Postcards from Grief

The other day I thought to myself, “Am I ever going to be happy again?” It was a strange thing to think… especially as I am not an unhappy person, one of my oldest friends told me when we first met that I struck her as incredibly cheerful in a very old-fashioned, almost apple-cheeked, 19th-century way, that I was “merry”—something you never think of as person as being anymore. I thought that was a good word to describe me, as I am a lot like my dad and my dad was very… well, merry. He had this liveliness about him. He was such a happy person and yet his favorite motto was “I’d rather be miserable in wealth.” He liked nice hotels, Pop.

Since my dad passed away seven months ago, while the immediate shock and intense sorrow has faded a bit, I find that there is a gloom that has settled over me somewhat, that I am not quite the person I used to be before it happened. Nothing like this has ever happened to me or my family before. Sure, my parents lost their fortune and we had to move to the US, but it’s only money. Really. I learned that very early in life, I grew up thinking three-month vacations to Europe was the norm. When that ended, it was a huge shock but it wasn’t as bad—not even in the same league—as this. Losing someone you love..I never really understood what that meant. What loss means. Absence. Missing. It amazes me sometimes: here are my dad’s books, here is my dad’s library card. There is the couch he used to sit on when he would come over. He used to drive my car when I drove him to chemo. It’s like he’s everywhere but nowhere. Even the word ‘grief’ looks like grief, doesn’t it? The way it fits together, with that g and that f, it already looks so sad. Grief is a good word to describe grief. It’s a sadness that stings, that is somewhat unexpected. What is that saying? Grief is another country.

Sometimes I forget why I am sad, I just notice that I am not as happy as I used to be. Not as merry maybe. Definitely a little blue around the edges. A little melancholy. I know that no matter what, for the rest of my life, the feeling of missing will never go away. And that this loss will only compound as the years go by and we all slouch towards the inevitable.

Will I ever be happy again? I hope so. My dad certainly was. He lost a brother when he was 18, his mom when he was 25, his dad when he was 33. Both his sisters died of cancer in their late 50s, early 60s. (My dad died at 60.) And yet he was the happiest person I knew. He told us to survive his loss and to carry on. He even joked about it. When friends would call and ask how he was during that last hard year, he’d always say, “Buhay pa!” (“Still alive!”)

Nice things that happened when my dad died. The flower storm. The cards. The cards with checks, from Filipino friends. My mom cried as she opened those—she had forgotten that in the Filipino culture, it was a custom to send money when someone died. That the community shares your loss. And sends money to help offset funeral costs. It’s an immigrant thing.

We buried my dad in a cemetery. The American way, it seems now, is to cremate and scatter. I grew up going to the graves of my grandparents every weekend. In the Philippines when someone dies you wear a black pin for a year to show everyone you are in mourning. It seems so casual to me, to scatter ashes. But where would you visit? Where would you go when you feel sad? Or the urn in the living room. Really? Just…there? Remains? By the fireplace?

Some days it is easier to forget, and then some days it is not.