Coping With the Loss of a Loved One

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. “

ImageH

This is us, three years later. Our family will never be complete, but we’re coping. Papa must be very proud of us. 

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Before Anything Else

The moment the movie Before Midnight was shown in theatres, three of my friends who know me from way back asked me right away if I have seen it. I think the fact that they asked proves my reputation as a hopeless romantic. It further proves that I’m exactly the type who wears my heart on my sleeves and memorises all the mushy lines from these romantic movies. 

Well, I won’t dispute that. And yes, I have in fact seen Before Midnight. And my verdict is that while it’s a great movie script wise and acting wise, I didn’t rave for it as much as I did with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. And it doesn’t take much reflection to figure out why.

 I watched Before Sunrise at a time when the concept of having a soul mate was something I still I believed in. Like totally. So I resonated with the whole meeting-your-one-great-love-on-the-train theme. I was in college at that time, and meeting The One was still a possibility; a happy thought, in fact, that saw me through all the angsts of my teenage years.

Before Sunset, I watched when I was in my late 20s, during that period in my life when I was so sure that love would find me sooner or later. That whole idea of seeing an old flame and realizing how much you are still in love with each other was just too beautiful  and inspiring. I remember watching that film and going home hopeful and thinking that maybe The One was someone I’ve already met. Maybe my law school crush was actually The One and we would run into each other during a court hearing and we’ll take it from there, just like in the movie. So yes, at that time, I still believed in The One. And I still believed that no matter how far I was from him, love would eventually bring us together. All these made Before Sunset a wonderful movie in my books.

So as expected, I looked forward to Before Midnight and counted the months before its theatre run. I wanted to see how the story played out and how the characters evolved. What would their dynamics be? How would their conversations sound?  And would they still be as witty and quick with their retorts? In this respect, I was not disappointed. I love that the movie’s theme has matured, and that the characters have grown. It’s brilliant how Ethan Hawke was no longer the handsome young writer, and Julia Delpy, no longer the pretty young thing who was exactly the type you’d pick up in a long train ride. I love their new dynamics and how their conversations were no longer just about their brewing sexual tension, but about real life issues and concerns.

However, in contrast to the first two films which made me giddy and hopeful,  this movie made me feel sad and hopeless. And it’s not because it was too much reality. In fact, its being realistic is one of  the movie’s strongest points. The movie saddened me because at the end of it all, I realised that I stopped evolving with the characters. Unlike the first two films which spoke my language and articulated my feelings, this one revolved around issues that, sadly, are still alien to me.   I could no longer own the character’s conversations. Aside from the part that dealt with turning 40 with nothing to show for it, there was nothing much for me to resonate with in the story.

My friends who got married are raving about the film and I can see why. They grew up with the characters. They know how it is to find The One and  to find reality setting in after that. They know the feeling of loving someone that much and hating him with the same intensity. They know how it is to have passionate fights with someone you love passionately. They have become like Jesse and Celine. They’ve found their loves and lived their lives.

Me, on the other hand…well… you know the rest of my story.

So while I loved Before Midnight and still consider it a brilliant film all in all, it was too much of a reminder— and a sad reminder at that— of how one aspect of my life has not moved at all after all these years. And of how it might never move in that direction anymore. Ever. 

These thoughts have been crossing my mind lately after seeing the film. I’m tempted to watch Before Sunrise and Sunset again just to see if  my inner romantic is still well and alive. I have a feeling it still is. But then again, maybe now is not a good time to be reminded of that. 

 

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CHANGES (first of many parts)

(My life has witnessed so many changes since the start of this year that I decided to make a mini-series about this topic on this blog. So from time to time, I will be writing about these changes just to keep track of all the blessings they bring and to take note also of the adjustments I have to make along the way. This is inspired by a realisation on my way to work at the beginning of July— the second half of this year — that 2013 has been an eventful, life changing year for me)

Because of my new work and all the other things going on in my life, I haven’t had much time to hang out with good friends. And if you know me and my lifestyle, this qualifies as tragic. Aside from one balikbayan friend, the only other friends I’ve seen the past months were those who attended the same meetings i attended. I know. It’s that bad.

Which is not to say that I’m not enjoying my life now. I really do. It’s just that sometimes, I miss my court attorney days when leaving the office at 4:30 was the norm, and shopping after office was a given. And to be perfectly honest about it, were it not for my conviction  that that was a dead end job for me, I never would have left.

