Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Turkey's Dread

Last week, my second grader had to work on his 'Turkey In Disguise' project. Admittedly, my being foreign-born and -bred made me clueless as to the rationale of a turkey wanting to be something else. It's during those times when Google becomes an indispensable best friend. 

In the end, my son decided he wanted his turkey to be Batman in order to avoid being hunted and eaten. And since I'm a normal mom with other concerns and don't exactly swoon over each and every school project my son completes, I didn't bother taking a picture of his Batman turkey. Instead, I have Mr. Boxer Champ below as a sample picture just to give some of you an idea as to what this 'tradition' is all about. 

A Turkey in Disguise

In any case, I got inspired by this school project to create a haiku, something brief so as not to interfere too much in the chaos that I'm sure we'll all experience at some point during the festivities this week.

Happy Thanksgiving to all! 
And remember--Be kind to your turkey and try to do it justice.  

The Turkey's Dread

In disguise this week,
I'm hoping to spare myself
from mushy stuffing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Too Much is Never Enough in Food Network Land

Original Image by: Beverley Goodwin

I'm not a big fan of Thanksgiving. Sure I appreciate its meaning, its historical significance, and that for most, it marks the beginning of a long holiday season filled with both family time and overindulgence. It's the American way after all. 

However, I just don't have the same level of emotional attachment to it as I do towards Christmas, or even the New Year. Though I've learned to embrace it and join in the celebration, I still generally feel as if this holiday is alien to me, perhaps mainly because I didn't grow up having this holiday to celebrate in the Philippines. Maybe it's also because I'm not a big fan of turkey and haven't met stuffing that I understood, let alone impressed me. Who knows?

So in an effort to get in the mood and have better understanding of all the fuss that surrounds this holiday, where do I turn to? --- The Food Network.  Because let's face it. The holidays just won't be the same without acquainting ourselves with all the possible calories and diabetes-inducing treats we can consume. 

Though I enjoy watching a number of the network's shows and even record a few of them (mainly because they relax me), I've come to notice something extremely annoying, and something that I feel transforms the experience from a G rating to PG. And no, it doesn't have anything to do with the amount of cleavage I see, nor the unsexy guest chef / restaurateur who consistently describes all the food he stuffs his mouth with as 'sexy' and thinks it's so eloquent. Let's not even go there. 

What I'm talking about here is the "Too, too".

Since when has it become grammatically acceptable to say that? I don't know if these cooking 'stars' are just trying to be cute, but I hope they know it doesn't really make sense when they say it.

"Now, I like to put a little bit of hot sauce, but not too too much."

"Stir in the chocolate chips into the dough, but not too too much. You don't wanna overdo it."

"Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the top...just a little, not too too much."

It. Drives. Me. Insane!!!!

God forbid my second-grader starts thinking it's acceptable to speak this way, and so now I make it a point to pay closer attention and make sure he doesn't start picking up on this nonsense.

What exactly should that mean? Why isn't 'too much' enough anymore? Is it in addition to in addition to? Is it to an even higher degree than the higher degree? Seriously, what the hell is it supposed to mean? Should it just be a little too much and not more than that? More than what?

I have no idea who started this but I'm afraid it's becoming a stupid trend. I've counted at least three cooking celebrities who speak this way, from the kitchen, to the beach house, and up to the middle of nowhere. They spit it out so naturally and with no awkwardness whatsoever. It hurts my ears and makes me squirm, much like when I hear people drop the 'ng' sound at the end of their words and replace them with just the 'n' sound (e.g. 'overpowereen'; 'freakeen'; 'lovin'; 'chatteen').

Am I just getting too old? 
Is it just me or have you noticed such things too and found yourself shaking your head too too much? *Dammit!*

Friday, November 14, 2014

When We Became Three: A Family Adventure

*All opinions expressed in this post are my own. I was provided with an e-copy of the book for the purpose of this review, and was not financially compensated. This post also includes an affiliate link (Amazon Services LLC Associates Program) which means a commission may be credited to this site when a purchase is made through that link.


As far as my mother is concerned, I'm one of the best story tellers she has ever met. Among her children, she says I'm the most animated and I suppose, most curious as well. Okay, maybe 'nosy' would be her exact word but you get the picture.

