Stories of grief and mourning

BISAYA HOROSCOPE - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

I remember an old Jewish saying: “The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten.” Perhaps this is the reason why mourning is a human practice transcending cultures and religions. Mourning also applies to the anniversary of the death or any form of remembrance of loved ones we have lost.

In his book Bereavemen, psychologist Colin Murray Parkes wrote that the “...pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of love, the cost of commitment...The loss of a loved one is an almost universal human experience. But what does it mean to be bereaved? How can we come to terms with loss and face death?” As one writer puts it “...[death] the undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns?”

Death is a subject that challenged the literary imagination from the beginning of writing – from the classical epics in which the hero journeys to the Underworld to religious doctrines that seek to provide answers about what happens after death. Perhaps it is because the process after grief – bereavement and mourning – compel those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one to try to understand what has passed and  to conceive of what will happen to us in turn.

This is said to be the reason why people write about death and grief.  This is part of the process in the “...reanimation of the deceased in writing.” The most touching stories are not those written by literary geniuses but by ordinary people who have gone through the pain of grief and how they have coped with their loss.

There are two books published by Anvil [Manila] that I have recommended to friends during their period of mourning. Both books are collections of life experiences from those who have gone through grief and mourning.  

The first book is From this Day Forward: Widows and Widowers Write 2002, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio. The book has 13 essays by widows and eight by widowers.

The widows include Lorna Patajo Kapunan, Marilen Yaptangco, Marily Orosa, Beth Day Romulo, Maribel Ongpin, Doreen Fernandez, Agnes Prieto, Lanelle Abueva Fernando, Nina Lim Yuson, Narita M. Gonzales, Isabel Caro Wilson, Bambina Buenaventura, and Erlinda E. Panlilio.

The widowers include Eric S. Caruncho, Jaime C. Laya, Jose Orosa, Victor A. Lim, Rafael Gonzales,Hilarion Henares Jr., Bienvenido Tan and Cesar Buenaventura.

Each narrative is a story of grief, healing and hope. And there are memorable lines from each essay. Eric Caruncho’s wife of 16 years died “...following a long and difficult struggle with cancer.” At the end of his essay, he writes:

“Marriage changes a man. You really do become part of something bigger – a unit. And when marriage ends, with the death of a partner or emotional separation, it takes a while for the survivors to regain their wholeness. Before that happens, you’re not all there.

A widower is a married man whose wife just happens to be dead. He is allowed to be a single person, but his habits are still those of a married man. He wants the predictability, the set patterns of married life, whether it is pork chops on Thursday or sex twice a week. Having settled down he needs to be unsettled before he can be single again.”

Doreen Fernandez passed away shortly after writing her essay on the loss of her husband Willi Fernandez. She wrote about “the steps of healing” at the end of her story, she wrote:

“The healing is eased by the poetry (and by art and music) but can be found only within one’s self, and it can only ease pain by being shred with others for their healing. Am I then healed? Yes, although not completely since like  mourning, it goes on and on, from moment to day to measureless time. Yes I have recovered. I work, I play, I share the healing with family and friends. I know that is how it is meant to be, and I am grateful and happy.

The second book is Between Loss and Forever: Filipino Mothers on the Grief Journey 2011, edited by Cathy Babao Guballa.  In the first chapter, the author writes: “The loss of a child is unlike any other loss. The very factors that contribute to the bond and intimacy of the parent-child relationship are the same ones that make the bereavement experience so intense.“

Guballa interviewed mothers who have lost their children in the hope that their narratives “...may be used as a tool to help bereaved mothers grieve and find meaning in the loss of their children.” There are nine chapters and an epilogue. There are chapters on Dealing with Guilt and Anger; The Accidental Death of a Child; Loss of a Child in Infancy; Loss of a Teenager or Adult Child; Traumatic Deaths; Death of a Child Through Suicide; One Loss Many Griefs; and Issues and Themes.

In Memoriam is a poem written by the British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson as a requiem for his beloved friend Arthur Hallam. The poem is divided into 133 cantos; but, the most frequently quoted lines are:

I hold it true, what’er befall; I feel it when sorrow most;

“Tis better to have loved and lost; Than never to have loved at all.

Creative writing classes

a.) Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids & Teens:  November 5 & November 19 (1:30 pm-3pm)

b.) Feature Writing for Adults with Ma. Ceres P. Doyo: November 5 (1:30-5:30 pm)

Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email [email protected].

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Email: [email protected]


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