Sunday, May 20, 2007

Finding Mr. Grief: Restoring Order After Losing One's Life Partner October 2005


“Lost love is still love, Eddie. It takes a different form, that's all. You can't see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken, another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You hold it. You dance with it. Life has to end. Love doesn't."
--Marguerite to Eddie (The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom)
Looking for Mr. Right has never been an easy task. A series of trial and error would have to be endured for one to find his or her perfect match. As far as divine intervention or sheer luck is concern… it will remain a mystery.

What if after endless search, you lose the one and only person you chose to live the rest of your life with…the one you wish to grow old with…the one who shares all your joys and woes… the one you vowed to love and to hold? How does one cope with the new role of being a widow and single again?

The truth of the matter… death is very much part of life…

Five months ago I was forced to undertake the big task of preparing my husband’s funeral. Fourteen months of endless chemotherapy did not help in finding a cure for Jerry. Doctors advised me to prepare for the inevitable. My immediate thought was how would I be on that day? How can I tell my children that their father was dying? I heard stories of widows becoming non-functional, stunned and hysterical. I didn’t want to be any of those. I wanted to give dignity and honor to my husband’s departure.

Thus, I began planning how his remains would be managed. I discussed it with him and followed through with his wishes of cremation and where his final rest would be. I even involved the children in choosing the exact spot where they wished to visit their papa and eventually me. Dr. Francis Dimalanta agreed that it was best to involve the children in the decision making so that until the end they have taken a role with their father’s demise.

When Chino, my 7 year old, asked me why we were doing this, I said, “Remember when I told you that Jesus is coming soon to make one of us an angel, well, it’s going to happen anytime. Jesus sees that Papa is really having a hard time and He wants to save him from this cancer. We need to find a place where Jesus can pick him up and give him wings so he can watch over us.” He cried and later on obliged to find a spot for his father. At a very young age, he understood the whole concept of death and was willing to accept it.

I started writing the eulogy and made my husband read it to ensure that he had a full understanding of what I will say about him. I needed him to hear these words while he was alive and not when he’s already gone. He appreciated everything written and added a few more. “People need to know what we both went through regardless of what they have to say,” he affirmed.

Caterers were called to pre-order the food, stampitas were produced and the funeral home was already advised of an impending death. Checks were issued and were turned over to my appointed funeral coordinator, my best friend Weng. What was left blank was the date of death.

May 15, 2005 at 1am, the man I vowed to love and to hold, through sickness and in death, in richer or poorer, joined his creator after less than 24 hours of coma. I did not cry anymore. Finally, he was at peace and completely pain free. I chose to sleep in our room alone and somehow try to make the adjustment and recovery faster. It was an eerie feeling like he was still there watching over me.

Upon his wishes, I had him cremated and after two days of wake, his remains were finally laid to rest at the spot chosen by his children. It was a beautiful service attended by most of our relatives, friends, and colleagues.

So what now….

After the 9th day novena, the children and I, including my household staff, flew to Boracay for a much needed break. I planned this even before Jerry’s death because the children needed to look forward to something after their father was gone. If only time allowed it, I would’ve taken them to the US but school was about to start.

This was where I decided to organize my thoughts and eventually design my road to recovery. Things I needed to do associated with Jerry’s passing such as insurance claims, outstanding loans, estate taxes, financial planning, etc. What I needed to do with myself and the children so we can cope properly. What are my current resources and who exactly can I rely for emotional support and the drainers who will just suck out the remaining positive energy in my life?

What I Have and Don’t Have and Until When? It was important for me to realize exactly what financial resources I have and how I can manage it to determine until when I can continue to support my family without the pressure of finding work right away. After inquiring family counselors and support groups for widows and single parents, the average time frame for recovery for a loss of a beloved is 8 months to a year. During this period, I wanted to focus on what really mattered which was my and the children's well being.

Checklist. Create a to do list of things you need to complete associated to your spouse's death. In Jerry's case, these was insurance that needed to be filed and claimed; outstanding loans that needed to be settled; estate taxes; and clearances from his former employment; cancellation of credit cards; mobile phone subscriptions; etc. It would be wise to get the services of a lawyer to find out exactly the rights of the legal heirs and to establish guardianship for minors.
Losing your footing and relearning things. After realizing exactly what my financial positioning was, I got the services of a fund manager to help me place the remaining proceeds and maximize its yield to help tie ends together. I attended talks on investments and banking to understand the instruments that can be used. It also helped when I down sized my overhead at home bringing down the costs significantly. Cost cutting was the order of the day.

Remove Triggers. Help yourself recover by identifying items, music, or what have you that will pull down your spirit. I'll always be grateful to my mother-in-law and sister-in law, Tina for offering to remove all the medical gadgets and equipment associated to Jerry's illness. Each and every time the memories of what my husband underwent would send me into a weeping frenzy.

