Grief is selfish.
At least mine is. During the first months after papa died, I convinced myself I didn’t want to forget him. What was really happening was that I was hanging on to my idea of him. People, especially those who have been fortunate to live their lives with substance and accomplishment, are never one-dimensional. There is so much more to papa than what I could have hoped to hold on to. All I wanted was for him to remain mine and to remain what he was to me, a father. Anything beyond that (a husband) and less (or so I thought) than that (a friend, a pastor) was nothing to me.
I have had to share him all my life when he was alive. I kept repeating, I don’t want to share him anymore now that he is no longer here. I knew people needed to grieve him too – for all that he was to them, for all the quiet deeds and friendships and moments that were outside of him being a father to me. I knew that in my head. But I hardened my heart against it. No. I refused to share him anymore in death as much as I had to in life.
It came to a point where I didn’t even want to share him with his other children. It was harder to ignore them, but I managed to, in my wickedly selfish tendency. I forgot that my brother was losing just as much if not more than I was. He would now have to move forward in life without the primary example of what he yearned to be. I forgot that my very young sister was lost years with papa that I’ll always have. She was so small and yet had enough knowledge of loss to tell us that she was born “too late” and that she was never going to have memories and milestones that my brother and I had with papa and always will.
You see, loss is not even. The heart does not break even – but hearts are indeed broken. I knew I could not compare my loss to my mother’s – losing her husband and lover and companion of 23 years. Her loss is not the same as my grandfather’s. At 92 years old, my grandfather or Lolo had to hear that he had survived not only his wife, but also his eldest son. I think it took my uncles and aunt a full week to be able to break the news to Lolo. I can’t even start comprehending their loss. Even with my own siblings, with whom I shared the closest “kind” of loss, the grief was incomparable. We were grieving papa for different reasons. Oh how many lonely hearts were left in our little apartment! So many heavy, quiet days. It is not comparable because it did not have to be. I know that there were losses greater than ours. We had our father, we enjoyed having him and we have years of great, love-filled memories to keep. There are those whose loved ones left them with nothing, not even memories. The grief was incomparable.
How would we even start to compare or quantify loss? Do we place value based on how many people loved us in our lifetimes? On how many discoveries or works of art we make? On how much money we earn or how much we have given back?
How about people who have no one to grieve for them? Does it make it less of a loss? Is it different for different people? The loss of a spouse must surely be greater than the loss of a parent? How about those who have to bury their own children? Should we mourn more for those who would never see their childhood or experience the joys of life-long friendships? Or do we lose more in those who have lived so much, that the absence of their thoughts and presence among us cause grief to more people? From the outside, I guess you could come up with a way to argue and quantify it. But from the inside, pain is pain. In that moment, it is so easy to forget all that surround you. It didn’t matter whose loss was greater. For each of us, for myself, it felt like drowning. The pain came in waves, each realization greater than the one before it. It didn’t matter if others were drowning more, I didn’t care. I could only focus on trying to keep myself afloat.
Grief reveals our real selves. There are those who fight to stay afloat by being strong for others. My mama and my brother were the same in that sense. Ever the selfless ones, living for others, they faced each day because they had to live for the family (especially when I proved practically of little help). My sister, her blessed little heart, did her best to cheer up every one. Until today, when she senses sadness in a room, she’ll give everyone the warmest hug. She was perhaps one of the most simple, tangible reasons for us to go on. If we all gave up then, what would have happened to her?
Then there are people like me, people who cope by caving myself in and shutting the world out. I felt trapped inside my own head. I wanted to be with papa so much, up to a point that I was contemplating how I could bring that about. I was focused on my own mortality, caught up in moments instead of lifetimes, reliving the past instead of seeing eternity ahead. I knew I needed God and I knew people needed me, but for months, I simply couldn’t get myself to care.
In hindsight, I know now that it was incredibly self-serving and dangerous for me to do. It placed an incredible burden on my family, my then-fiance and my friends. I would never forget the fear I saw in their eyes – fear that they could not get to me even when they were already literally holding me so tight that it physically hurt. I remember how they sometimes loudly, often quietly and always desperately begged me to stay afloat, to just take the next breath. I loved them. I didn’t want them to get hurt. But the grief was more palpable. It was just easier to hold on to that.
Why did I want to relish in it? Maybe I was relieved to have an excuse to be alone and to give up on life. Maybe if I wasn’t in such a struggle even before papa died, I would’ve handled losing him better. Maybe wallowing was my way of holding on to him until I was ready. I remember dreading sleep because it was painful to dream about him. But when the dreams with him in it did come and I would wake up to find that it was only a dream, I would refuse to get out of bed. I wanted to chase him down in my dreams. I would call out his name but when he would answer, his voice never sounded the same as I remember. It was a cycle and I just let myself get spun away.
Would I ever blame anybody who deals with loss this way or any other way? Never. While I am very sorry for the hurt I’ve caused, I do believe that there’s a time to mourn. I just took my sweet, sweet time. Maybe a little more time than I ought to have. There’s no one-size-fits-all scenario. Just because people are smiling and functional and happy does not mean they have forgotten. On the other hand, just because somebody is quiet and reclusive, it does not make them selfish and stuck. I know some people don’t get to take their time to mourn even though they deserve it and need it much more than I did. But I’m grateful that in my case at least, there were a handful of people who surrounded me with love and prayers even when I refused to accept it. They were silent but there. They were patient and without judgment and full of faith. They knew and they reminded me that joy came in the morning. They made sure that I made it to the morning, even if they had to hold me together through the night.
Because it was, and sometimes is still, a lot of weeping before dawn.