I didn't grow up in an outdoorsy or adventurous family. My idea of adventure really revolved around searching for hidden treasures around our house -- (Translate: sneaking into my parents' room to very carefully and systematically go through my mom's closet and eventually be able to open THE trunk). It's an antique army metal trunk which she inherited from my grandfather. I remember feeling the rush as soon as I open her closet door and see the olive green metal box in front of me.

One of the things I loved pulling out of that trunk was my mom's scrapbook. My mom was never the craftsy type. She was a busy working mother and couldn't be bothered with cutting and gluing to make things look nice. But she was organized and was able to do her best to document our major milestones. Leafing through her scrapbook, I remember seeing cut hair from our first haircut; our umbilical cord; or first tooth pulled out. I loved looking at bits of my life that I don't remember and have always admired my mom for being able to do all the documentation for three kids.

I have only one child and can hardly keep up with it. I have pictures and papers around my desk from five or so years ago, noting down something funny that my son said, or something remarkable he did, and I keep promising myself I will create a nice, fancy scrapbook that will put every Pinterest mom to shame....Yeah right!

In addition to my curiosity about my childhood, I'm sure my mom would agree if I said that I was the most curious about how she and my dad started out, as a couple and then as parents. I guess very early on I couldn't deny the hopeless romantic in me. The trouble is, every time I asked my parents for information, I was left feeling even thirstier for details than when I first asked. 

And this is why I was so thrilled to be acquainted with this book 'When We Became Three' by Jill Caryl Weiner.


It's a family journal, and not just your typical 'baby book'. It's something I can get for myself to fill out for my now seven year-old child, as well as a thoughtful gift for either expecting or new parents.

There are so many things that impressed me about this cutting edge memory book, but I'd like to highlight my Top Three Reasons:

1.  It's highly insightful. This book will not only require you to write down the same old facts that the usual baby book offers. Instead it's like having your personal novelist write the outline of your story for you and your partner to fill out the details to make it your own; details such as why you love being your child's parents, or what you wish you had done differently with regard to childbirth. There's a section on 'The Painful Truth' where parents can write about certain baby stages that scare them or were difficult for them to experience, as well as how they dealt with it. That truly resonated with me and kudos to Jill for having the wisdom to include such an important section.

2. It's refreshingly creative, truly one of a kind. This memory book captures the 'real' without being predictable or cookie cutter. Seriously, where else can you find a memory book that includes "Yoda" as a choice you can tick to complete the sentence, "Baby looks like...." But it's brilliant, isn't it? Or what about the page about Mom with an item that says, "Height in heels or flats", and "Hair color at the time"? It's simply adorable!

3. (And this is my top reason for falling in love with this book!)-- It includes BOTH parents, unlike other memory or baby books in the market that are solely baby-centric. This book feeds the romantic in me, in that it includes the love story of the parents, as well as sections that focus on the individuality of the parents before they even became 'Mom & Dad'. Emphasis was placed, not just on parenthood or couplehood, but also on the individual traits and experiences of each parent. Also unlike most memory books, this one also puts a spotlight on Dad. I really think that's an important element in a memory book, at least for families with a traditional role set-up (i.e. those with a 'mom' and 'dad').

Stories are meant to make you feel something. In reading this memory book, even with the details left blank, I found a truly endearing narrative, and I asked myself how it made me feel. 

Sure, I felt nostalgic. That's a given with any memory book. 

But beyond that, I felt grateful. Grateful for the good, the bad, the new normal reached as you become a parent, which Weiner successfully highlighted in this book. And as far as I'm concerned, anything that can pave the way for more gratitude in my life is a welcome experience. I assume this to be true for all jaded parents out there. 

Hopefully, when I finish filling out my copy of this book, my son won't have to dig through a trunk or chest that I've hidden somewhere in the house. I can just give it to him and he will be on his way to a lovely adventure, with all the details he would ever need to discover who he is, who mom and dad were (or are), and most of all, how we became three.

