The Seed of New Love

I never really understood the grief that comes with the passing of a pet. For years, I often wondered about the kind of love that elicits such sorrow. I never really understood this, not until Kitty came into our lives.

Kitty came to us on the evening of August 29, 2020, after apparently falling from the roof of our house. We heard a kitten crying loudly in front of our doorstep that night but because we saw a bigger cat with her, we left some food and water and let her be. The next day, this seemingly unfazed kitten spotted Alex looking in on her and decided to follow him. She wandered gingerly towards the back of the garage and followed Alex wherever he went. Her mother repeatedly tried to get her back, calling out to her and putting her paws on her back, but this headstrong kitten just kept coming back to where we were. Alphonse was so surprised to see a baby cat crawl under his trampoline that he started crying loudly and asked to be rescued from the terribly scary kitty monster.

That night, she seemed exhausted from her adventures so we left her in a small plastic bin with a soft cloth and left more food and water. Her mother warily watched us from a short distance and stayed with her when we left. The next day, however, her mother left her alone. We waited for hours for her but she didn’t reappear till many days later.

We didn’t plan on having a pet ever. Between Alphonse and his volatile moods, it has never felt safe to introduce a fragile creature into our home. Moreover, with all the craziness going on in our country and the world today, rescuing one little kitten seemed so insignificant and trivial compared to all our worries. But she came to us like a gift in those lonely times, and for the short while she was here, she gave us so much joy.

A week after we officially adopted Kitty, I brought her to the vet for a health assessment and she gave her a clean bill of health. We were told to return the following week for her first deworming. Before we could return for her appointment, however, Kitty came down with a bad infection. One day, she woke up lethargic and breathing rapidly. She hardly touched her food and drink. She couldn’t even meow.

With the help and expertise of an animal-rescuer friend and her vet, we were able to nurse her back to health. It took a full week before Kitty regained her pep and vigor, but with assisted feeding, lots of cuddles, and the proper medications, she made a full recovery. There was one night during that week that we thought she wouldn’t make it. She kept crawling away to hide in dark corners, curled in a soft wet ball that stank so badly. We didn’t sleep a wink that night as we watched over her and fed her dextrose water and soft gravy.

Kitty stayed with us for nine glorious weeks. Each morning, we woke up with anticipation, knowing we were going to spend another day with her. In the afternoons, Kitty would sit and watch calmly as Alphonse blew bubbles, galloped, jumped, and shrieked himself hoarse. She loved to be cuddled and would often fall asleep in Alex’s lap.

Perhaps I was drawn to her because there were many things about Kitty that reminded me of my own children. The way she was pigeon toed in her right foot, with one paw turned in. Alex still stands exactly like that. The way she was always hungry. Her demands to be fed seemed to always coincide with Alphonse’s cries for food; their appetites were in sync. She was a small kitten, smaller than most, I now realize, reminding me of how, for many years, Alphonse was a little small for his age. For these reasons and more, it just felt like she always belonged to us.

Kitty left us too soon but she was the seed that planted a new kind of love in our hearts. And while we could say that we rescued her, the truth was, she rescued us too.

Stepping Into the Light

These days, when people ask me how I am doing, I can finally, honestly say that I am feeling better.

For a time after Daddy passed away, I was miserable and inconsolable. It’s easy to understand where the grief was coming from; Daddy’s passing caught all of us unprepared. I feel like we never really said our goodbyes. Losing him changed me and snuffed out the light and joy I used to have. Alongside these wretched feelings, I think what I found most perplexing was that I was also very angry. I never really undertood the source of that anger until recently.

Last year, a good friend lost someone dear to her. In our talks, she mentioned that she was “sad-angry” most of the time and was having difficulty processing those feelings. I could not, for the life of me, fathom what it meant until I lost my father.

On the surface, I think it seems as if I coped with the loss rather well. Putting on a happy face was, at times, easy because A♥ poured so much effort into making me feel normal and loved. Most of the time, however, I knew I was changed. I was forever blighted by sorrow and grief.

For a time, I preferred to be alone with my thoughts. I could not bear to talk to friends, or even see them. I was also prone to fits of hostile anger. I could feel it simmering inside me as I reined back my desire to curse, stomp, and rage at the world. I felt volatile, ready to explode.

Once, after a particularly weary day when I had been crying over something that reminded me of Daddy, I received a message of condolence and concern. Were I feeling more like myself today, I bet I would not have even reacted. But sent less than sixty days after Daddy passed away, the message ended with “I hope you are moving on.” It took all of my willpower not to reply with indignation and sarcasm. Locked in my bedroom where no one could see, I threw a tantrum.

Moving on? How does one move on when my heart still felt weighted down by overwhelming grief? How do I say goodbye so easily? I felt my heart pounding as I ranted and raved by myself. The callousness, the lack of tact, sensitivity, and genuine concern, the seemingly flippant way my loss was treated- these irked and vexed me no end.

Later that day, after I had exhausted my husband’s patient ear, I finally realized where this was rooted: the wellspring of my anger was fear.

I feared losing the acuteness of my loss. I feared time moving on, dulling pain of its sharpness. I did not want to wake up one day and not feel sad anymore. For months, we all breathed in the air of pain and suffering, and losing them both, our companions in this weary journey, meant losing the familiar and predictable.

