Saturday, October 29, 2011

When Parents Outlive Their Children -- Losing A Child Through Suicide

The night before my book, “Between Loss and Forever” Filipino mothers on the grief journey, was launched, I was on my way home from a long day at work. As the car crept through the very slow,  traffic, I found myself right outside Villamor Air Base, just as the C-130 bearing the bodies of the 19 young men who had died in Basilan, had touched down.
In the quiet confines of my car, against a starless October sky, I thought about their mothers then, how they now found themselves on a journey that we, all 19 mothers in the book, had found ourselves on at different points in our lives. The following day at the launch, I had told family and friends in my talk, that I hoped the book would in time, find its way into the hands of these 19 mothers so that they too may find comfort and know that they do not walk this journey alone.
Less than a week later, as I write this, Marc Guingona, a young man, all of twenty years old, the only son of former Vice-president Guingona’s only daughter, Marie, leapt to his death from the 31st floor of an Alabang hotel. This tragedy made me think of two mothers in the book – Alma Miclat and Vivian dela Pena. Their children Maningning and Caleb were both bright and had lives that held so much promise, but perhaps also held so much pain that they chose to end it because it was a pain they could no longer bear.  Among all the stories in the book, these were two of the most difficult for me to write. But as I grappled with it, I also became filled with admiration for the resiliency that these two mothers had shown in  the face of such tragedy.
Vivian shared that among the things that helped her most was a homily given by Jesuit Father Manoling Francisco. “It was the one bright light in the darkness that filled the days after Caleb’s passing. I found so much comfort in his words.” Upon hearing this, I sought Fr. Manoling out and requested if he could write a piece for the chapter that contained stories about children who had opted to end their young lives, graciously, in spite of a terribly hectic schedule, he obliged.
The result was an essay entitled “When Parents Outlive Their Children” where he outlines his beautiful reflections about losing a child. There were two that stood out for me as I think of Marc Guingona’s passing and I excerpt them here –
“Befriend your powerlessness. Not only are we often powerless over the fate of our children, we are also powerless over their autonomy to make decisions for themselves. While they are minors , we decide for them; we even impose upon them. But as they grow older, we wrestle with their independence and individuality. We realize we cannot decide everything for them; we can only influence them…Because love only desires what is good for one’s beloved, our love for our children compels us to protect them, to avert disaster. And so, grudgingly, we admit our helplessness over our children’s decisions – including their decision to destroy themselves.
Fear not God’s condemnation. Until one generation ago, the Roman Catholic Church forbade suicide victims to be waked inside the Church. For many of us Catholics, to take away one’s life is an unforgivable sin. Hence waking suicide victims in a Church dishonors God grieviously.
But psychology has helped us better understand the human psyche and the nature of sin. All sin involves free consent…Psychology has helped us understand that no one in his or her proper state of mind takes away one’s life . Now that we understand depression to be an emotional disorder that includes chemical imbalances in the brain, we have become more compassionate and less quick to judge suicide victims.
If we have become more understanding of suicide victims, what more of God? As our child took away his life in secrecy and isolation, is it possible that he was never truly alone? Might God not have been the first to rush to and embrace him as he fell? Prior to our painful discovery of his demise, might not God have been the first to weep?”
I’d like to think of the book as a roadmap not only for bereaved parents but also as a guide for everyone who has lost a loved one, and those who care for those who are bereaved. By sharing our stories we hope that you will better appreciate and understand the journey we have been on.  Though our losses do not define us, the reader can gain a deeper insight as to how the life-changing event helped shape us into who we are today.
Henry Scott Holland once wrote, “Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away to the next room. I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, That we still are.” Death, after all, is but merely a threshold through which we pass until we get to forever, the journey ends in our Father’s house with many rooms, where we hope to one day be reunited with all those who have gone on before us.
“Between Loss and Forever” is available at all National Bookstore and Powerbooks branches. Please visit the book’s Facebook page for stories and articles on the loss of a child.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Remembering AJ Perez, Loss of a child in a vehicular accident

Yesterday, I taped for the November 1, 2011 episode of Kris TV.