*With the holidays coming, I can't think of a better, more meaningful gift for parents, new AND old. You can get your copy of When We Became Three by clicking on the image below.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Lessons From My Two Imperfect Weddings

This week I celebrated my wedding anniversary. My 'other' wedding anniversary for the year, is what I call it.

You see, I married the same person twice; one was a civil ceremony, while the other, a church (Catholic) ceremony.

And neither one was perfect.

My civil wedding happened three months after I entered the United States. We had to do it very quickly to take advantage of my Mom being here on vacation at the time. More importantly, we didn't have the luxury of delaying for obvious immigration requirements. I entered a tourist, and ended up being engaged and, eventually, married to a U.S. citizen. (You can read more about this story here).

Lacking in preparation, as well as funds, it meant compromising on a lot of things and forgoing certain traditional elements in a wedding.

I had to go to Nordstrom to buy my (first) wedding dress and it was a champagne colored three-piece gown. It was gorgeous and I've gotten so much mileage out of that dress. But it wasn't white and certainly didn't make me look or feel like a princess.

On my wedding day, I opted to do my own hair and make-up. I didn't see the need to fuss over it considering I was only headed to the courthouse, a quick in and out, and that there was no party afterward. Lunch was served for intimate family and friends at our favorite Chinese dim sum restaurant in Chicago. There was no dancing-the-night-away affair, nor a DJ to play the Chicken Dance, the Cha Cha Slide or Y.M.C.A.

The most imperfect detail of that day was the fact that my groom had a severe gout attack. He was in so much pain that he couldn't help but limp and wince with every step, and it certainly took the element of romance out of the entire morning. At some point it made me wonder if it was a case of cold feet. But no. It was uric acid toe.

Short of a year and a half after that, we finally had our church wedding. We decided to do this for our faith, and to share our union with more friends and family. Objectively speaking, however, I felt it was sort of anti-climactic and was really just a formality. There was not much excitement to it since I had already been married to this man for a year and four months. 

We had a guest list of close to 300, but still didn't include majority of my family and friends from the Philippines. Instead, probably close to half of our list was filled with names I didn't know, people who didn't know me either.

For this second wedding ceremony, I did go to a bridal store to get my traditional white dress. But the whole experience was so anti-'Say Yes To The Dress'. I went in by myself (no female relatives and close girl friends for a cheering squad), showed the associate a picture of the dress I had already picked online, fitted it and paid for it. There was no ambivalence, and definitely no drama and the 'oh-my-God-this-is-it-I-feel-like-a-princess-bride-goddess' moment. Though I loved my dress and thought it was beautiful, my thought bubble was more like, 'Shit-can-I-really-wear-this-all-night-long-and-do-I-really-have-to'?

And did I mention how I hated our photographer who eventually screwed us by twisting part of the contract and wanted to overcharge? I was also bloated on that day as it was the time of the month and I don't think he was skillful enough to feature my better angles. 

For a perfectionist (now a recovering one), all these glitches felt like shards of glass I was forced to swallow. I had to compromise on a lot of details which made the reality quite far from the vision I've held on to for years prior to finding the man I would marry.

But maybe that was the Universe being kind to me. Instead of feeling like the stars were conspiring against me, I believe the imperfections in my weddings were trying to teach me two things: (1) that perspective can be my best friend; (2) that weddings, like marriages, are never perfect and that the success of the journey ahead depends heavily on the partners' willingness to compromise. 

So what that there was no dancing and partying for my first wedding? I never really enjoyed dancing anyway and to be honest, hearing the Cha Cha Slide and Chicken Dance only makes me want to shoot myself in the head.

So what that our first 'reception' was at a dim sum place? We love Chinese food! 

So what that neither one of my dresses made me tear up, nor made me look like a princess? In truth, I wish I could've just gotten married wearing jeans and riding boots. And it really doesn't matter that my dresses didn't make me cry because both the officiating judge and the priest did that for my husband and me. I remember the judge saying how comfortable my husband and I both seemed, compared to other nervous, seemingly uncertain couples. And I still remember my husband tearing up, his voice shaking when he was saying his vows to me in church. I would take those tears any day over simply tearing up at the bridal stores.

