Wednesday, March 11, 2009 – I was told people who experience loss cope with the loss in different ways: some eat, others sleep…still others want to be a recluse, and yet there are some who need company and would not want to be left alone.
I simply wanted life to continue, like there was never a disruption in our lives, no respite in the day to day activities. I wallowed in my own misery and loss whenever I can – in the car, alone and in traffic, in the middle of the night when my sleep would be disrupted by a bathroom break and thereafter I’d have a hard time going back to sleep, in the bathroom where the shower muffles my sobs and rinses my tears away. There is no definition for this ache and I doubt that anyone who gets to experience what we’ve gone through can find a suitable definition for it in time. It’s the kind of pain that wants to drive you to death, where death becomes the sweetest escape possible. Perhaps that’s why bereaved individuals shout “…bakit mo ko iniwan?!?… Isama mo na kooooo” when it’s time to lay their loved ones to their final resting places. (Buti na lang uso na cremation ngayon!)
Its only now that I can write about Zak’s “inurnment”…and why did I take time? I was healing … wallowing … going with the flow … denying the loss … wishing for a rewind … but in the end, I was simply being forced to accept the hard truth that there’s no more going back, and I was just detaching, isolating, and taking a back seat so that I can see the bigger picture.
How many times have I read “I love you bunso…”? And in re-living the final moments of Zak, I would die with him. Yet, people still ask me how I am … and I’d say I’m good … but the reality is, I can no longer be 100%ok…
Thinking back now, I marvel at the way I contained all emotions from when our last visitors left the night of his wake, to the final moment when his urn was finally sealed in our vault. It gave me a headache. It made me dizzy. It made me numb. It made me feel an emptiness that’s bigger than the universe and all these, and I felt it all at the same time.
I thank all those who mourned with us and wished us well in spite of. Thank you for going with our shower idea for the wake; I feel like a little girl asking all to go with my little game…but your toys and books are now being played with by other little kids from Cribs Foundation in Marikina. I saw a thousand different smiles that could have been Zak’s when Max, Kai and I went to give Zak’s toys to them last February 3 and 7.
I may not have spent more than a smile, a hug, a nod, a little less than 5 minutes with you that night, but we, Zak’s family, are engulfed by the love, concern and sympathy everyone has shown: from my P&G family (Singapore included) to the entire Leo Burnett, to my friends from past agencies (McCann, Adformatix, Taipan and Crown); from family from my side and Max’s to our extended family in CFC; from Max’s On Demand family, to his friends from the old, old days, thank you, thank you, form the bottom of our hearts (cheeeeeezeeeeee!)
As I sat in the back pew of the shrine on the day we brought Zak to his new home, emotions and thoughts in my heart and mind abound. I had a conflict going on about pamahiins, and another spat about lack of respect. But I am oblivious to all, save for the little, black marble jar I held in my arms. I was empty and hollow, and was hearing only the silence all around.
More friends came by to offer hugs and comfort, but I was in an altogether different zone. I struggled through the last mass offered for Zak; went through the motions of blessing the urn with Max, Kai and the grandparents. Through it all, I was just watching the angelic face of Zak from the blown up picture my sister prepared the night before his cremation. Anticipation was welling up within me. Pretty soon, the parade to his final resting place would start. I thought it would be easier…
But it was obviously not!
They gave Kai and his cousin Kyle a candle each to light our way as we started our parade from the shrine to the columbarium. To Max, they gave Zak’s framed photo and in my arms, Zak’s urn came back, feeling heavier than it felt the day before.
Surely Kai felt important – he knew he was the leader of the pack because he was put in front of everybody else and his concern was to not let people go ahead of him; and yet, he was intently minding the candle wax that dripped into his hands.
Soon Lana Beeson’s innocent voice filled the air as she sang the special music that I shared with Zak – soon you’ll come home from the movie, All Dogs Go To Heaven. There came another catch in my throat (if I’d be paid a thousand for each catch in the throat since Zak’s birh, I’d be a millionaire by now…) and pretty soon the tears were threatening to fall once again. Light blinded my brimming eyes as soon as we reached the shrine’s entrance. Images of Zak’s eyes rolling everytime he heard this song flashed before my eyes; his fingers tightening its grip over my index finger. It seemed like he knew when I was there or was not with him.
Then they handed us blue and white balloons that had “I love you bunso” written across it. Since it was only a few, I had to share mine with Kai, whose wrist and candle and balloon I was already holding with my left hand, and Zak cradled in my right arm. On our way down the slope, they told us to release the balloons. I don’t know if it was me or Kai that was keeping the string in between our entwined hands, but it took us a couple of minutes to let go…maybe more.
It was the hardest thing: my knees gave way and my tears threatened to flow. I watched his balloon rise. It was terribly hard to breath. But as I exhaled, I almost called out, “Zak, don’t leave Mommy, please!!!”
But I did no such thing. By this time, I was crying like I did the night that he left. I almost felt my body fly after the balloon as I lost consciousness only to get it back again after a split second. Max was right beside me, holding much of my weight again. I groped for Kai, but could not find him. It was a hard task, putting one heavy foot in front of another as we started marching down the slope again.
Zak’s little “ceremony” in front of his vault was set up – his balloons from the wake were all there, his picture on a small table was flanked by the two candles that Kai and Kyle brought down. His urn…his urn sat in the middle of it all.
By this time, I knew without looking behind me that some people were also in tears as we are. Through mine, I caught a glimpse of Kai in the corner, front row along with a few of his cousins his age from both sides. His Ninang Carmie gave him a hanky which he used to wipe his tears with. I wanted to take him in my arms and cradle him and make his tears go away as all Moms would do. But like a little man, he was crying, and taking his hanky and wiping his tears on his own, and then putting the hanky back into the front pockets of his jeans and doing this routine again when the tears would fall again. I caught him do this a couple more times.