Among the guests was the father of young actor AJ Perez, who died in a car accident in April this year. His dad was still quite emotional, which is expected of a loss that is still very fresh and very new.  Mr. Perez recalled the last time he told AJ how proud he shortly after he performed in that out of town show, a few hours before the accident. He reminded all parents not to ever be remiss in giving their children affirmation, or hesitate about telling them how much they are loved.

Jo Ann and Albert at the book launch.
I was reminded of several stories in "Between Loss and Forever" of how six mothers lost their children in vehicular accidents.  Such loss can be traumatic and devastating primarily because of the nature and the suddenness of the event.

In the chapter on Complicated Grief: The Accidental Death of a Child, I shared the journey of seven mothers who lost their children either through vehicular or drowning accidents.

Today, I excerpt the story of Jo Ann de Larrazabal and her son, Mikey who passed away three years ago on December 2, 2007 in a car accident at the crack of dawn on the C-5 road...

"In her head and her heart, Jo Ann says she knew that Mikey was gone but she was firm in her resolve to drive, get out of C-5 and follow her husband to the hospital so that she could be with both him and Mikey. She knew that in order to do that, she had to keep her presence of mind.
“I was thinking to myself – “Okay, my son is dead. I was psyching myself. I was driving and I was alone. So I told myself – My son is dead but I have to get to the hospital, to be with Albert, to be with my son. So I said, drive carefully now… It’s a good thing that the ambulance that took him there, came back and escorted me. This was the ambulance of the Pasig city government – they were very efficient, helpful and very kind.”

I got to The Medical City and I was just telling myself, “Calm down, Albert is there with him. I was like in a trance, I just had to keep on moving, I could not break down. So I was thinking, okay Albert is going to need water. So I went to the store and bought a bottle of water, then I just walked, I wasn’t running, I was calm. When I got there, I could see through the door that they were trying to revive him. After several minutes, Albert comes out to me says, “I’m sorry babe, but he’s gone, Mikey’s dead.”

Jo Ann says that after her son had been declared dead, everyone else left the room and Albert and her were left alone.  She said that Albert asked her if she wanted to come into the room to say goodbye and initially she said that she did not want to. For a moment there was great denial that he was truly gone. “But in the same breath I told myself that no, I have to go in because it was the last time I was going to see him.”
The pain of letting go

One of the most difficult things that a parent will ever have to do in their lifetime is to experience the passing on of a child because it goes against the grain and defies the normal order of things.
To release the child and give him back to his Maker is the ultimate sacrifice. For Jo Ann and Albert de Larrazabal, with hearts filled with so much anguish, the act of surrender seemed to have come naturally.
“We went to his body, we held him, we prayed over him. We thanked him for being such a wonderful son. We told him that there were no issues that needed to be fixed, that everything was great with us. And then we thanked God for making us his parents, for choosing us to raise him and then we said, “Go darling, just go with your Maker, go with Him.” And then it was like the natural thing to do. We just had to give him back because we know that he was just on loan to us. Our kids are on loan to us so it was a very natural thing for us to pray and thank Him.

Albert told me much later – “I was glad, I was there when he was born, because all our kids were born through Lamaze. I’m glad that I was there when he was born, and that I was there when he died. I was there in the beginning and at the end.”

Jo Anne says, Albert and she willingly, but with much pain, let him go. Once they had done this, she remembers how they looked at each other and asked themselves --  “What do we do now? What do we do?” She said there was very little time to even cry together.
One thing though was made very clear by Albert, right from the very start, and it was something that he stressed to Jo Ann as they stood in front Mike’s body. Albert said, “There is no one to blame. I want that to be very clear that there shall be no blaming.”  Jo Ann believes that his very short but powerful and reassuring statement set the tone for their grief journey.
“Blaming is a very painful and ugly thing to go through and sometimes prevents you from moving on in your grief.  “I’m not saying I had an easy time. No, I went through hell. But setting the tone very early on, making those right decisions – by giving back our son to the Lord the moment he died, deciding that we will not blame anybody or anything for the accident was a good start for us.”

"Between Loss and Forever" is available at National Bookstore and Powerbooks.