So what that I didn't like certain small details? Beside me was a man who did all he can to marry me, TWICE, and who was clearly committed to loving me and building a family with me. It doesn't make sense to be upset over the little wedding wrinkles and thorns. After all, as the years go by and our relationship continues to grow, what we truly celebrate is not the wedding but our Marriage. 

It's not because we said "I Do" twice that makes us strong. It's that, after ten years, we still continue to constantly choose to be each other's witnesses to how our souls are being perfected through our imperfect union.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Of Fruit Flies and a "Writer's" Self-Doubt

Yessssssssssssssss!! YESSSSSSS! I screamed and hoped none of the neighbors heard me in my ecstatic state.

In as much as I'd like to keep you thinking that there is shock value to this post, let me stop you right here and sanitize whatever's going through your mind.

Sanitize...An interesting choice of words considering that what I'm talking about here is this fruit fly on my palm, squashed and definitely beyond dead. I just had to take a photo first before washing my hands. Why wouldn't I? I feel like I need to remember this moment, bask in this triumph, when huge mammal triumphed over pesky insect.

Now don't feel so sorry for the little guy. Please know that it has tormented me for a couple of weeks now. Numerous times I chased it around and thought I had killed it, only for it to taunt me even more as it flies away from the surface where I thought I had already smashed it. It has driven me ABSOLUTELY. INSANE!

So you can understand why I wasn't able to contain myself when I finally had proof that I had killed it. I watched it fly above me. I studied its pattern. And then very, very carefully and with as much precision as I had in me, I positioned my palms and then WHACK! It was as if I had simultaneously carried out my mission and high-five'd myself. Two birds with one stone!

How could I let such a small creature get to me? How could something so seemingly inconspicuous bother me so much? 

The obvious answer of course is that, though small, I felt as if it was constantly there to bother me. I would see and sense it just when I'm trying to be still or enjoy something like a nice meal or a riveting show on television. I felt like it was perpetually hovering around me, mocking me, knowing that I'd never catch it.

I can't help but think that metaphorically, this fruit fly behaved much like certain thoughts I can't rid myself of, no matter how hard and how often I try to smash them; a voice that hovers to mock and undermine my efforts...

The voice that says I am fake and that I am not a writer and will never truly become one. I'm part of blogging groups where a lot of the other writers are published in print, or have been compensated for their writing. This hasn't really happened to me unless you count that time when I was 17 when a women's magazine in the Philippines published a love essay I submitted and actually sent me a check for it. Or those academic articles / researches that got published and for which I was naturally compensated. Do those count? I'm not so sure.

The voice that constantly whispers that there is nothing I can write about that hasn't already been said. Why make the effort? Why even try? The voice further says, "What makes you think your voice is any better than anyone who has already spoken, and that people would be interested to listen to your insipid point of view?"

The voice that further adds, "Are there even people listening, reading you, because you truly captured their attention and not just because they're your friends and feel sorry for you, or feel obligated? Heck, not even your own family reads you!" And then this is followed by an evil laugh, with a sigh of resignation.

These thoughts torment me. I can only wish they were as easy to squash, FOR GOOD, as the fruit fly. Sure, every now and then I'm able to silence the voice and give myself a well-deserved high-five. But only for it to come back a few days later and incapacitate me all over again.

If there are other writers out there reading this --- yes, humor me and allow me to pretend that such a thing can truly happen -- I'd like to know if you hear similar voices too. Better yet, maybe you can give me some advice as to how to catch this insidious pest and smash it for good. Maybe then I can really let out a resounding 'YESSSSSS!' and not care at all if my neighbors hear me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry Someone You Can Dance With

My parents-in-law recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and all their six children decided to throw them a big party to mark this major milestone. Five decades of marriage. 

Though admittedly, I've never been a fan of big, lavish parties, I do concede that being married to the same person for 50 years is indeed worth celebrating. It makes it even more of a big deal when you consider that my father-in-law is a stroke survivor and was severely ill, hospitalized, and almost did not make it back in 2012. Since then, his mobility and ability to care for himself have been affected, and to say that it has changed his life, as well as my mother-in-law's, is an understatement. 

In spite of all these challenges though, both of them clearly looked forward to renewing their vows in Church, and were more than game to put on their dancing shoes for the party that followed that evening. 

