God is with the grieving
We were a small, young family who uprooted our lives from the big city two and a half years ago in response to my husband’s calling as a minister, to establish a local Christian church in one of the major cities in the southern region of the country. I didn’t have any complaints. In fact, I was grateful for the opportunity. A young nanay hoping for the best environment during the early years of our kids, I actually welcomed the provincial life, its simplicity and the chance to be away from the hustle and bustle of the capital, the traffic, the pollution, the chaos, among other things.
Two years after relocating, my husband contracted COVID-19 and died. Hospital policies didn’t allow me to be present at his bedside to hold him or whisper to him that I love him, or even to bid him goodbye before he breathed his last. My only consolation was he was asleep (sedated) when he died, so my presence may not have made any difference. Neither did I go to see him one last time as I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the sight of his dead body. While I regret the former, I do not the latter. Which makes me wonder if I am normal. Am I? I know my husband would forgive me for that. After repeatedly reliving the moment, I believe God in His infinite wisdom wanted my absence from my husband’s deathbed.
Pandemic protocols required patients who died of COVID to be buried or cremated within 24 hours. Faced with the shocking reality that I was suddenly and unexpectedly a widow and a single mother, just when my life is starting (I was 41 years old), I shunned the duties of a bereaved wife and I could only be very grateful that a friend volunteered to take care of my husband’s cremation while I stayed at home trying to make sense of what just happened.
To say the least, it was painful.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, our city was in the middle of what was then still called the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the highest home quarantine mandate when social gatherings were prohibited. So holding a wake, which always is an instant reunion albeit for a sad reason, was out of the question. To pay your last respects for the dead, to be surrounded by family and friends, to be held, offered sympathies and condolences in person, and to hear friends reminisce about the departed – all of these were nowhere. No wake to supposedly help in the grief of those left behind. The pandemic short-circuited the grieving process.
But I am extremely grateful for the love and care poured out to me and my kids. Friends messaged me their condolences and sympathies, sent food, money, gifts, and did the grocery and other errands for me. I am equally grateful to the community I have in the city we moved in as they have been very helpful, before and immediately after my husband’s death.
I was also fortunate enough to have a companion who served as a kasambahay after my husband’s death. I outsourced the house chores and parenting duties, and thanks to her, I was able, for three months, grieve full-time.
Then, just when I was starting to see glimmers of light in the tunnel I am in, just when I was finally able to find the will to live again, and just when I was about to pick up the pieces of our shattered life, my kasambahay bid me goodbye. It was another blow when I hardly had gotten up from a fall.
By this time, the support that was initially poured out to me has slowly started to wane. But I didn’t take this negatively because it is but normal and is actually to be expected. It is a reality and a fact in life. I didn’t really expect my needs to be attended to by other people forever. I know fully well that I would have to fend for ourselves, sooner or later.
But I didn’t expect my companion to leave too soon. I thought I would have her at least until the end of the year, at least until I am able to rise again. Her sudden and unexpected departure felt like I’m losing someone to death again. I begged God to make her stay because I didn’t want to be left alone at home and I felt I can’t raise my kids alone.
“Well, you just have to deal with being alone.” “You really can’t do it.” “My words hurt but you have to hear them because it’s the truth. You’ll get hurt anyway, not only by your family but by your friends as well.” “Sorry but I don’t know how to shut up to not hurt you.” Believe it or not, these words were actual words spoken to me by a person whose blood is supposedly the same as that which runs through my veins.
I was also admonished for grieving when I’m supposedly a Bible-believing Christian. And for grieving when I’m supposedly financially secure for at least a whole year. As if being a Christian doesn’t give you the right to cry over your struggles, and as if being provided for financially compensates for your loss. I was even told that the reason I was weak and thus couldn’t get myself to get over and move on from my grief was because I lived all my life in comfort. I was told that I cannot just cry and cry, and that I cannot just exist. I am not dense. To me it meant that I need to get my act together and get on with my life.
In a feeble attempt to preserve my remaining dignity, I said I have my faith and I am holding on to God to get me through my grief. But my words were simply brushed off and I was perceived as simply going through the motions of my daily prayer and Bible reading. Oh, yes. I just go through the motions because I lost the person I am most intimate with. My life was suddenly shattered. All my hopes and dreams instantly vanished. I lost my will to live. I am at my weakest. So yes, when I pray to God and read the Bible, yes, I am definitely just going through the motions.
What could I do? I am a young widow. I didn’t only lose my better half but I lost my self-confidence and self-esteem. And it made me miss my husband more as he was no longer there to defend me. He would have defended me from people who’d hurt me, I am confident of that. That’s why I silently laugh whenever people would tell me, “Your husband wouldn’t want you to cry,” because it simply means they do not know him well enough. In more than a decade of our marriage, he never admonished me for crying.
The struggle that young widows go through is unique. When you become a widow in your senior years, you most probably have friends who would welcome you to the club; you have friends who would readily, willingly (not out of obligation), and most probably be eager to empathize with you, listen to and understand you. Maybe there would be no pressure for you to stop crying, to be okay when you’re not or could not, to get over the pain ASAP, as if nothing happened. Maybe losing your spouse at an older age wouldn’t make one feel alone or isolated as much as when you lose your spouse when you are still young.
I am not the only one going through these kind of struggles. I hear of the same sentiments from the grief support group I joined in. While it is a consolation to know there are others who could relate to what I am going through, it is such a sad, sad thing to know that a lot of people are in pain and misunderstood. Grieving is already painful in itself. To be misunderstood for grieving or even admonished for grieving in a way that does not suit other’s ideals is doubly painful. My fellow grievers say that their social networks are tired of hearing their paulit-ulit na kuwento. “Ayan ka nanaman” is their friends’ tagline.
When you cry in solitude, you only carry the burden of grief. When you open up about your grief in hopes of having someone share the load, but are instead admonished, you carry two loads: the burden of grief plus the burden of rejection. It is easier to carry one than two.
I was introduced to a fellow young widow shortly after my husband died. Having lost her husband a year earlier, she said in our very first Viber call that no matter how many friends sympathize with and surround you, you’d just have to go through the grief process alone. I didn’t believe her at first. I may not have a lot of friends but I was sure there would be at least a few who would stay with me during the process (and indeed only a few stayed and is still with me). Three months into my grief, I finally understood what she meant.
It has been six months since my husband died. I’ve moved forward a little but very little. I wouldn’t have made it without the help of people who proved to be real friends, who let me cry when I feel like crying, let me ask for help when I need to, and who allow me to grieve in my own terms. No questions asked, no judgement. I am very grateful to them and for them. And of course, I wouldn’t have made it without God. I am very grateful that He is a loving, gracious and merciful God. He hears me when I pray. And He gives me strength and hope through His word. Soli Deo gloria.
Mary Rose Geanga is a stay-at-home widow and single mother to two preschool-aged kids. Based in Cagayan de Oro, she enjoys reading, blogging, listening to classical music and keeping the house in order. She believes being a mother is already a full-time job.
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