BLF Book Review on Yahoo! Philippines and VERA Files

Babeth Lolarga of VERA Files wrote a beautiful review on "Between Loss and Forever" (BLF) on Yahoo Philippines today.

Please read what she has to say about BLF here and on VERA Files.

Thank you so much, Babeth!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On The Journey to Forever, 22 October 2011, Bestellers @Robinsons Galleria

Thank you all for joining us this evening. I look at your faces and I see most, if not all of my dearest friends and family who have traveled the journey with me these last thirteen years. Thank you for being here tonight.

Many people have asked me -- "How did you choose the title of your book?"  In truth, the title came first, and then the stories found their way to me.

"Will you be with me forever?" That was the last question my son, Migi asked me before he was wheeled into the operating room that morning in May 1998. I did not make much of his question at the time. The moment remains so vivid because it was the last time I would ever see him awake. He had asked me through sobs and I replied, yes, I would be there, all the way to forever.

Tonight I keep that promise I made to him 13 years ago...

This research and this book, and all the work that I have done over the last thirteen years in the field of children's health advocacy, grief education and counseling, have all been in response to that promise that I made to my son that morning in May.

There is a line from the poignany Tagalog hymn written by Fr. Manoling Francisco, "Hindi Kita Malilimutan (I will not forget you)" that goes: "Malilimutan ba ng ina, ang anak na galing sa kaniya?" Inspired by the Bible passage from Isaiah 49:15, it asks, "Can a mother ever forget her child?" And in the same breath, it reminds us that no matter what happens, God does not forget us either. And that has been the running theme of my grief story these past thirteen years -- how through the many ups and downs, the hills and valleys of my grief journey, there is not a single day that I have not thought about my Migi. In the same manner, I know all throughout each day of those thirteen years, God has not forgotten me.

But this journey is not mine alone.  It also belongs to all the mothers who took the journey with me in writing this book over the las two and a half years.  To be honest, the book had been germinating in my head a year after Migi died, but everything in His time. I cannot imagine how I could have written this book five years ago. In the waiting, God brought me everything I needed to complete the task. Like Karina said earlier, many bonds and friendships were formed in the writing of this book. The thread that binds all mothers, no matter the age, the special thread that binds all mothers who have lost sons or daughters.

The journey belongs to Tita Alice Honasan and her beloved Mel, to Tita Thelma Arceo and brave Ferdie -- bright young men at the prime of their young lives who died for what they passionately believed in.

This too is the journey of of Chiqui Mathay and her Anthony; of Noemi Dado's Luijoe, Monique Eugenio's Franco and Aileen Jiao's Nina.  Very young children who left this world so suddenly.

Then there is Mano Morales' Nico, Isabel Valles' Mikel, Joann de Larrazabal's Mikey and Raciel Carlos'  Joey -- young men who left their mothers in shock by their sudden departures.  Out of their loss, their mothers found new selves, and the motivation to reach out to others who had lost sons and daughters in the same way.

Lissa Moran's Isabel, and Trixie Cruz's Becca -- little angels, who stayed on earth for such a short time. In their leaving, their mothers eventually found new purpose and meaning, and the drive to set up their own personal advocacies.

Beth Adan's Herbert, Tita Fe Montano's Star, and Tita Baby's Carissa -- young adults who had to leave this world early in life.

And then there is Alma Miclat's Maningning, and Vivian dela Pena's Caleb who found the world too painful for them, they opted to leave this life ahead of their parents. Alma and Vivian are two of the bravest women I know, Maningning and Caleb would be so proud of their mothers faith and resilience.

I am grateful too for Albert de Larrazabal who shared his heart, writing about his feelings on losing a much beloved and only son. For Alya Honasan and her poignant memories of Mel, for Fr. Manoling whose comforting words are a soothing balm for every parent whose child opted to end his or her life, and for Trixie who graciously shared her legal expertise on what parents whose children died from accidents or homicide need to prepare and look out for.

Through our collective stories, we hope to have built a roadmap for mothers and families who are new on the journey, and even for those who have been on it for many years but have found great difficulty in finding their way. My prayer is that they find peace, through our broken pieces.