Original / Unedited Photo taken by my brother-in-law, James Manuel

It was a beautiful, fun party well attended by family and close friends. Good food, good music, heartfelt speeches by two of their sons and their grandchildren.

But to me, the highlight of the evening was when my father-in-law, or Big Dad as we fondly call him, requested that the DJ play the boogie. And this was after he and my mother-in-law (Big Mom) already danced to their song, Frank Sinatra's "The Nearness of You".

Big Dad could hardly move, walks with a cane, and sometimes has a really hard time breathing. And yet when he danced with Big Mom, you could see both faces beaming with joy and love. Most of all, it amazed me how, in spite of Big Dad's physical challenges, he still knew exactly where to place his hands to hold his wife, catch her turns and help her spin. It was undeniable that these two had a rhythm that each knows by heart.

It struck me that perhaps that's what happens when you love someone for a really long time and spend most of your life together. You get to know that person deeply, intimately, to a point where life turns into a graceful choreography that only the two of you can wonderfully execute. This knowledge of each other, this undeniable familiarity doesn't simply lead to a routine, but more importantly, to a rhythm

Routine implies a certain rigidity, predictability. You know exactly what's going to happen next and it's all about having an established pattern.

Rhythm on the other hand, implies some variation and necessitates an awareness of the other, an interdependence, and being sensitive to how the other is. Each person's steps may be imperfect and may vary from time to time, but the other still catches up, and both constantly choose to flow together. 

Marriages (or relationships) are never perfect. Missteps are bound to happen and a lot of the times, it's exhausting. But when you've found a partner who, for some miraculous reason, also hears the same music and beat as you do, it really makes it harder to just leave the dance floor and quit. 

Life spins us in so many different directions all the time. We trip, fall, bruise and bleed. And though we are strong enough to pull ourselves up, you can't deny that having that familiar hand to hold you, swing and sway with you, and help you keep your balance, makes a universe of difference. It's that one person that makes the spinning more bearable, the dance less tiring. When you know that the other person's hand is home, and that it's the only hand you want catching you when you fall, you know it's real and that you're dancing for keeps. Love like that is ALWAYS worth celebrating and you don't even need to wait before you reach your 50th anniversary.
Original / Unedited Photo taken by: Nel Bunag

Friday, October 17, 2014

Favors Working Moms Should Never Ask For From Their SAHM Friends

I'm so over mommy wars. I feel like it's been debated on to death, with every argument deconstructed and shredded to pieces. I'd like to think a lot of people are more enlightened now, knowing that parents make choices for their families and such choices just have to be respected and even supported. There really is no need to make each other's burdens even more unbearable by being overly critical or judgmental.

Unfortunately however, acceptance of another's choice doesn't necessarily mean fully understanding the implications of such choices. 

I'm a SAHM and I still find that though people have generally tired of questioning my choice, there are still some out there who are clueless about how my regular days look like. 

Yes, I'm talking to you, employed mom friend! We're actually not that close and yet somehow you assume a lot about me and are just too eager to fill my days with YOUR concerns.

Though I don't clock in and out like you do, my days are no less stressful. And though I may not deal with bosses and clients, I still have structured days, with a schedule I try to keep and a perpetually self-replenishing to-do list.

So, do me a favor (for a change!) and take this list to heart. For the sake of our budding friendship and my sanity, please stop asking me for these favors:

Image by: Donald Lee Pardue

1. Babysitting / Caregiving

Last time I checked, we are not related and I'm definitely not your kids' godmother. Therefore, please stop asking me to babysit for you or pick up your kids from school when you're running late. Worse, it's just not cool when you ask me to watch your kids when they're home sick. I'm sure the world won't end if you take time off of work. Better yet, hire a sitter or a nanny. I have my own kid to worry about and frankly, I don't need your kids' germs in my household.

2. Counselling 

Don't expect me to always be available for you when you call, in need of hour-long therapy sessions. I hate that you just assume I always have free time, just because I'm home. I will not drop everything I have scheduled for the day just so I can listen to your problems.

