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














18 comments:

  1. I am so sorry, Joy. My grandmother died during my final exams in college, and even though my family said, She would have worried too much if she knew you were flying home, I still felt guilty. Later, I lost a good friend while I was living in the UK and remember lying outside, looking up at the moon and searching for a way to feel close to my loved ones far away. My prayers are with you tonight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, Amy. I really appreciate it. xoxo

      Delete
  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. My grandmother passed away 2 years ago at the age of 98, and though she was across the country, not across the world, it was painful to not have had the chance to say goodbye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sharon. It's really something we need to make peace with. xoxo

      Delete
  3. Oh Joy I've been thinking of you the last few days and figured you were with your family. I wish I would have reached out sooner. I know you have to be hurting so bad right now. Don't put added stress on yourself for what can't be done. In your shoes at this time I would have decided the exact same thing. It doesn't mean you loved your grandmother any less it just means life sucks sometimes. She's in your heart that's what is important. If you need to talk you know where I'm at or for more privacy you can email me at rm29303@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Rena. That means A LOT. *hugs*

      Delete
  4. Joy, I'm very, very sorry for your loss. My mother in law died earlier this year at the age of 87, and she also suffered from dementia. It's so difficult. I will keep you in my thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I TRULY appreciate that, Lana/Abby. In a way, the thought that they won't be suffering anymore brings us peace, doesn't it? I hope so. Anyway, thanks again xoxox

      Delete
  5. My condolences, Joy. I've been on the other side when my uncles or aunts couldn't come 'home' for the last rites of family. Their absence is felt very deeply as must have been yours. ♥

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am so sorry for your loss Joy. It is a sad story, but if you can't go, well, you just can't. Your immediate family has to be your priority. Unfortunately, you can't be in two places at the same time. Take care, Joy, and don't beat yourself up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Muriel. If only the distance from the US to the Phils. is as manageable as it is between the UK and France.

      Delete
  7. Sorry for your loss Joy. Grandparents are such precious people, and I can only imagine how you are feeling so far away from your family.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, Joy, I am so sorry for your loss, to have to say goodbye to your grandmother is so hard and sad. How I wish now that I had read your post earlier but I am still so much caught in my own grief. And I can only imagine how much you'd have wanted to be able to say goodbye to her together with your family, taking comfort for sharing your grief and fond memories. Big big cyber hugs, my dear friend!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Barbara. I thought about you too when my Grandma died, remembering how you honored your Mum with the 99 things she loved. I did try to do the same, even privately, and it does help with the process. I know she's always going to be with me in more ways than one. Hugs back xoxox

      Delete

Let me know your thoughts!