And because it is a night for mothers, I wish to make special mention of four special ones whose presence in my life made this journey so much more meaningful and bearable. My publisher, Karina Bolasco for her faith in publishing books that tackle difficult topics. My editor and dear friend, Mei-ling Sicam who made my words sound so much better. Tita Honey Carandang, who is like my second mom, thank you very much for being in my life these last few years. And my mother, who taught me courage and resilience and all that I need to know about mothering well. I love you, mom.

The video at the end of my talk was put together by three important women in my life -- the music and lyrics of "Between Loss and Forever" was created by my dearest friend,  Marisa Marin, the song, sung so beautifully by Banaue Miclat whose sister, Maningning is in the book; and the video so lovingly put together by Migi's sister, my only daughter, Pia.

Last night, on my way home from work, my car was right outside Villamor base when the C-130 landed bearing the bodies of 19 brave, young men who died fighting for what they believed in. I think of them tonight, as I think of all their 19 mothers who now find themselves on the threshold of this journey that I and the 18 other mothers in this book began at different points in our lives. I hope that in some way, someday, this book will find their way to them, and that they find the comfort and hope in our struggles, as they begin to start their own difficult journeys.

I wish to end this by quoting Thich Nhat Hahn who wrote -- "The best that we can do for those who have died s to live in such a way that they continue, beautifully in us." This, I believe is what all the mothers in this book have done, or are trying to do. It is an ideal that anyone who has ever lost a loved one must aspire to live by.

And so as we rejoice in our sorrows, and continue to miss our children, we thank the Lord above for the cracks in our lives, for it is through the cracks that His light gets in. And flawed though our lives may be, we are all better and brighter under the light of His amazing grace. Thank you very much!

Meet The Mothers of Between Loss and Forever (BLF)

The journey was not mine alone. 
BLF contains the stories of 19 courageous mothers and how they rebuilt their lives after such an unimaginable loss. The lyrics and  music to the song "Between Loss and Forever" were written by my very good friend, music therapist, Marisa Marin. The very talented Banaue Miclat, performs the song so beautifully on this video put together by Pia B. Guballa.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What People Are Saying About "Between Loss and Forever"

At the book launch, 22 October 2011.  Photo by Bedette Villanueva
 To write about a traumatic experience in an easy flowing manner is no mean feat. In this book, Cathy achieves this naturally and effortlessly. As a journalist, grief coach and mother who has lost a child, she accompanies the mothers (in the book) with deep compassion. She journeys with them not only with feeling, but also with a clear understanding of the grieving process. Cathy gives the reader the affective and cognitive handles that can make grieving transformative and even joyful. This book can serve as a good guide for grieving monthers and their families, and all those who want to help them.
-- Dr. Ma. Lourdes "Honey" Carandang, clinical psychologist and national social scientist

There can be no better guide to coping with the death of one's child than someone who can speak from all levels -- personal experience, serious study, empathy and compassion -- from heart, mind and soul all at once. Cathy Babao Guballa is all that. She has gone through a long period of unspeakable grief over the loss of a young son and still grapples with it every day. With God's grace, though, she has been able to write this landmark book to help parents like herself. A heart wrenching but ultimately inspiring testament to the transformative power of grief and of God's abiding love.
-- Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, book editor and author of Above the Crowd

The narratives in this book are not only attempts to plumb the depths of a mother's pain as she loses her child. The individual stories of shattered lives are themselves eloquent testimonies to the will to transcend this almost unknowable, chaotic world, albeit with immense difficulty, into a genuinely affirmative view of life.

A very engaging collection of narratives which help the readers make sense of their lives.
--  Dr. Soledad Reyes, professor emeritus and art critic, Ateneo de Manila University

In the literature of mourning, Cathy Babao Guballa, is both frontline reporter and seasoned storyteller; over the years, her columns and stories have allowed many readers to understand, with ever greater depth of insight, the life-altering experience of the bereaved -- beginning with her own. In Between Loss and Forever, her unforgettable account of the grief journey of mothers who had lost their children to accident or violence or illness, she has written a deeply moving work that is both an intricate, courageous study and a compelling story. Essential (and cathartic) reading. 
-- John Nery, senior editor and columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Excerpt from the Introduction of "Between Loss and Forever" Filipino Mothers on the Grief Journey

The celebrated American author and poet, Maya Angelou, once wrote, “There is no greater burden than bearing an untold story inside you."