3. Receptionist Duties

I'm not a dog that does nothing but look out my window, so please don't ask me to adjust my schedule so I can spend my day looking out for the postman or the UPS & FedEx guy to receive your package. I'm sure they'll be fine and can wait for you when you finally get home.

4. Channeling Martha Stewart

When we're being our charitable and 'involved parent' selves by showing up for volunteer duties in our kids' school, don't patronize me and say, "Oh you're the SAHM! I'm sure you can head the project and create something crafty!" Stop begging me to choose the more complicated volunteer assignments just so you can always get away with simply donating store-bought supplies. Just because I'm a SAHM doesn't mean I'm Martha freakin' Stewart, capable of Pinterest-worthy projects. 

5. Fitness Training

I commend you for still wanting to exercise by the end of your work day. Bravo! But kindly leave me out if it, okay? I promise you I'm not the best gym or exercise buddy you can find. Besides, what makes you think I haven't already put in the time time earlier? More importantly, what makes you think I still have the energy after all the physical, mental and emotional labor I've put in all day taking care of my home and family? 

I wish you knew that not all of us SAHMs are domestic goddesses, highly maternal and kid-loving, social beings that can always be available for you. And most of all I wish you knew that frankly, we rarely have the time, nor the energy to spare. I know we're amazing (and so are you, by the way!). But let me make it clear that I'm not under your payroll and that real friends are always equals. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Would You Even Know It If You Met Happy?

My son recently decided that he wanted to be part of his school's Chorus group. He's been attending the after school practices for a couple of weeks now and though, admittedly, he's not the best singer there is, I must say that I'm proud of his obvious love for music and the dedication he has for it. 

Recently, he surprised me by suddenly singing (and clapping to) Pharrell Williams' 'Happy'. He would sometimes burst into song right before bath time, and sometimes while riding in the car. This past weekend, he did the same thing while our family was heading for our mini-vacation for fall break. Apparently, he learned the song, and some moves, from his Chorus practices.

What struck me most was when he sang the line, "Clap along if you know what happiness is to you". As soon as he finished singing, I couldn't help but ask, "So, Noah, what is happiness to you?"

I wanted to keep my expectations low and so I was prepared to hear something along the lines of "playing with my Legos, Xbox or eating Cheetos". But I'll be honest and admit that part of me was hoping for some profound, soulful response.  I think what I got was somewhere in between, simple and honest.

He said, "Happiness is being with Mama and Dada!"

Of course my heart melted. Of course I was brimming with joy just to hear him say that. But most of all, I was happy for my son for being so clear about what happiness is to him. There was no hesitation in his response; only certainty and clarity.

I felt somewhat ashamed that I couldn't answer as quickly as he did. For the rest of the drive (and it was a long drive), I asked myself quietly what happiness really meant for me, other than mimicking my son's answer. 

It's a given that I'm happy when I'm with my family and loved ones. But other than that, I knew that I owed it to myself to know what happiness looks like to me. Not knowing would be a complete waste of time on this earth.

I know that material things don't make me genuinely happy. And I know that happiness is different from 'comfort' or 'satisfaction'. To me, it's something deeper, more lasting, and holds more power in terms of making me feel that I'm being my authentic self or at least moving towards it.

I still don't have the complete answer although I admit that starting with thoughts of things that make me smile or make me feel fulfilled were very helpful starting points for me, and I hope they will be for you too. And once you name things (or people) that make you happy, even if only on a seemingly superficial level, ask yourself what experience this thing or person calls forth within you. This is because I believe that it's not the 'thing' per se that makes you happy, but the experience it allows you to have. 

For instance, I know that seeing carpet / vacuum lines makes me happy. It's because it gives me a sense of order, cleanliness and organization, and these make me happy. Knowing that things are in their rightful place, that life is going smooth and is being as predictable as possible, makes me happy. This is also why knowing that my loved ones are all healthy and safe makes me happy. 

Quiet time or solitude makes me happy. It's because it allows me to explore my thoughts more and connect to what is true inside.

Being and conversing with my closest, long-time friends makes me happy. It's because having an authentic sense of connection and an undeniable meeting of the minds invigorates me.