The exercise of packing away his personal belongings was done by me. I made this decision a month after his passing. Sure there were offers but I needed to complete this exercise to also put a closure to his departure. It was more like sweeping everything into boxes. Some of his stuff were given to my in-laws, his friends, and former colleagues as keepsakes. The rest will have to wait for a better day for me to meticulously sort out.

The matrimonial bed had to go and the lazy boy where he expired was given away. Even the whole house had a face lift, changing the tune to happy tones.
Never doubt your child. Nowadays, seeking professional help is as common as consulting an ob-gyne. Somtimes a 3rd person's perspective can be helpful than seeking counsel from a family member. I brought my eldest son to a child therapist, Tom Batalla, to ensure that all areas are addressed. Children, unlike adults, will reveal themselves when they are most unguarded like when they are in active play. Tom started asking Chino about his departed father during this moment and when asked how he feels about the whole death scene he answered, "I was sad at first, but now I'm okay because my mama is taking care of me and Basti."

Being a paranoid parent, I quickly asked Tom what should we do now. His answer surprised me, "Nothing, believe your son when he says he's okay. Apparently, he is modeling after a very strong woman and that is you. But mom, it's totally acceptable to show your sons that mama also cries. I believe it's time for you to cry. What’s important is that you’re okay and your children will respond accordingly."

Your anger your ally. Crying has always been reserved for moments of hurt, disappointment, anger, but never for grief for I never really experienced the loss of a loved one. Before I could allow myself a good cry, I needed to resolve the confused emotions that were consuming me. It was then I decided to consult Sophie Lim-Basa who helped me process the feelings I had that buried all my grief for my husband.

A dominating emotion that would easily trigger rage was anger. No doubt it was consuming me like anything. Anger towards the situation I was in; anger towards what my children had to endure due to the loss of a parent; anger towards people who disappointed and betrayed me during the lowest moment of my life; anger towards people who find amusement with the misery of others; anger towards Jerry who had left me to deal with this; and anger towards God who allowed tragedy and loss to happen.

After several sessions with Sophie, I have learned that this anger I was trying so hard to rid myself of is actually the only true friend I had all this time. It kept me at bay from people who have hurt me, reminded me of my own goodness within me, motivated me to move forward and stay focus. It kept me from making the wrong decisions that would cause any negative effects on my children's lives. More importantly, it made me commit to doing what is right in spite of how bad the situation was.

Ignore the nasty. The perennial speculation for a young widow is that she would marry soon. Others will be very straightforward about this without any consideration for the feelings of the widowed and her children. Such was my case, I guess that is the curse of one widowed so young. Even if such is farthest from my mind, speculations, nasty comments and baseless criticisms would make one entertain the thought. Nevertheless, it is not a priority.

Remember that unhealthy comments should not even be given the time of day. Learn to purge this from your system. You may not have control over what people think or say about you, but you have full control of how you would respond to this. Find comfort that God sees everything and that the best battles won are the ones that are not fought.

Moving Along vs. Moving On

If there is a pill that would address all these emotions and grief, I would probably be a drug dependent by now. Nevertheless, I am reminded that in spite of being just a widow for 5 months, I am able to accomplish much. True, I may have had months to prepare for my husband’s passing but one can never be ready for a loss of a loved one, there’s simply no manual that goes with it. The loneliness, feeling of abandonment, anger issues are the ones that would require a longer healing process. Believe me, when it hits you, you find yourself emotionally drained, physically disabled, and mentally useless.

On days like this, I find myself intensely praying to the higher being who sees everything. I find comfort in His presence and I somehow manage to get through the day without any help from any anti-depressant. I’ve made that decision to trust in Him and no one else. My relationship with God is how I would describe a marriage. You may not always be in love with your spouse but you have committed to be so regardless of how you feel. I would look at my checklist and see what else needs to be completed and when I see I’ve done so much, it lifts my spirits and encourages me. Truly, the one up there is an enabling God.

My children are my greatest source of strength and inspiration. I’ve made a deal with them that when they miss their papa, just let me know and I will hug them. When it is my turn, they would hug me back. Building new memories are our priority now. We’ve modified old traditions and committed in new ones. We have become the best of friends always longing to be with each other.

So where is Mr. Grief now? Every now and then it pops out and I allow him to be. Mornings can be tough because my waking moments are spent nursing it. In doing so, I have released this emotion and liberated myself. As days passed by, the rage I once felt inside is slowly dying down. I’ve learned to laugh and be normal again and somehow find the peace I’ve lost through all these turmoil of emotions. Mr. Grief will soon go away and the memories of my husband will remain and keep us going. No, we have not moved on yet. We are simply moving along and yes, I’ve finally had a good cry.


Chino, aged 6, Mama Denise, and Basti, only 3 in Boracay after the 9th day. Definitely, still a family.

1 Comments:

At November 11, 2008 at 9:45 AM , Anonymous Dana said...

Great work.

 

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