The death of a child goes against the natural order of the universe and the strangeness of the event is a major stumbling block for the bereaved mother who cannot comprehend why such an event had to take place. The loss of a child shatters every mother’s worldview of a world that is secure, safe and in order. The bereaved mother, on her own, can take no solace in the incomprehensible loss that her child has gone on ahead of her. 
Another factor that contributes to the overwhelming sense of grief and the unnaturalness of a child's death is the very nature and manner by which it takes place -- sudden, dramatic, unexpected and untimely. The circumstances often leave the mother shaken to the core, with a greater sense of helplessness and threat.

In losses that result from accidents, genetic or unexplained medical factors, murders and suicide, mothers often take on the additional burden of grief, saddled by various kinds of guilt. It is these losses that prompt enormous efforts by the bereaved mother to find meaning and purpose in her life in order to regain some sense of control and eventually move on, albeit slowly, after the death of a much loved child.

This book attempts to explore and describe how the use of narrative (spoken and written) may be used as a tool to help bereaved mothers grieve and find meaning in the loss of their child.  In the study “Embracing their memory: The construction of accounts” (Harvey, J.H., Carlson, H.R., Huff, T.M., and Green, M.A., 2001), Robert Coles (1989) suggested the rock bottom human capacity of every person is the universal gift of a story -- the power to own and tell a personal story. Living with trauma from years gone by and talking about it, or writing about thoughts and feelings associated with it, can help one get past it (Pennebaker, 1990)

I am a bereaved mother and journalist by profession, and I find the need to look into the search for meaning and what steps the Filipino mother takes as she goes about healing herself while undergoing the various stages of grief.  In the interviews I conducted with other bereaved mothers, I found a common thread that has helped these mothers successfully transition after losing a child. For some it has taken many years, for others, a couple, and for the newly-bereaved, the journey still goes on.

This book was inspired by the steps I undertook on my 13-year journey since the loss of my son, Migi in 1998, and my own interest in the emerging field of Thanatology. The seeds for this book began germinating in my head about a year after Migi died. My great desire to reach out to other bereaved mothers – women now taking the journey that I once set out on without any roadmap is what fueled and inspired me to write this book.

Within these pages you will find stories of mothers who have been on the grief journey from various periods of time.

There is Thelma Arceo who lost her eldest son Ferdie, 21 to the military in the dark ages of Martial Law in Iloilo in 1973. Alice Honasan, whose youngest son Mel, died after a brutal and senseless hazing in 1976. Lissa Ylanan – Moran who lost her infant daughter a few months after EDSA.  Mothers who whose children perished at the prime of their lives in car accidents – Raciel Carlos,  Jo Ann de Larrazabal, Isabel Valles Lovina and Mano Morales; mothers losing adult children to illness like Baby Tiaoqui and Fe Montano, and mothers who lost their children all too suddenly, like Beth Burgos Adan, Aleli Villanueva, Barbara Gordon delos Reyes, Monique Papa Eugenio and Aileen Judan Jiao.  And mothers like Alma Miclat and Vivian dela Pena whose children felt that life was too painful, they chose to end their suffering.

It was important for me to capture the very essence of each mother’s story-telling as they spoke and wrote about their loss.  The breadth of emotions and anguish expressed were impossible to quantify, the experience of listening with one’s mind and heart, of transcribing and writing it all down, was to say the very least, exhausting. No amount of “formulaic” structured questions could grasp the feeling, the emotion, the very core of each mother’s unique grief experience.

It was an unfamiliar road that I suddenly found myself on when my 4-year old son passed away on June 3, 1998. It is my hope that this book be a roadmap of sorts for others who are new on the journey – one that provides hope, comfort and guidance for the long road to healing that lies ahead.

"Between Loss and Forever" will be available at National Bookstore and Powerbooks beginning 23 October 2011