to do something, to find something–to reach out and fill up that gap. But slowly, I am coming to recognise that there is no filling up that gap because it is already filled. My kids are not without a father.

Yesterday, I learned that one of my friends had lost his father in a brutal wrenching away of life. This friend was 19 years old when it happened.

I told him about my youngest son weeping over the fact that he could no longer recall the sound of his father’s voice.

“It’s okay,” my friend said. ( Youngest son was listening in as we were talking on skype.)

“Your memory becomes a bit vague. You forget how he sounded. Sometimes, you don’t remember what he looked like. But you look at photos and you remember the feeling. The feeling is the most important thing.”

It dawned on me then that no matter his physical absence, their father will always be present with us. He is here in our memories and in the feelings that we have when we think or talk about him.

I think of conversations I’ve had with the kids–about boats and distant shores and rowing together.

My kids are not fatherless. Their Dad is always with us. In memories and in the feeling.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

grieving

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.

 

 

What hurts

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.

Letter from my future self

Someday, you’ll look back at this period in your life and you’ll laugh. I know you, girl.

Really? You’ll say to yourself. Was it really so hard to accept that this was a journey I couldn’t take all by myself?

You’ll laugh when you look back because right now, you’re in this awkward phase where you don’t know what to do. One moment, you’re up; the next, you’re a mess of tears. You don’t want to burden others, and yet you can’t make it through the day without borrowing the strength that’s offered.

This is where you are right now. You’re not superhuman and you shouldn’t aspire to be. Living is hard enough. Putting one foot in front of the other is tough. It’s not your fault if you take people at their word when they say you can lean on them. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

I know you want off of this rollercoaster. The thing is, it doesn’t stop on command. It’s gotta roll until it’s done rolling.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be a mess. It’s okay because you won’t be like this forever. This mess, it’s gonna take a while. Maybe months, maybe a year, maybe two years. Who knows. The important thing is to remember to be kind to yourself.

I’m giving you a hug, girl. A super big hug because you need it.

There’s still today and there’s still tomorrow and there are still all the tomorrows yet to come. You don’t have to smile all the time. Tears are a good.

Our life was not a bed of roses

My friend tells me that it takes time. First, you cry everyday, then every other day…

I remember a dialogue from somewhere where a character says: How can I share my heart with you when you refuse to show me your tears?

In the years of our marriage, the only time I saw my husband cry was on the night after he came to pick me up from the Clarion West writing workshop. I later found out that he was crying because he was afraid that I would leave him. He was so frightened by my love for Nalo Hopkinson, that he decided to ignore all wisdom, hop on a plane and come to Seattle when I had already told him that I was coming home.

Of course, I love Nalo. Who doesn’t?

Why in the world do you think I would leave you when we have children together? I asked him.

The next day, he bought me a pair of butterfly shaped earrings as an apology. I loved the earrings, but that wasn’t the reason why I forgave him.

For many Filipinas, the vow of marriage is sacrosanct. No matter how difficult it becomes, no matter what trials take place, once given, that vow holds until something happens to make the breaking of that vow inevitable. Sometimes, it is violence. Sometimes, it is betrayal. But almost always, it is death that breaks the vow.

My husband died and suddenly the world has become this strange place. The order of things and the shape of my life have all become more complicated.

Seventeen years ago, I had to learn to forge a new path in this strange land. Seventeen years later, I am once again having to learn how to create a new path. The physical landscape remains unchanged, but the inner landscape is no longer familiar.

Five years ago, my mother-in-law died. Three years later, my father-in-law passed away. Eighteen days ago, my husband died.

It’s not rare, the undertaker said. For us to hear of partners following each other into death so very closely. But for a child to follow their parents so very soon. . .

I know what she wants to say, it is as seldom an occurrence as my husband’s childhood trombosis.

As I write to my friend, I wonder how I did not see the onset of my husband’s heart failure. Three of his major arteries were clogged–this means that heart attack was just waiting to happen. I think of broken hearts and grief and I think of how my husband left me and my children on the day his mother died. Instead of coming home to us, he chose to remain behind and weep with his father.

When he came home, he did not cry. He did not show me his grief. He did not share with me his pain. He locked himself away behind a wall I could not breach.

I ask my friend, how it is possible to share a life with someone and to never have shared their grief.

I loved my husband and I wanted to be the one who he could lean on. I wanted him to be the one I could lean on as well. But for all that I loved him and for all that he loved me, I never knew if he was ever lonely or sad–if the heart he carried inside him was already broken by the early loss of his mother and by the eventual loss of his father.

Aliette reminds me that my husband fell into the dangerzone category. When many men are prone to heart attack and women are prone to cancer.

Beyond all logic, I wonder if I could have done something to prevent it. I am left with my hands full of questions.

Eighteen days have passed and already, I am tired of weeping. I am tired of feeling out of sorts. Of not being able to sleep. Of breaking down at unconvenient moments.

Mom, my eldest son says. It’s okay to be sad, but please think about how embarassed I will be if you break into tears in a fitting room of all places.

And just like that, my heart lightens. I have my children still.