(Photo by skaletto)

(Photo by skaletto)

One of the harsh realities of being a senior is that more and more people we know – and many we are close to – are passing on. The obits, which I used to read out of curiosity, are now like a roll call, often determining the degree of sadness we have to endure in a day or a week.

And sadness there will always be. There is no such thing as getting used to death, no matter how many we have mourned. Not when the people who are being called are those we love.

Here's part of a column I wrote some years back that I have been sending to friends who are grieving. I hope those of you who are going through a similar sadness – like I am, because of the recent loss of a close friend – will be comforted. 

How do we speak of grief? We draw on the usual arsenal of words: ache, longing, pain, suffering, anguish, sorrow, heartbreak. Pile on some adjectives: heavy, unbearable, intense, devastating, unending. But somehow when you are going through your personal hell, these words sound hollow and inadequate. They don’t describe the dread you feel when the sun is disappearing in the horizon, the darkness is setting in, and you have to negotiate the night alone, unable and unwilling to sleep because the momentary respite only leads to a more vigorous ache in the heart the next morning.

No, these words do not even come close to describing how your day is shrouded in gray because the sunshine is gone from your life, and you move around like a robot, stiff and unfeeling, since your broken heart has sapped your senses of every sensation and snuffed out the light in your eyes.

How do you explain the way your heart constricts when you absentmindedly turn to share a quip, a bit of news, an opinion, and then realize that the person you want to share it with is no longer around? Is there a way to convey the full measure of interrupted lives, lost dreams and shattered illusions?

When O, a person I had a lot of affection for, was killed in the vilest possible manner many years ago, I plunged into a sadness so deep, it took me a very long time before I could climb out of it. In the months following his death, I was a wreck. My days were filled with tears and exhaustion, my nights with nightmares and loneliness.

Those who have experienced such grief recognize the helplessness one feels when one’s life is spinning out-of-control. You cry at the most inopportune moments, each time you remember the face and your loss, which is very often; and at night, you go down on your knees and pray as fervently as you can for just a few more minutes together so you can say a proper farewell.

Eventually –  because you have to  –  you learn to build up your defenses and carve out the rest of your life from the debris of your previous one, but there will always be an empty space within you that can never be filled even by the happiness you may later manage to achieve.

It’s so easy, even tempting, to wallow in despair and bitterness, and there should be time for these.

However, the bigger challenge –and the sweeter triumph – is in barreling into the sunshine despite the clouds that have wrapped around you, like skin. Easier said than done, I know.

How can we speak of redemption? We may use such words as recovery, regeneration, rebirth, salvation, but they cannot capture the music in our soul as we emerge from the thicket of our agony. It may be a slow process, and oftentimes we may feel guilty because it would seem that we have forgotten. But moving on is not forgetting. We just learn to shed our sadness over the end of one significant phase of our life and rejoice instead because it happened. 

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino