Pain and practicality

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We now return you to the blogpost proper.  – Aff

 

Beware. Rambly post ahead.

 

Grief, from where I stand, never plays out the way they portray in the movies.

When my father died, Vincent was a month old. Things were tough, but throw in an unexpected monkey-wrench into that grief and pain: My father was the Philippines’ Ambassador to Israel at the time.

We’d only found out that my father had passed and the phone was ringing off the hook – before joining the diplomatic corps, Dad had been a journalist in the Marcos era and his friends and peers were the nation’s media now. My mother, my brothers and I had to set aside wanting to hug each other and cry and grieve. My father’s sister, bless her, handled the funeral arrangements, but we had to deal with the crazy political protocols and the media. Because my mother was the wife, and I was the eldest, we got spoken to the most; and frankly I did try to field most of the questions and interviews because I wanted to spare my brothers. My dad trained us from childhood that we represented the country, so we had to be on our best behaviour when we were out in public. So we put our pain in a metaphorical box and set it aside for a little while, because we had a duty to fulfil, obligations to honor. We put on a mask, and thanked people for coming, listened to the stories they had to tell about my father, accepted hundreds of condolences and people’s help.

It’s a good thing we did because for the entirety of that week-long funeral we had people coming to bid my father goodbye from 6 AM to 3 AM the next day, every day. Plenty of them were journalists, figures and representatives of government and state, including President Arroyo and Former President Ramos. (The latter came to visit twice and chatted to my mom in their native Illocano.) But the most were people whose lives my father had touched; from the Muslim boxing team who he invited to stay in our apartment because they didn’t have accommodations to his teachers from his home island of Romblon.

Not a single tear was shed in public. In the time instead, my father’s life was celebrated, and my mother and I were there, marvelling at the sheer number of people who had come to bid my Dad farewell. We sat together and cried afterward, but we couldn’t grieve too long because we needed to find work to support the family. It wasn’t easy and Rhys was a wonderful help.

To a lot of people, our grief was muted in response. Seriously though, Dad’s funeral was full of ceremony and protocol; he had an honour watch with a representative of each branch of the Philippine Armed Forces standing guard around his coffin, and they were the ones who carried his coffin to the crematory. I was the one to accept the flag that had been draped on his coffin. You don’t throw a howling fit of grief in a situation like that; you stand as if you had an iron rod for a spine, and conduct yourself with dignity, tears quietly running down your cheeks at the worst. And it’s shaped how I deal with grief. I want to scream and scream and scream, but I can’t.

I don’t often ask for help; most of the time it doesn’t occur to me to ask unless it’s something I can’t figure out or physically do. I usually ask family, because unless it’s offered, I have this mentality of not bothering other people with my concerns and personal stuff because well, other folk have their own issues. When my father died, my friends asked me what they could do to help. I asked them to help me find a job (and they did, though I had to get in on my own merits. All they did was point me at the job application because I didn’t have the time to go searching.)

When we lost Damien to stillbirth, Rhys and I grieved with family; though Rhys’ unit knew about our loss and were telling Rhys that we just had to ask, we didn’t know how to ask. Damien had been abstract to everyone but my immediate family, a name I’d mention. I’d talk to a small group of friends about my loss, and they noticed that I was growing increasingly isolated, more quiet. Things just seemed to matter less and less.

Frankly, I wasn’t finding counselling helpful. A childless counsellor seven years my junior and with less life experience than I had as a teenager honestly doesn’t know how to handle a grieving mother who also has to handle grieving children, nor does it help that a number of people tend to form rather preconceived notions about me upon sight. It’s not racism, mind, but rather a bunch of very common tropes in play that don’t apply to me. They get blown out of the water as soon as I open my mouth and most folk just don’t get the time to recover sufficiently. I don’t mind and I don’t blame these folks. I grew up Odd; which is inevitable with the parents I have. Makes it hard to relate though.

It had gotten tiring to talk to someone new each time and have to spend most of the session explaining stuff over and over again, so after a while I just stopped going. The friends who had noticed my growing quietness suggested that I go read the Mad Genius Club blog, as well as the According to Hoyt ones; I discovered the MHN website and started reading that because, well, Legend of the Five Rings fanfic. I loved that game and missed playing it (the pen and paper RPG not the CCG) so it was fun to read incredibly hilarious and just plain fun stories in a familiar setting. I didn’t know that Larry was a professional til someone pointed it out. I started participating in the blogs.