Writing and being able to publish blog posts make me happy. And getting published elsewhere makes me even happier. It's not because of vanity and the craving for attention. It makes me happy because creative self-expression is important to me, and having others appreciate what I put out is, in a way, a validation of who I am and how my mind works. 

I'm sure this list is bound to change as life goes on. But I'm glad to have been forced to face the question and dig deep for some answers. Now I know I'm a step closer to finding my personal truths about my personal happiness, and it mainly has to do with connection: simply being able to connect more deeply with others, as well as with who I truly am. Now I know I can 'clap along' knowing what happiness looks like, even though it might just be partial at this point. 

Can you clap along too? 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Grief from 8,000 Miles Away

It was past 9:30 at night when my cellphone rang. No one ever really calls me that late, unless...Unless.

I looked at the caller I.D. and saw that it's an overseas call. It's my brother. 

"Hello? Bro?"

It took a while before I heard him speak, and when I did, I could hear his voice quivering, sounding lost and resigned. 

"Mommy Rita's gone", he said in Filipino.

I felt confused. I heard him and understood exactly what he meant, but everything in my body and half of my brain rejected his news and simply didn't understand. Or didn't want to understand.

Mommy Rita is, or was, my last surviving grandparent. She's the one I wrote about five years ago because I was trying to come to terms with her worsening dementia, and the same one I mentioned in my essay last week. A few days ago, mid-morning of September 30, she died. She was 88.

That I am heartbroken is not a secret; and that she died very peacefully and painlessly, though something my family and I are all very grateful for, doesn't change the fact that she left an emptiness that I know will linger on. 

But this is neither a eulogy, nor a public outpouring of my grief. Instead, this is to share my realization that, for migrants such as myself, the grieving process looks a little bit different and possibly more complicated compared to the grief of people who are in close proximity to their families.

For someone like me whose immediate family resides in another country, every late phone call can potentially stop you in your tracks and could make you utter every prayer imaginable even before you pick up the phone. You know that it can only be a real emergency, and the only questions left for you to ask are "Who is it now?" and "What happened?".

A family emergency for me will always spell out a dilemma and won't always be as straightforward as you might expect given 'normal' situations. For migrants like myself, it will always be a weighing of options as we ask ourselves, "Should I buy a plane ticket now and take the soonest flight out to go home?" And I'm not talking about a cheap, short flight either. In my situation, it would likely cost, on average, a thousand US dollars, for roughly a 22-hour flight. 

But to be honest, it's not so much the cost I'm worried about. It's the idea of being stuck in an airplane, most likely by myself (as it would be too complicated and expensive to expect my son and husband to drop everything and accompany me), and start the grieving in my head during that 22-hour flight.

So, really, it is not uncommon for migrants like me, who, for one reason or another, never make it back home to be with our loved ones and pay our last respects. We often miss out on the rituals needed that serve the purpose of easing the grieving process somehow. When a loved one dies, the living find comfort in the telling and re-telling of their memories of the deceased with those who they share common memories with. It is through this ritual that the living find comfort and acceptance that though our loved one will no longer be physically present, it is still up to us to keep them alive in more intimate ways. Engaging in the final rites for the dead, which also serves as a rite of passage and process of closure for the living, are things migrants like myself find ourselves doing away with, often times decided on rationally though not necessarily willingly. 

I did not write this so you would feel sorry for me. After all, to live so far away from 'home' is a choice I continue to make. 

I wrote this to give a voice to people like myself who often times suffer the stigma or judgement by others who assume that going home when a loved one dies is an easy and automatic decision; that failure to show up and pay our last respects are signs that we love less, feel less and that our decision is borne out of sheer selfishness. 

Grief is very personal and it is unfair to judge others' based on how you are acquainted with yours. We all do what we can with what we are given. Sometimes a long trip back home might be doable, but sometimes we might just have to make do with phone calls, letters and a long, quiet cry at night. Which ever one it is, our grief is ours alone, and by no means should one's outward expression of it be a measure of the depth of love and sense of loss felt for the one who has departed. 

Goodbye for now, Mommy Ritz. 'Till we see each other again...XOXO

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Dying At 75 Is Worth Considering

Image by: Nicole Pierce

By now most of you have probably read Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s highly riveting and thought-provoking article on why he hopes to die at 75. Based on some reactions I’ve read, I know that the ideas he put forward are contentious and made a lot of people uncomfortable and even enraged. However, I admit that this essay earned a huge nod from me.