I tried to catch his eyes, but he never looked my way. I was thinking I’m embarrassing him with my bawling, but a lot later, he reiterated what he told me in December – that boys cant cry, only girls – so I was the only one allowed to weep and he’s ashamed to show me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m teaching him the right things…
Soon, we were asked to make our final send off to Zak – Max and Kai did, but I couldn’t. I sat there frozen and soon, I was sobbing uncontrollably again. My sister gave me medicine to calm me down; and then everything was a blur. The sound of the drill that sealed the vault off was like daggers in my ears and reached the very core of my heart. In my mind, I was shouting, this was supposed to be easier; I don’t see him anymore!!!This should be easier!!!
But there’s a finality to the sound of that drill – a finality that our separation is as real and final as it could get… that Zak was really, reallygone.
In another corner of the columbarium, another boy was crying his heart out – his body bent, his limp arms lay dangling on his sides. This is déjà vu for my 70-year old father, who lost his first born son 33 years ago to cardiac arrest also. My younger brother was just a year and ten months old then — a mongoloid son, who at nearly two, could still not walk nor sit nor crawl. One day when I was six and getting ready to go to school for the first time (it was early June I remember), my mom brought my brother to the hospital with me in tow. He was very, very sick. Not two hours after, my mom hailed a cab outside the hospital to bring us home – my brother lay very, very still in a bluish bundle while my mom wept silently.
In the days that followed, it was like a party in our apartment: lights never went off for days on end whether it was daytime or nightime, the visitors (some I knew, the others I didn’t) poured, food overflowed. And some guys would visit my brother who lay in a rectangular box then every other day – from the top of the stairs, I would watch their backs as they hovered over my lying brother and leave after a while. My mother never explained the concept of death to me then. All I could remember was that she was pregnant and crying all the time (and then, I thought her pregnancy made her cry all the time!)
Fourteen days later, my father arrived in a cab one evening and seeing the festive mood within our compound, he made his way to our door, passing through the “party” with his luggage. He just came from an inter-island trip.
Seeing the bright candle-looking lights that flanked my brothers white casket, my Dad froze…I remembered him sucking his breath in and going straight to our upstairs bedroom where he wept in the very same way except he was seated at the corner of their big bed, his head cradled on one hand. For someone I looked up to with “hero” status, seeing my Dad’s weak side was devastating for me then. Had I seen him weeping this time with Zak, I probably would be completely wrecked.
All this time, Max has remained my rock. Along with all my closest friends and family, who have generously offered a loving circle of comfort through this lowest point of my life, Max has been a sturdy pillar for me to lean on and he’s never wavered through my wailings and grief. In fact, he’s acting like he’s not going through the very same things I am. But he chose to put my welfare before his.
Lots of our old friends commented on how much weight Max has lost since my giving birth to Zak. He has gotten smaller…all around I think. I mean, I can clasp my hands when I put my arms around him these days. Lots of his shirts don’t fit as well around the shoulders anymore. These days, many things no longer fit.
Like I never knew Max to have shed a tear or two for any of our fights, big or small, in the past. Not even when Kai and I spent consecutive summers away from him. But the night Zak left, Max slept a little differently – watching him sleep, the sides of his closed eyes glistened in the dark room where we slept in my parents house. Weeping in his sleep, it seemed to me like that was the only time he could shed some tears for his lost son…
Last night, the impact of Zak’s passing on his older brother was revealed to me: for several weeks now, Kai has been extra attentive to my needs – greeting me at the door when I come home, bringing me out when I leave, getting my drink form downstairs when I’m already ready for bed, checking on me when I’m the shower, and most importantly, he makes sure I hear him say “I love you, Mommy” as soon as I get pensive. At one point, he has been saying “I’m still here” as well but has dropped that recently.
Often, he’d catch me staring at his brothers “angel” picture (c/o lovable Robby from our office) … and then he’d just go right ahead and chant “I love you, Mommy…”
But late last night, in the darkness of his little corner in our room, Kai was fidgeting like crazy under his sheets. I asked him to sleep as he still had to go to school today – nicely in the beginning, until it progressed to a high pitched nagging, which he has grown accustomed to over the years. Eventually, the movement under the sheets stopped nearing midnight. All was quiet. Everyone slept.
This morning when I was getting ready to leave, my little Kai was still fast asleep, but because the aircon has automatically turned off, I pulled on the sheets that covered him so that he wont feel the heat as he slept a little longer. As I pulled, Zak’s photo, torn on the corner and a little crumpled, flew as the covers moved. And out family photo taken two Christmases ago dropped from the side of his bed. It dawned on me that what he was frantically trying to do was paste in the picture of his little brother into our family photo.
I validated my little theory when he woke up, and indeed, he was going to give me the framed copy of our family photo – take note, the frame’s c/o his old photo from when he was 4 months old and trying to lift his head while I sat through a pre prod meeting at McCann 4 years ago.
“Mommy, you said you wanted three boys. I was making space for Zak so that you can have your three boys….”
That was a real ache…an honest-to-goodness painful pinch in the heart that I carried through my day.
Indeed, people cope in different ways when they encounter loss. And I’m seeing death in a new light after Zak: because this is a first-hand experience, the pain is real and deep and will probably last a lifetime – something I took for granted in the past when we would just visit wakes and funerals.
As silly as I looked to friends who offered consolation in the last two months as I recounted the tragedy of Zak, I’ve seen my three big boys cry like little boys too. I’ve just been oblivious to it all.
I refuse to forget Zak. That’s why I’m having a hard time moving forward. But as had so lovingly demonstrated last night, we only need to make space for them in our lives, in our memories, in everything to make everything complete still.
It won’t fill the void. But it will make the picture seem complete for now.