I know I can cry. I know I can talk about my dad. I know I can say what I really feel – all of it.
So I couldn’t wait for the Good Grief Workshop to start.
I had hardly taken my seat at the venue when tears started to pour. And I let them. After all, I was facing a pro. She is a grief coach, I knew she could handle my pain – she won’t feel awkward and won’t grapple for words. At last, I was free to express myself.
“But you can’t bottle it all up and schedule to release all that only when you see me,” warned Cathy Sanchez Babao during our first session.
I signed up for her 4-week Good Grief Workshop and always looked forward to our Saturday appointments. Even if they gutted me. Precisely because they gutted me.
My father just died. In front of Cathy, I didn’t have to pretend that things were fine and dandy. With her, I can honor my heartbreak.
Sure, dad is now in a much better place. Yeah, it’s time for him to rest. True, this was what he wanted.
Still, I’m sad and hurt and want to cry. And at the Good Grief Workshop, Cathy allowed me to be sad and hurt and to cry.
It’s ready-set-go as soon as she hands me a glass of water (because crying is dehydrating) and a box of the softest facial tissue in the world.
She asked me questions and was attentive to everything I said in between blowing my nose. She gave me exercises that encouraged me to listen to what’s inside me. “Healing is heart-based,” she pointed out early on.
Self-care was frequently brought up throughout the sessions. I failed miserably at the topic but Cathy pushed me to come up with various lists of what I need to do for myself. She insisted that I map out plans and required that I report my accomplishments. Sheesh.
I didn’t realize the importance of it all until I ended up in the emergency room one fine early morning. Ok po, I will take care of myself na po.
But I flinched when she added that I can’t do it alone, I need to reach out for help too. “Allow yourself to be vulnerable, vulnerability is a brave thing to do, contrary to public opinion,” she reminded me.
I had to clarify that it’s not that I’m trying to put on a tough front. I do not fear tearing up and breaking down, I feel that the people around me are the ones afraid of that. And because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, I just play along with everyone and ignore that something very significant actually happened to me last January 1. I do it for their sake.
So in my circle, it’s business as usual as we discuss food and they probe into my love life.
Aside from my self-care homework, Cathy also suggested books to read such as “A Grief Observed” by C. S. Lewis. The literature made me even extra-weepy but were also a source of consolation. I can name a few friends who were less dramatic over their losses though. Why can’t I just breeze through my parent’s passing like they did? Cathy was quick to quash any attempts at comparing experiences, “your path is yours alone and no one path is better than the other”.
Unlike breakups, I was told that the death a loved one is not something you should expect to get over or recover from. “Healing is not the same as curing or correcting, you cannot remedy but you can reconcile. The objective is to integrate your grief into yourself and to learn to continue with your changed life with fullness and meaning,” explained Cathy.
It will require that I actively engage in the work of mourning with the intention to heal. Silly as it may sound, I now have carved out time for grieving. Sometimes I am on schedule but occasionally, I find myself sobbing at the oddest moments. Just a few weeks back, something went wrong with the doorknob of my bedroom. I fiddled with the knob and desperately racked my brain for the quick fix that dad taught me when the same thing happened some years ago. I couldn’t remember and I wept in frustration as it dawned on me that I can’t call him to ask because he’s gone.
Cathy refers to those episodes as grief bursts. They can be embarrassing, but I also believe there is no shame in loving – and grieving for love lost. #ItsOKToBeNotOK
Deciding to go easy on myself and giving myself permission for breathing spaces have worked wonders. There’s a long road ahead but I am moving forward. One step at a time, one day at a time.
And I thank Cathy for the companionship.
Before she closed our fourth and last session, she shared something by Albert Camus that stirred my core.
“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that, makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
I know I am going to be alright.
**Cathy Sanchez Babao holds a Master’s degree in Family Psychology and Education from Miriam College. She has attended several courses with Dr. Alan Wolfelt, foremost grief expert and executive director of the Center for Loss and Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has been mentored by American professor/grief expert, Dr. Kathleen Gilbert since 1999. Cathy flies to the U.S every year to attend conferences or take short courses on grief and bereavement. She has authored two books on grief: Heaven’s Butterfly, a children’s book on loss and “Between Loss and Forever” Filipino mothers on the grief journey, a finalist in the personal essay category of the 2012 National Book Awards. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (0917) 8821964.
To mark the 20th death anniversary of her son Migi, she recently launched 20@20. The project aims to save lives of children born with congenital heart defects. Read more about it in her column on Philippine Daily Inquirer. Here’s the link: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/287584/want-save-kids-heart/