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.



A piece of home

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.

To remember flight


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.

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.


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.

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.

How long does it take?

We’re sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam when grief becomes an almost tangible thing.

Can I ask you a personal question, I ask one of the guys.

Sure, he says. It depends on how personal that question is.

Just a while ago, you said it’s been four years since. . .

Four years ago, tomorrow, he says before I get to asking.

And just like that, I find myself fighting tears, struggling to find the center of control even as I lose it.

It’s okay, Mom, my youngest son says. He pats my back and whispers something about sadness and how it’s okay to cry.

Do you want a hug? One of the girls asks.

No, I say. I’m okay.

What I really mean to say is: if you hug me, I might break down completely in public and do more than just let the waterworks go.

I am thankful that she doesn’t get up, thankful that the people at our table, do not do the thing that will make me lose it completely. Instead, they let me weep. They allow me the time to swallow my grief.

How long does it take before you burst into tears at random moments? I ask.

It still happens, the one I was talking to replies. It happens in the most random places, like when I’m in the supermarket.

There is no timeline for grief. I know this. There is no quick cure, no easy panacea. I am thankful for the gentleness that embraces me. For how my friends let me find control without fuss and without comment. They let me weep. They let me find my quiet and when I’m ready, they agree with me when I say: I think this is an ice-cream moment.

The macha ice is not too sweet. It tastes just right.

In the land of the living

To be amazed, to be captivated, to be moved.

Today’s workshop at Eschacon reminded me of the joy I feel when I see writers embracing their art with passion.

When I was in New York, Janis Ian talked about the obstacles that keep us from practicing our art. She also spoke of art as living–of how our lives as artists and our art practice are closely connected.

To be heartened, to be reminded, to be woken up to life, to realize that time has not stopped but is steadily moving forward. Life beckons, art calls, I can no longer live in a state of limbo–denying pain, denying agony, denying the discomfort of learning to breathe within this new skin that is my life.

It hurts to live, I said to Aliette.

Give it time, Aliette replied.

There is no hiding from pain. There is no way to bandage the wound.

In the past week, I leaned so hard on the shoulder a friend offered me, and selfishly clung to the idea that by filling up the hours with something, I would be able to move past this grief.

Pain can make us selfish–can make us forget that friendship is a two way street. Not simply taking, but also giving. It means seeing that person for who they are and caring about the things they care about too.

I am better than that. As I talked about writing from the body, about tapping into that deep well from which our stories are born, I understood how failing to acknowledge my weakness, my pain, my selfishness, my grief, was hurtful to those around me–was hurtful to my art; was hurtful to my life; was hurtful to those I cared for.

Regardless of what is offered, no matter how broad those shoulders are, it’s not right to ask a friend to carry my burden.

I must learn to accept the absence. I must learn to acknowledge that it may take time before I cease to be messed up. But I know that there are things in this world that cannot shake me. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. I left a loved one there. Now, I must venture forward. I have no doubt I will spend many more tears. But my shoulders are broad enough and my spirit is strong. I am here. I stand in the land of the living.

To remember joy

Meeting up with friends and writers at Eschacon has done me good. I left the house for the first time and went and met people and was able to make it through without turning into a watering pot. For this, I am grateful to dear friends who sustain me and remind me that I am alive and that there is joy in living.

My youngest son tells me of a film they watched at school.

Mees Kees lost his father, my youngest son says. And his mother crawled into bed and couldn’t find joy in anything anymore.

My youngest son is completely out of sorts. He complains of pain. He says he is ill. He worries that his presence at school will make other children sad.

My heart aches for the child who wants his father–who cannot put into words the pain of that absence.

I am still here, I say to my son. I am not that mother.

Remembrance isn’t easy and I recognize how finding and creating moments of joy are a necessity if I am to survive. I think of the work that is at hand–of the books I want to write and the stories I want to tell. I think of friendships made, of bonds forged and of the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Life must continue. The work must go on. There is still love in the world and hope. I keep my eyes on the goal I set before me and remind myself that this season of mourning will also pass.

I understand how it is possible to die of a broken heart, but I also know that love heals what is broken. I have been given a gift of strength, strong hands that lift me up and remind me that life is worth living and joy can be found with a little bit more effort.

I will not squander the gifts I have been given.  Like all good travelers, I will allow my path to be lighted by the memory of joy.