We commemorated Papa’s 3rd death anniversary last August 5. We visited his crypt, had lunch, then went to mass in the afternoon. Nothing grand and fancy. Just me, Ate, Mama and RJ.
I say this every year, and every year it still rings true: I still can’t believe that Papa is gone.
I believe in the after life, of course. I believe in a happy reunion with him in the future. That’s the only thought that sees me through every time it gets lonely; and believe me, it still gets very lonely.
Before Papa died, I talked to a few close friends who have lost their fathers, and they all said the same thing: It will definitely feel different when he’s gone, but surprisingly, it will still feel as if he’s always just around. I attest to that statement now. And it’s not because it’s something I willed my mind to believe in just to console me. It’s something I really feel deep in my heart.
It’s a miracle how I survived Papa’s death. I think any one who has lost a loved one can also attest to this statement. I’m a firm believer that each person deals with grief as he/she sees fit, but for whatever it’s worth, I feel like sharing now how I coped with mine.
1. I read a lot. Since I’m the type of person who finds it easier to go through something by understanding exactly what it is I’m going through and by putting a label on it, I read a lot of books about grief, death, after life, mourning, goodbyes, etc. The ones that really helped me were C.S. Lewis’s “A Grief Observed” and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I also liked “For One More Day” by Mitch Albom. I read spiritual books, memoirs, self-help and fiction to give me different perspectives on death. I devoured the pages of the Bible especially the Psalms, and memorized a few passages that I can recite when I wake up at night and it gets really lonely. Psalm 30:3 and 73:26 were my personal favorites. I also followed the blogs of people who were going through the same thing. There’s one particular Canadian blogger I often visited who wrote so well about her emotions. She articulated everything I couldn’t articulate. She lost her husband six months before Papa died, and reading her journey comforted me deeply.
2. I tried new things and pampered myself. To distract myself (which I had to do from time to time), I dabbled in new things like photography and working out. This was also the time that I overhauled my wardrobe (I wore only black and white for a year) so that meant shopping almost every week. I indulged in a few things and gave myself enough leeway to enjoy. I traveled, fixed my room, and went out more often with a certain someone. I pampered myself and didn’t feel guilty.
3. I found a new spiritual director. My old spiritual director was assigned to Cagayan a few months before Papa died, so I had to look for another one. I still see him regularly up to now. And I remain grateful for how he saw me through that very difficult time of my life.
4. I cried a lot. Even as I was trying new things, I gave myself the freedom to just mope and grieve. I canceled trips and dinners whenever I suddenly felt like going out was troublesome. I took a leave from work on days it got too unbearable. I was blessed to have people around me who understood what I was going through ( my former boss included). I checked out on life and shut down from the world whenever I felt like it. I ranted to friends who were patient enough to listen again and again. I had crying sessions with my sister every so often and recalled our happy moments with Papa. I had a good support system, which, looking back, was what really helped me through.
5. I wrote. I blogged, I tweeted and Facebooked everything I was feeling. And when I felt like sharing my feelings was no longer serving its purpose, I journalled and wrote to myself.
6. I visited Papa’s grave often. We’re blessed to have found a columbarium/garden which is just 30 minutes away from our house. I spent a lot of time there during the first few months since he died. That was my way of saying goodbye, and of slowly detaching from his physical presence. Now, I make it a point to visit at least twice a month.
6. I prayed. There were really days when nothing else worked but prayer. And even when I prayed, there were days when I really could not find the words to say to ease my grief. That was the period in my life that I really appreciated my Catholic faith. The formula prayers, the rosary, the holy mass, the adoration chapel where I could spend quite time alone— all these were my refuge when I could no longer rely on my own words to articulate what I wanted to tell God.
Last Monday, exactly three years after Papa died, I posted this on Facebook with this caption:
“Hello Papa! It’s been 3 years today. We miss you deeply, but you’ll be happy to know that we’ve been doing our best to carry on. As promised. This is us now. Sending you all our love. “
This is us, three years later. Our family will never be complete, but we’re coping. Papa must be very proud of us.