Anyway, back to my point: I miss my friends. A lot of things are also going on in their lives, so it’s perfectly understandable why meeting up is such a major production these days. This is such a far cry from the time when we had dinner almost every night and we spent time almost every weekend. Now it feels like serious, grown-up concerns have taken over, and even when we do talk, it’s still all about these concerns. Last night, as I was texting with a friend, I realized how much her outlook has changed through the years. And it dawned on me that maybe that’s explained by the fact that she’s nearing 40, and no matter how many people say that it’s bound to be an awesome decade,  it’s still terrifying when you cross that threshold. I’m almost there. And sometimes I wonder if it was a good idea in the first place to undergo all these lifestyle changes at this stage in my life.

I have high hopes, however, that when I’ve adjusted to my new way of life, I can more or less see my way through.  There are days when I pine for the comforts of my old life, but there are also days (and they’re more often now) when I’m grateful for the risks I’ve taken. Because when you think about it, life has been good to me the past months. The only thing I have to start doing again is enjoy the journey and take my friends along with me.  

 

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It’s One Month Later and I’m Still Alive

When people ask me how long I’ve been in my current job, I always say, “One month, but it feels like one year.” And I mean that in a good way. 

It feels like one year in terms of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. When I took on this job, what I didn’t realize was that I would actually have to deal with numbers. Yes. Numbers. Me— the girl who barely passed Math 1, dropped Math 11, and took it again as a summer subject just so she could focus all here energies to it, is now dealing with numbers. The strange thing about it, however, is that I’m getting by. Quite well, if I may say so, myself. In fact, because of this job, I realized that Math is really about logic, and when I look at it that way,  I actually comprehend it. It’s the computation that I’m miserable at, but since I don’t have to do that anymore (thanks to technology and an efficient staff), I’m able to navigate my way through numbers now. File that under The Great Miracles of 2013.

But Math is just one aspect of this job. The other aspects, I must admit, I still have to learn well and fast. And every day I have to pep talk myself that I can do it because the beauty of being a a lawyer is that your brain is trained to understand almost anything when you’re forced to. Drafting and understanding various contracts   and transactions teach you how to do that. And if you can compute penalties using the indeterminate sentence law and considering mitigating and aggravating circumstances, well, I guess there’s nothing you can’t compute. (And I’m saying that not to show that I’m good but to drive home the point that it is impossible  to learn how to compute penalties)

So the verdict so far is that I’m enjoying my job. Every day is a learning experience and an opportunity for growth, which, come to think of it, is exactly what I need right now. I think some time during my second week, it dawned on me how immense my responsibility is, to the point that I actually had to ask myself what I had gotten myself into. But the excitement of seeing this project through eventually helped me overcome my fear. And when I learned to be patient with myself for not knowing everything at once, I started to relax and enjoy the process. 

I have to say that this is the most challenging job I’ve had, if only because it’s not purely legal work. Strange how I’ve been saying that I want a job that’s not purely lawyer stuff only to realize now that it really requires a major step out of my comfort zone.  In  my previous jobs, I at least knew that I was working within certain parameters, and I was comfortable with it. Now, the parameters have extended up to God knows where, and every day, I have to rely on pure grace to do what I have to do.

But thanks be to God, a month had passed and I’m still alive. And not just alive, but happy. Math notwithstanding. 

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And That Was Summer…

There’s a special reason why this particular summer is special. Last April, I resigned from work and decided it was time to re-evaluate my life. So just like that, I packed my bags and headed to my province where I was sure I could spend a lot of time to think; away from Manila and the things that cloud my judgment. 

The last time I had a long vacation was while I was waiting for the bar results 12 years ago. I also went to Mindoro then while my batch mates were busy finding work and starting their careers as associates. I felt left behind but my mom insisted that that would probably be the only time I could find time to rest before I become busy being a lawyer. She was right. To this day, I consider that time as one of the happiest times of my life, thanks to my mom who knew better as usual.

And so last March, when the opportunity to go on an extended vacation presented itself, I didn’t have to wait for my mom’s prodding anymore. On my own volition, I decided to go home and spend an entire month in Mindoro. I wasn’t disappointed. I had a lot of time to be on my own, recall the things I’m passionate about, and be thankful for the chance to start over again. I also got to spend quality time with my mom—something that I’ve always wanted to do for the longest time. I went to Pandan island twice and rediscovered the beauty of that place. I read a lot and prayed a lot, and reflected a lot to the point that I was able to list down my plans and present them to God. I reconnected with relatives, reached out to friends, and talked to a select few almost daily. I wrote on my journal regularly (yes, I still keep one),  took a lot of pictures, and remembered that my creative side is still alive and well. 

I went back to Manila two weeks ago recharged and raring to work again. On Monday, I will start with my new job as I anticipate another hectic life for me. But while my vacation is officially over, my joyful state remains. I’ve never known such clarity in my life now that I am sure of what I want to do and of what I want to happen. I hope every one will have the chance to do what I did; to take a step back, recollect and redefine what’s important. It didn’t even matter that I was nursing a heartache for the most part. It only mattered that I was spending time with myself and with God in a way that led me back to who I am. 

