I barely have time to grieve. My hands are almost always full of the tasks I need to fulfill for my children. The house is often noisy that I barely hear myself breathe. I live each day wishing my kids will go to bed early, so I can have time to cry at night.
The night before my mama died I snuck out of the hospital as she slept. I drove back home and crawled my way beside my children, the youngest of whom I was still breastfeeding. I felt like I was being pulled apart in different directions — the pressure of loving a sick parent and tending to two young children was too much sometimes.
I was working full time then. I would often rush home, tend to my kids, prepare food for my mother and rush to the hospital. En route, I would cry while driving. I felt like every part of my being was exhausted, every living cell in my body was tired. I was beyond exhausted. But I needed to muster enough energy to be there for my children and be available for my sick mother, all the while working a full-time job.
The day my mother died I wanted to follow her to the other side and get her back. It was too much to bear.
The morning after my mom died I remembered walking out of the car and into the parking lot of the memorial place. I was carrying clothes she was to wear — a long white gown, some stockings, and underwear. I could feel the heat of the sun piercing through my skin and the debilitating grief piercing through my heart. I wanted to sit on the floor and cry and scream. But I had a mother waiting in the morgue. I had children waiting for me to get back to them. I remembered closing my eyes and willing my feet to take the steps towards the room where they were preparing her.
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I felt the force clutch my insides as I looked at my mother — quiet, cold, and lifeless. I wanted to rush out of the building and scream. But I knew she depended on me that time. She needed me to be there to tend to the arrangements. And I knew she wouldn’t want me losing it because I have children. After all, she was the one who taught me, “You always have to be strong for your children no matter what.”
It’s been a little over a year, and grief comes and goes. Unfortunately, it sometimes hits me when I least expect it, like in front of other people, even my little kids. I would stifle my cries, try to resist the urge to bawl because I don't want to worry them, and I don’t want them to absorb my pain. They are too young to see this kind of anguish where grief clutches and twists my insides. I feel they need to have a normal, happy life with a mother who got things figured out, who keeps the house running properly, who takes care of them, plays with them all day, as if nothing’s wrong, everything’s peachy. Life is beautiful, and everything’s fine.
When I lost my mother, I felt a part of me died with her. I was broken with so many parts missing.
At night after putting my kids to bed, I sneak out of the room to have a cup of hot chocolate in the kitchen. I savor the sound of a quiet house, I often look at pictures of my mother and welcome my grief. During these precious hours, I allow myself to grieve. It hits me like the pain you feel when you peel the bandage off a fresh wound. It slowly creeps in, then you feel the sting, and that's when the pain rushes in — throbbing, exploding, overwhelming. I bawl, alone, in the dark while my kids are sleeping. It’s the only time I get to feel my loss, my grief thoroughly.
I long for the day when I get to walk alone by the beach, feel the water drown my feet, the sun touching my skin. I will look up at the sky and think about my mother, our memories together. I will allow myself to miss her, grieve losing her. I will cry alone, and savor the pain of losing her. Drain as much sadness as I can. Write how I feel in a journal as I look out into the ocean and feel my pain float away.
For now, I have children who need me to carry on. I have a million and one things to do. Grieving can wait. Instead, I will have that good cry at night when the house is quiet, and my children are asleep.
Loraine Balita-Centeno was a full-time faculty member of De La Salle University (Manila) where she also served as director of the Student Media Office. She gave it up to work from home, writing and editing for various publications in the Philippines and abroad, with a toddler clamped around one leg and a preschooler asking her questions every five minutes. Read more of her parenting ramblings on her blog mommyfied.ph.