Emanuel hopes to die by age 75, but by no means is he advocating euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.

He emphasized that our culture's manic pursuit of youth (or what he calls the ‘American immortal’) doesn't really prolong life but instead only prolongs the dying process.

The author cited studies showing that physical and mental capabilities decline as we age and that " 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us." 

In the personal sphere, Emanuel discussed how the desire to live long places huge financial and emotional burdens on our children, and how living well into old age goes against his desire to be remembered by others as someone vibrant, active and engaged.

One of Emanuel's most important points is his discussion on how he wants to approach healthcare as he ages, admitting that he'll see it more as palliative rather than curative care; that he won't actively end his life but won't be interested in prolonging it either, which means rejecting preventive tests, flu shots and any life-sustaining interventions.

I don't agree with everything Emanuel wrote, especially where it concerns vaccines, though I admit I feel somewhat validated and comforted. I agree that after a certain age, the need to prolong life is unnecessary. And I most certainly agree that it shouldn't be denied that aging translates to a decline in physical and brain health. It's just how nature is. 

People criticize Emanuel for choosing what seems to be an arbitrary age of 75. I don't believe it's as arbitrary as some may think, in the same way that some may think my chosen age of closer to 80 sounds completely random. But it's not.

It's 80 for me because I'm considering my son's age. By age 80, my son would've already turned 46 and by that time, I'd like to believe he'd be more equipped to deal with my passing. No one is ever really prepared at any age but by then, I think he'd be more settled in his own life, happy and hopefully with children of his own.

It's 80 because that was around the same age when my own grandmother's mental faculties started to significantly decline. She is suffering from dementia, and though not officially diagnosed, I wouldn't be surprised if what's causing it is Alzheimer's disease (AD). I fear ending up the same way, as I know is also true for my mother. Who am I to assume that I will be spared the same fate because of advances in technology now? Science admits that much of AD remains a mystery. Research says it could be genetic. If that's the case, then I'm pretty much screwed. On the bright side, you'd understand my support of Emanuel's sentiments even more.

Besides the decline in my mental faculties, I'm certain that the decline in my mobility and dexterity also won't take its sweet time. I know this because roughly five years ago, the process has begun for me. I have fingers that are slightly deformed because of osteoarthritis. There are days when they feel stiff and I fear the day when I will find it impossible to write. My knees creak and I've been told by a doctor to avoid walking in incline and that I shouldn't run so much anymore, if at all. 

So yes, if I could have my way, I want to die before I get too old. It isn't aging I fear. It's the point of helplessness and uselessness. And it's not solely about fear but also love. I love my family which is why I don't want to inflict myself on them should I reach that point when much of 'ME' is already gone. I don't want to be an unnecessary burden to my child and don't believe I am his responsibility. I don't want to cause him unnecessary financial and emotional strain as he tries to figure out how best to care for me when I can no longer fully care for myself. 

Death is a very personal experience. We confront it alone, no matter how many others surround us. And the older I get, the more I become objective enough to admit that death happens way before it takes our last breath. 'To live', 'have a life', or 'be alive', means more than just having a beating heart and the capacity to breathe. What it truly means is to be productive, to be able to contribute something worthwhile, to still know how to look forward to experiences and learn, be enthralled, be curious. But if one gets too old or too sick and disabled to even have the capacity to move about, care for oneself and others, and have a mind clear enough to engage in valuable relationships, then isn't that not being fully alive anymore? And if that's my belief, and choose not to prolong my own life without actively seeking death but merely by embracing its inevitable arrival, then why chastise me? 

For most of my life, I never understood my mother's lack of desire to grow really old and die old. But now I do. I'm thankful to Zeke Emanuel for starting this discourse and forcing people to ask the tough questions about the nature of aging, death and even the meaning of life; for making the brave and honest among us confront HOW we want aging and dying to look like for us if we could indeed choose. It's not only the practical thing to do, but also the most loving thing we could offer those who come after us, those who we'll leave behind.