They were just what I needed, honestly. I found friends who were different from me, but also like me in the important ways. They gave me that little bit of hope that I needed, because I recognized that I was in a pit emotionally and needed to claw myself out of it or I wouldn’t get out. But not only did I climb out of that pit, I moved forward. I could write again. I could dream again. But it took a lot out of me to force myself past the pain and grief and that heavy despair I felt inside. Ask Aff. I consider myself a doom magnet. He used to say I was really negative and now he’s somewhat astonished at how much life seems to go out of it’s way to hurt me. I felt like I had been flayed some days, but I was moving forward, bit by bit.

I wasn’t sure I could do that again. Then I got pregnant, had a difficult and painful pregnancy, and we had the baby we wanted so very much. A baby who, from day of birth, was a fighter, a tough little boy with the piercing eyes I inherited from my dad, full of personality. He wasn’t much like his eldest brother, who was a sweet charmer from the start. No, this baby was quiet and observant, and the curiosity that lit his eyes was a joy to behold. Of course, that frown and the raised Spockian eyebrow delighted everyone in the household. Never had we seen an infant express such disapproval. Seeing these glimpses of the character that was Brandon, we wanted to know more, see how he would grow, what he would be like, how that mind would develop.

Then came that terrible morning, and we’re all back down that pit again. Damien and Brandon were both beautiful baby boys, and not having them has left gaping wounds that feel like they will never heal. I know that having them ripped out of our lives so suddenly will leave scars.

I can’t stand the silence, the sense of wrongness that Brandon’s death has left behind. We were just starting to see the person he would become!

But if I sound coherent, I’m not. I’m just numb and horribly overtrained. My brain is elsewhere, making a list of things to do and what’s needed, to prepare and my heart quietly bleeds. I know it’s unnerving. Everything is surreal and horrible right now and I don’t have an escape hatch. I’m hurting in ways I can’t describe, remembering again and again and again, in crystal clear clarity, that terrible, awful morning that I wish never happened.

As much as I want to curl into a ball and close my eyes and never wake I can’t do that. I just can’t, even as I fear what life will throw at me next, to see what will cause me to break. As it is, I feel like I’ve cracked even more.

I can’t stop. Gotta keep moving.

Rhys and I went to the docs today, then went and talked to the same funeral parlour that had handled Damien’s funeral and cremation. They’re a lovely family business, very caring and wonderful with regards to the pain and suffering that newly bereaved parents go through. Fantastic service that you never want to go through once, never mind twice. The owner remembered us, and was quite shocked that we were back. Since we have no idea when we’ll get Brandon’s body back from the people doing the autopsy in Brisbane, we haven’t yet got a set date for his cremation. We’ve got the beginning arrangements done; and the owner of the funeral parlour said he will give us the same rate that we had for Damien’s cremation and funeral.

I guess it’s just getting things to put in his coffin with him now. Mom is sending some stuff in the hopes that they’ll get here in time. I asked for a wooden rosary. We’ll include books and soft toys; I have to think about how they’ll burn. Maybe print out some photos of his family to take to heaven with him. Funeral clothes. What type of urn to keep Brandon’s ashes in.

Things no parent should have to think about.

The health nurse who was doing home visits was shocked to hear that Brandon had passed. She’d been the one weighing and measuring him, and I’d been looking forward to her visit this week. I showed her pictures, and gave her a couple of copies. She said he had grown so much and she was supposed to visit me yesterday but she was given the news. There had been nothing, she said, that looked even vaguely off or sick about him and he’d been wonderfully healthy. She’d seen firsthand how well he was loved and cared for and we’d done everything right.

I’ve been reading everyone’s comments and emails – as much as I can when I have moments of quiet that I need to fill. Thank you. Thank you for the prayers, and condolences and offers for help, it’s comforting.

I think Kate Paulk has ideas so people who have been asking me if they can do something.

I read that folks have been worried about my posting about my son’s death, and finally talking about our losing Damien to a full term stillbirth late 2013. There is worry that my stalker of several years, Andrew P. Marston aka yamamanama, aka ‘luscinia’ and ‘alauda’, would use this news against me and mine, especially after he threatened my children repeatedly. That he’d be happy knowing that we – my partner Rhys, our housemate Aff, my children and I – were suffering.

When we lost Brandon two days ago, I thought about whether or not I would write about his passing in public. Yes, Marston was the reason behind my hesitation. I decided in favour of letting people who had enjoyed seeing him and, from a distance, cared and loved seeing him grow, know that he had gone to Heaven. I felt that their love was worth more than Marston’s petty rage and hatred, or his joy in my sorrow.

Love is worth more than hate, in my book.

Rhys and I were talking earlier yesterday, and he asked me, “If you had known, halfway through your pregnancy, that you were going to lose Brandon in just two and a half months after you gave birth to him, would you have given him up?”

My horrified and immediate response was, “No! How could I?!”

