Coping with Grief, My Way

CHASING MONSTERS

My family is very close-knit. The days following my father’s death is proof to that. During his wake and his funeral, all of us wore white. (Papa didn’t like the color black, you see.) During those days, I saw how my family pulled each other through the grief of losing a father, a wonderful, loving, kind person who was there ever since we can remember. I saw and felt how our bond helped us cope with this sad milestone in our lives. But as per our usual fashion, we turned to sense of humor to help diffuse the melancholia and tears. We bond over this love for laughter. This kind of sense of humor is what I grew up with. And I was (and still am) grateful for this. It helps make me not take things too seriously, to find the time to laugh and crack jokes even when the situation has already hit rock bottom. Aside from this, I am also grateful for the gift that is my family. We are each other’s strength and comfort. Sure, we fight and argue and sometimes, tempers explode and hurtful words are hurled. But that’s family, right? No matter how many times you fight and declare war, you will always come back to each other. This kind of unconditional love is beautiful. And I am thankful for that.

I have always been daddy’s girl. We were close. And during Papa’s last few days, I had known he was going to say good-bye soon. I saw it and felt it: He was fading. Those days were interspersed with hugs, kisses, “I love yous”, my hand gripping his tightly, and him touching my face as if memorizing it (he always liked to joke how small my face is; how he can cover it with just one hand and my face would disappear). I miss him and my heart breaks every time I remember him but I know he’s in a better place now. I saw how he fought and struggled. I saw the pain he went through. His death, in a way, has been a release from that pain. Four months to spend time with him before he passed away is very, very, very short. But four months of him going through that kind of pain and suffering that only he knew is too long for him. And after all these months, his death is about ending that. It’s what he told me a few days before he left us, “It’s getting really hard and difficult for me. Please pray that God ends my suffering and takes me soon.” That is what I console myself with whenever I get broken or sad about him passing away: His suffering has finally ended. He is in a better place now.

That is how I am coping with his loss. If I were a version of myself a year ago, I would’ve deleted his photos in my laptop. I would’ve tidied and boxed up all his belongings. No trace, if only little, of him to be found. Then I’d promptly go somewhere far from home. I was never good with good byes and I’d rather put a gap, a distance between me and that hurt. But this is me now. I guess I have grown up. I guess I have accepted the fact that my father is dead but I am still alive. And I am sure that he wouldn’t want me to not live my life. Knowing him, he’d want me to lead an honest and fair life. A life where I should make no room for hatred or spite. A life where forgiveness and understanding are always important. It’s his legacy, those things. I know it sounds like I am putting him in a pedestal, but it’s the truth. Anyone who knew my father will say the same thing: they never saw him mad. And that it was just not him to hold grudges. He simply accepted the hurt, found it in his heart to forgive, and then moved on. That was his way of life. It’s a tough act to follow.

I remember once, I was in fourth or fifth grade. I was sitting all alone outside my classroom, taking a test. I forgot what subject it was but I remember how three girls who were a year or two ahead of me walked along the hallway and then stopped when they saw me. They peered at my test paper, saw my unanswered items, and told me all the answers to it. I froze, scared that my teacher would see us. When they repeated the answers, I shook my head at them and told them… You know what I told them? That cheating was bad and this was cheating. I said those things in a hushed voice. The girls stared at me like I sported two heads and sprouted a tail. Then they shook their heads at me, huffily told me I’d be sorry because I’ll probably fail the test, and then they walked away. I don’t remember if I did fail that Science test, though. My conscience, on the other hand, is a fragile thing. And my face is about as transparent as a plastic wrap. It’s a curse. So I guess somehow that means my dad  can sigh in relief on that count? It’s practically a solid assurance that I have a hard time lying. I cannot put on a poker face even if my life depended on it.

I thought I’d be taking Papa’s death pretty hard. In fact, I was bracing myself for scarily puffy, red eyes and equally puffy, red nose every single day. I was expecting to be a curled ball of misery in my bed. Yes, I still cry at times and I still feel a twinge in my chest when I recall memories of him alone, of him and me. But I haven’t really broken down yet… I’m hoping I do not reach that point. Breaking glasses, smashing mirrors, taking up shooting lessons… I’m kidding. My heart still breaks over what happened but a part of me is at peace with the fact that he’s dead. And I need to live my life. Preferably to take a trip to Sagada (caves! mountains!) or Baler (surfing! food!), so I can regain my footing and reinforce sanity.

I hope that wherever YOU are and whatever you’re in the middle of, be it a personal issue or yoga classes or writing a novel or doing handstands in a forest, you’re doing fine. And if you’re not, if things are tough for you, know this: Everything will be okay one day. For now, strengthen yourself and take one day at a time. Baby steps. Make the best of what’s around. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, people who are real friends. But also try not to lose who you are. And don’t forget to breathe. And live. That’s important: Don’t just exist. Live.

Have a happy brand spankin’ new work week!

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