I got angry at people who suggested that I “move on” because “moving on” felt much like forgetting. I could not let them forget that easily, that quickly. And I could not let go of my last tenuous ties to Daddy, however unhappy these were, as I feared forgetting him myself. It would almost be like I had willfully discarded him from my life.Stepping into the light

In those moments of my deepest fears, I prayed for strength and courage. I prayed for deliverance from this darkness that ate away at my joy and my life. And just like a thousand times before when I lost my way, He led me right back to His love. In my silent devotion, my heart found calm and peace.

I am grateful that the people who love me- A♥ most of all- never gave up and patiently waited for me to feel better again. Knowing that their love comes without judgment, I opened my heart to welcome them back in, allowing them unfettered access to my frailties and shame. Many kept writing to me with brief messages of hope and encouragement. And some went even further, sending me unexpected tokens of their love and friendship. I am blessed with beautiful friends, I am proud to say.

My heart still feels heavy at times. My smiles are still sometimes forced. But for the first time since July, I can stand in the sunlight without burning. I can open my eyes to the light.

I think Daddy would be proud.

For My Friend

Today, I wanted to send love to a friend who lives halfway around the world from me. I want her to know that she is thought of with love always, that despite the distance and the long stretches of silence that may last weeks and months, she is never really far away from my thoughts and prayers.

I want her to know that sometimes, things don’t always work out the way we want them to. Relationships may not work out, plans may fall apart, and dreams may change but it doesn’t mean that that is the end of dreaming. Something- someone- better will come along, I know it. Just open your heart to the possibility and it will happen.

Comfort copySo cry for now, my dear sweet friend, and pour your woes and griefs into tears. But when the tears stop- and I promise you they will– dust off the dirt of an unhappy past and be grateful for the lessons it taught you.

It gave you the courage to stand up for what you really want. It made you realize that you deserve to be loved without conditions and demands. And it showed you the person you are within- strong, intelligent, beautiful, resilient.

You have not lost everything, dearest one. You still have you. And you have us. You have me. I am always here for you.

Love you always and my prayers go with you.

Love In A Time Of Grief

05_08_8---Cross-at-Sunset_webTonight, A, Alex, and I attended a vigil mass in honor of the father of Alex’s classmate and friend, G. After classes today, the parents and young men of Alex’s high school class gathered together to pay their respects to G’s dad and show their support for their brother.

It has been five days since G’s dad passed away in unexpected circumstances that have devastated their family. The boys were on a spiritual retreat Friday night and were awakened from deep slumber with the sudden news of G’s dad’s passing. Many wept with G as they received the news. Many found themselves in tight embraces, weeping and consoling each other. Brothers-in-class that they were, that moment, they simply became brothers.

As we celebrated mass in G’s dad’s memory, I had to swallow back my tears many times. I have never seen these boys in somber circumstances; these boys are often clowns, always joking, always able to bring out laughter from all of us. But tonight, they stood as brave young men, their lives touched with the sorrow of one of their own. They clung to each other in groups and propped each other with encouragement and kind words. I hope that G, in the center of their group embrace, found strength and love when he most needed it.

I was amazed at G’s composure and maturity. G is a natural leader, an inspiration to many of his more jocular classmates. Even Alex is in awe of him. When the “commander” (their good natured nickname for G) speaks, everyone listens. And tonight, we all did. In his short speech before the end of mass, he said that before this, his life had not weathered many storms. This would be his biggest, most difficult test. I almost cried then, were it not for G’s calm demeanor. He misses his dad very much, he said, but he had faith that where his dad is, it is where the Lord is. To see such faith in the face of adversity makes my heart sing and weep at the same time.

To G, his mom, and his brothers, you are all in our prayers and our hearts are with you.  God bless you all.

A Parent’s Nightmare

It is every parent’s worst nightmare.

You are in the middle of a long day, waiting for the last few hours before work finally winds downs to a halt. You are thinking about dinnertime with the kids, and how noisy and fun it’ll be when the family sits down for a relaxing meal. You are thinking of the long, hot bath after that, while the kids finish their homework and projects, and you have a few minutes of alone time to wash the dirt and grime of the work day from your tired body. You think of the kisses you will get when you tuck them to bed at night. You glance at the clock, impatient for the time you will be with your family.

And then the phone rings. And your worst nightmare comes true.

Two days ago, on an ordinary Tuesday for many of us, a family’s life was changed forever when their fourth-grade son was run over by a van while inside the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University. Pinned between two large vehicles, Julian Carlo Miguel Alcantara, 10, lovingly called Amiel by his family and friends, did not survive his head injuries.

good20fridayI can never imagine how it is to lose a child, and I pray that I am never ever tested that way. Even now, as I read news reports, blog entries (here and here), and forwarded email from friends in the Ateneo community, I am unable to stop weeping.  Amiel’s death hurts all of us who love our children and wish them nothing but happiness and joy in their lifetime. That he left this world so suddenly, so tragically, and so devastatingly makes many parents like me feel helpless and frightened. We can’t be there to protect our children all the time.

My family and I send our prayers and condolences to the Alcantaras in their hour of deepest grief. We pray that they find their strength as a family and draw from this in their darkest hours. And we pray that Amiel looks down from heaven to help his family heal from the wounds of his passing.

God bless you, Amiel.