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Rather like falling asleep

I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking as I poured the cold milk down the drain. I looked around our messy kitchen, fixed my eyes on the used mugs, utensils, and leftovers.

Leftovers. Those were all there were. In an instant, I knew things wouldn’t be the same again.

Given any day, I would have washed the dirty dishes. But that day, any movement would have left me with nothing but a mirage of dreams. Every part of me, every cell in my body, would no longer remember the taste of air.

I made my way to where she was. I walked with small and careful steps. It took me forever to reach her side and to finally have the courage to look at her. I remembered her eyes—how they disappeared when she smiled, how they froze me on the spot when she was angry, and how I looked for them whenever I was lost in a sea of cold gazes and unfamiliar places.

I pinched my arms with more intensity and vengeance as time passed. I was convinced that if I hurt myself hard enough, I would be jolted awake from that nightmare. But nothing happened. I was still there together with my sisters and my father, who desperately tried to wake her up. He refused to believe what I have slowly and painfully accepted. I looked around me and saw leftovers. This time, it was my family that was what’s left.

I had just turned 18 and I guess life’s way of handing over responsibilities included funeral arrangements. I managed the finances, selected her casket, and decided the final date. Everyone expected me to lead, to know what to do, and to keep everything and everyone in place. I was almost on the brink of breaking down but I held everything in. I couldn’t relax because if I did, I would fall apart and I would never find my way back.

While browsing over the photos for the wake, I realized how little time we had together. I regretted the times I didn’t document the important moments, the times I talked back and played deaf, the times I took her for granted. The photos showed the happy life of a good woman, the woman I will always remember but never truly know. But they still failed to portray how I wanted her to be remembered, or, more to the point, how I wanted my sisters and I to remember her.

I wanted the mother who annoyed me every morning with her shrill voice; the mother who scolded me because I was too lazy to do the laundry; especially the mother who never failed to show how proud she was of me. But it was too late.

The big day came and everyone expected me to break down. There were tears in my eyes, but that was it. I didn’t cry out loud, I didn’t even bargain silently with God. I just watched her disappear together with everything I believed in. I was too exhausted, too drained, to even say goodbye. No words, no matter how poignant or beautiful, could bring her back. I kept still, hoping that the tears and weeping around me were enough to drown the silence inside me.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling of seeing someone you love get buried. Every emotion I tried to evoke couldn’t surface. The void seemed to swallow everything but the pain.

Is there a word for feeling so much and nothing at the same time? Is there a word for the moment when you realized you had taken a huge leap of faith and landed on the dark cold ground, and not on the other side? Are there words for those moments, for those feelings? Well, if there are, then they are still not enough.

I turned my gaze to the mourners at my mother’s funeral, and I couldn’t help but think about their lives after that moment: They would go home to their families and realize that nothing has changed. They would return to their daily routines, sympathizing with but not really giving much thought about the family who lost everything that day.

I’ve seen many movies featuring bereaved families. I’ve watched how the children grieved but managed to move on. But unlike in movies, I couldn’t skip the time following her death. I couldn’t just say “10 years later” or even “six months later.” I had to live each passing day, unsure what tomorrow would bring.

But here I am four years later. I’m not sure how I got here. I moved on without exactly knowing when and how. It’s like falling asleep: You close your eyes, feel time as it passes by, and you wait. Eventually, you doze off. That’s what happened. I just woke up one day and realized it doesn’t hurt like it used to. I don’t know what day, what month, or what year it was when I finally accepted that she was not coming back. There are days when I feel guilty for feeling okay, but despite everything I’m grateful because she held on and waited until I was strong enough.

I still miss my mama, especially on the happiest days of my life. But after years of nostalgia and bitterness, I have realized that true love is not always about being together. Sometimes, it could also mean embracing what was, what is, and what will be.

Syrine Gladys C. Podadera, 22, graduated magna cum laude and is batch valedictorian of FEU Manila Class of 2016. She says this piece is Part 2 of “I never said goodbye” (Young Blood, 9/22/15; http://opinion.inquirer.net/88734/i-never-said-goodbye).

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