My Papa said to me a long time ago: “when it starts hurting the head and not just the heart, then start self preservation.” And I suppose I’ve been on self-preservation mode for sometime.

I can tell you a thing or two about grief. And it is this: it is unrelenting and it doesn’t go away. Not completely. It takes a different shape overtime. And maybe that’s what people mean when they say that time heals. But it never completely disappears. It stays there in the deep recesses of our being. It becomes a part of us. Not who we are, but a part of us nonetheless.

I cannot tell you how to maneouvre through your grief. Because the feeling and intensity is so unique to you.

Imagine if you’re grieving not for one but for a multitude of reasons. My situation exactly last year.

Imagine further if you’re also stoic and keeps your hurt hidden. Papa use to say: “those who smile the most are hurting the deepest.”

In the Filipino culture, when a loved one dies, you are expected to cry and wail to kingdom come. To summon all the pain in a ghastly gut-wrenching scream is as normal a scene in funerals as it is in horror movies. Seriously.

My kids say to me that I’m the most un-Filipino Filipino. I cannot wail. I can certainly cry in silence. Even talking about my grief was hard. Where do I start? What should I expect people to say to me? So silence was the best recourse. Until I was ready. But my head certainly wasn’t silent.

Over time, the pain eases but then there are triggers that could easily send the grieving person in a spiral.

And then something just clicked! I needed to do something that challenges me, something joyful.

When nothing seems to go right, do something that is right. That was my Papa’s counsel to me too. Just do something. “Keep your hands busy.”

As a young child abandoned by my mother, Papa kept me busy. There was no time to think of what was certainly missing when he and I were together. There were many arts and crafts that he got me into. We worked mostly in silence, punctuated by instructions.

Papa said that when the hand are busy, you will hardly notice how much time had passed. I look at my photos from 12 months ago. So much has changed. I look at myself in the mirror, I can see a peaceful person now. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but slowly and surely, I am getting there.

Grief can either lead us to despair or get us creative. Choose to be creative, whatever it may be. I chose to clutch at life.

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