I’ve been reluctant to speak of this horrific life event but recently, I have concluded that it’s time.
By the end of this month, it will be a year since I have lost a beloved friend to an unfair, unseen, and merciless enemy. The stream of family and friends (I personally knew) who have succumbed to this vicious beast within the last 12 months has been incomprehensible. Baby was a sister to most of my sibs and cousins. She was an “adopted” daughter to my parents. I have nursed my grief and allowed for sorrow in fits and starts, with the default numbing after a flood of emotional pain.
It was a surreal nightmare of days locked in our individual homes and learning through frantic text messages about Baby’s solitary struggle in the hospital, with not a loved one to hold her hand, soothe her with whispered words of comfort or soft lips pressing on her forehead. Not to properly mourn and bury her in the accustomed manner was something I could not have imagined. The virtual events that replaced the wake and funeral were disorienting and inadequate because gathering would have spelled disaster for the living. We all had to watch her family make do with a sealed urn on a draped table lovingly arranged and adorned with flowers as a substitute. We have been deprived of the expected opportunities to console and commiserate. When hugs and shoulder-squeezes were much-needed, we were locked away in our homes. Grief in an era of forced isolation became a solitary journey.
If there was one thing the months of mandated self-isolation at home with husband and dog has afforded, it has been for rare opportunities of quiet reflection. After cleaning out closets and filing cabinets, after rearranging linen and pantry closets, after purging Marie Kondo-style, I made the conscious decision to spend parts of my days not tethered to my devices. The back-to-back daily video-conferencing was dizzying enough. I just sat comfortably near a bright window and looked out. Or, I walked Beau around the neighborhood and allowed for boredom to creep in. It paved the way for a lot of introspection. I’ve decided on one of these recent meanderings that it’s time I let this loss have a seat at the table.
I’ve been honored by Baby’s family to speak at one of the virtual events they scheduled back in April 2020. I had frantically searched for old photos, re-read old text messages, leafed through our high school yearbook. I discovered I left many old photos somewhere in my parents’ home in Manila. The search and the reminiscing to prepare for the eulogy brought me back to the most tender of times growing up with her. I have considered her one of “my people.” And I have never doubted that she considered me as one of hers too. Ellen Greenblatt, a writer from Berkeley, had said about losing a loved one “was to be robbed of this cloak of love one had worn everywhere.” She went on to add that more than the companionship lost, is “also the very self and reflection of you your person carried in their eyes and heart.”
I’m sure no one will disagree that grief is quintessentially a very human experience. It is a testament to our connectedness with one another. But, when I say that we don’t really get over our grief, there may be those who would like to deal with this through pharmacotherapy or even psychotherapy. There’s nothing like processing it bit by bit, through time.
I have come to understand profound loss differently in the recent years, more so in the last 12 months. When someone dies or something ends, it breaks our hearts. We feel that something has been taken away from us. A person, a relationship or connection, a place, a passion, a vision of a desired life. We are suddenly exposed to a myriad of unpleasant emotions: anger, bitterness, sadness. Grief is a very tough taskmaster. It demands 120% of our attention, deprives us of rest and enjoyment, and imposes a somber hue to our world. It can even linger like an overstaying houseguest.
Then one morning, we wake up and decide that it’s time. It’s time to celebrate this departed person’s life in our everyday activities. It’s time to see there are many things in our own lives that are pleasurable and meaningful. That we are surrounded by people we love and who love us back. That none of this is a betrayal of our friend or her memory.
We can affirm our love for those we have lost in everyday that we live fully. We wish they could see what we see or experience some milestone we arrive at. But they are no longer with us tangibly to share in the joy. Well, we carry them with us all the time anyway. Have you had conversations with the loved ones you have lost? I have.
Baby was always this sunny person who tried to see the good side to any event, no matter how tragic, and in every person she interacts with, no matter how truly annoying or difficult some of them are. She was always gracious and accommodating, ever the loyal friend and problem-solver. The eulogies were impressive in the celebration of her accomplishments but more importantly, it was who she was to different people personally that proved most poignant. She showed us how she loved life and all of us in all her actions. Above all, her family was her true treasure.
Baby loved us deeply and we loved her back deeply. Ultimately, isn’t this what matters most?
As the last two lines of “Nature Boy” sang:
“The greatest gift that you’ll ever learn,
is just to love and be loved in return.“
“The Friend COVIC-19 Took From Me,” the Friendship Files, The Atlantic Magazine, December 11, 2020