 

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Happy

First, a quick update. I’m now unemployed and enjoying every minute of it. I was supposed to start working for another government office but decided it was time to move on to something different. So here I am— blissfully unemployed. I guess 12 years of being  a lawyer has taken its toll and I felt like it was time to do something else. I’m thankful that I’m given this opportunity now to take a step back and rest before taking on another job. One thing I’m learning however, is that if you’re a lawyer, you are never truly on vacation because there’s always something to do. But I’m not complaining. Just the fact that I no longer have to wake up early and experience traffic everyday—at least for the time being— is enough reason to be grateful.

Anyway, on my first day of unemployment, I made this list of things I want to do given my free time:

1. Take up swimming lessons. 

2. Read, read and read. 

3. Blog more often. 

4. Go home to Mindoro. 

5. Go to the gym regularly. 

6. Sort my stuff and fix my locker. 

7. Watch the DVDs I bought a long time ago. 

So far, two weeks into my vacation, I’ve done only 3 out of these 7 items. I know, shame on me. My excuse is that I’m also doing a bit of work/raket on the side, and I’ve been spending time with my friends left and right. So between all that and Candy Crush, I hardly have the time to do the other things on my list. The good news is that I’m going home to Mindoro early next week. That’s the perfect opportunity for me to catch up on my readings and write more often.  While I’m there, I plan to go to the beach as much as I can, to pray, reflect and ask God for direction, to prepare for what lies ahead, and yes, to sleep like there’s no tomorrow. 

It just feels so wonderful to think that for the first time in 12 years, I don’t have a job, a deadline to meet, a boss to answer to, and a schedule to keep. And even though that also means  I’m not getting any compensation in the meantime, that I don’t have any position right now, and that I don’t even have an office ID, I’m actually happy. I think every person should be given a chance to do this at least once in their lifetime. A sabbatical makes sense, if you think about it. Maybe it should be legislated.

My other blessing, of course, and the real reason why I’m enjoying this break without being anxious about my future, is that my next job will start a month from now. The kind people who hired me agreed to give me a one month break before I start with them. This new job is another blessing that I totally did not expect. But God has  a way of surprising us. And for me, that surprise came in a form of  a one month vacation and a wonderful job waiting for me after my break. Plus a few other developments in my personal life that merit a separate blog post. 😉     

I’m really happy so I think it’s fitting that I end this post by stating it again: 

I’m happy. 😉 

 

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No Plans

We don’t really plan our lives. That’s one thing I learned in my 37 (almost 38) years of existence. What we do is aspire for things, events and people, and align our actions with those aspirations. If we’re lucky, we get what we want. If we’re not, then we move on to the next aspiration and go through the same cycle all over again.

I learned this the hard way. When I was in my early 30s, I thought all I had to do to get everything I wanted was to neatly plan my life. Some plans panned out. Some— actually, the major ones—did not. And that was how I learned that I can only plan so much.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me. I know a few who would probably say that they are where they are now precisely because of their plans. Well if that’s the case, then good for you.   Good for you if because of your strategic plans, you are exactly in that place you imagined you would be years ago. That can either mean that your plans were perfectly aligned with external events, or that they were not so aligned but you were too stubborn to adjust. I’m not saying that the latter is bad. Go for whatever works for you, right?

In my case, what has worked so far is the mindset that even as I plan, I should make room for the possibility that life will always happen the way it’s meant to happen. I didn’t really plan the life I have now. In my 20s, my plan was to make it big as a litigation lawyer. In my 30s, when it became clear that I wasn’t happy doing litigation, I entered public service and let my career take  a backseat as I served in my prayer community. My plan then was to spend my life serving in that community. But when the expression of my spirituality began to change, I felt the need to leave that community and become more contemplative. Career wise, I decided it was time to specialize so I planned on going to graduate school. Just as I was doing that, however, my father got sick and required my full attention. When he died after eight months of suffering (both for him and for us), I was just so tired to make further plans that I decided to simply let life happen.

After that, several things— all not according to my plan— have happened. I’ve changed jobs, done consultancy work, fallen in love, lost weight and gained it back, resigned, negotiated for a better offer, turned down a job and reconsidered—all in a span of one and a half years, and all without me planning any of it.

Some might argue that this is not the way to live. Maybe on certain days, I will agree with them.  Most days, however, I  still  think that my plans are just that: Plans. And until God puts His stamp of approval on them, I’m really better off just letting life happen according to His will. My life is not perfect, but I’m content. I’m not overly ecstatic, but I’m joyful. And as long as there’s God in your life and joy in your heart, what else is there to aspire for?

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