“Then there’s no reason to have regrets. We would have loved him just as much, cherished him just the same. We made him happy and kept him safe; he never knew pain other than a nappy rash and prickles (from Rhys’ face stubble.)”

My dad was always taking tons of photos of us, his family. He loved doing it. I asked him why once and he said that so we’d always remember the good times we had, because that’s all you have left, when they’re gone. He reminded precocious 10 year old me that even children can die, so it was important that we take lots and lots of photos, to remind us of the memories. Since he and Mom also lost the brother who came after me to stillbirth, I guess he was right. So I took plenty of photos, as many as I could, when I was able to get a camera, and then later my smartphone. Love that new smartphone I have. Clearest pictures I’ve ever taken.

Freshly bathed, very happy baby! Aahhh, how I will miss that baby smell...

Freshly bathed, very happy baby! Aahhh, how I will miss that baby smell…

I look at his photos and they’re not enough, there aren’t enough photos, to me. There should have been more videos. We never got to take a family photo because we were waiting for his grandparents’ visit next week to take the first one. But I guess we always thought that we’d have plenty of time. But the reality is, there will never have been enough photos and what we have will have to last us a lifetime.

Aff says that he still keeps feeling that if he runs to Rhys’ and my bedroom fast enough, there’d be a chance to save Brandon, even though he knows in his head, that he couldn’t. He keeps wishing he could have, and keeps replaying his jolting awake at the sounds of my screams, the futile attempt to do CPR… He loved Brandon, and the day before my baby died, he was carrying Brandon in his arms in our back yard, happily calling out that Brandon was staring up and frowning at the awning as rain clattered down on it. Then he had Vincent sit with Brandon, while Brandon lay in his baby carriage to look outside and frown at the sounds of a screeching wild cockatoo. When the rain got noisy and upset him, Aff brought Brandon back in and had Vincent reading to him. He may not be blood but the man is family, a devoted an uncle to my kids as their uncles by blood.

The extended family is hit extremely hard by this; my brother in Dubai had to reschedule a job interview, the grandparents on both sides and Aff’s parents too; because my kids, I guess, have become grandkids of the heart. And Brandon gave his first real big wide happy smile to Aff’s Dad over Skype, which while I’m somewhat jealous about (fah, ‘somewhat’ – I only saw it from the side and not in full! I’m VERY jealous!). My siblings in law and youngest brother are extremely rattled and my mom wishes she were with me so she could take care of me.

I wish I could have her with me too, but… ah well. She’s in the Philippines. She hurts because I, her child, her daughter, am hurting.

The thing I’m bracing myself for is letting all the people who have fallen in love with him RL know. The ladies working at the grocery, especially as I let them cuddle him one evening when we were there late near closing time. One of them spotted Rhys the night before Brandon’s death, because he was out getting a few bits and pieces, and demanded to know why he hadn’t brought the baby for them to fuss over. Rhys told her that the bubbie was asleep and Mummy needed a bit of rest. “I suppose,” the lady said grudgingly, but with a smile. The girls at the newsagents, who I chat to and saw him, will be just as heartbroken. The bubbly, beautiful Filipina girl working at McDonalds who went squee at the sight of Brandon – she keeps telling me and Rhys what a lovely couple we make – and we let her cuddle him. She’s adorable and cute, rushed around the counter for baby cuddles. I dread telling her. I don’t know what to say to the lady at the homewares shop because she knew I’d had a stillbirth and had been praying for us when she saw me with child again. She saw Brandon a couple of times, and always stopped to talk. Or the older couple who own the florist’s shop, who would stop working and come out to admire our bright eyed, tiny, cute little boy. (They’re the same shop that provides for the funeral parlor too.)

They’ll be devastated. How fragile, how precious, how fleeting life is, making it even more beautiful and tragic. I keep thinking about Japanese sakura flowers, and the symbolism behind them.

Time flies, and then, it’s gone. But right now it doesn’t feel like that.

Two days. The first two days of a lifetime. Again.

 

There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms. – Charlotte Brontë

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Pain and practicality

  1. malcolmthecynic

    I was reading through comments on Larry’s blog and clicked on the link here. I am a young man who has suffered little loss, and won’t pretend I can in any way sympathize or understand.

    I will only say to you what I say to everybody struggling with grief: Read C.S. Lewis’s “A Grief Observed” if you haven’t already. I’ve never read anything even close to as honest as that book when it comes to grief.

    1. R.K. Modena Post author

      Ah, thank you! My mother was talking about a book a friend was recommending to her and could not remember the title. She remembered that it was C.S. Lewis and suggested I have a look. I might get her a copy as well.

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