Wednesday, September 1, 2021

A Letter to Me... From me

Dearest Me,

I have never written a letter to you before. I have talked to many people and God about what had happened in your life but never talked to you before and so today, I thought I should. 

My dear, it's been two years since you had experienced your greatest pain in life thus far... and I think personally, you have been doing very very well. It's true that you have a lot to work on... like how you are still impatient, still easily irritable, still brutally honest and in many ways still not perfect...but you have surpassed way better than you could have imagined. 

You did become less idealistic in life though. You who once believed that real bad things won't happen to you will realise that they do. But accepting that fact didn't make you lose hope that in today there are many things to be grateful for each day. Even though you have felt like you died this very day two years back, I'm grateful that you make the decision every single day to want to live not because you have to but because there's also no need for you to stop living and appreciating this gift God has given to you.

Two years ago, R.I.P to you simply meant Rest in Peace, two years later, you wish it means Return If Possible. You still grieve every single day. You won't know how to shake this pain off or feel better... and unfortunately, unless you forget who you lost, you will always remember who you lost. 

For a long time you had wondered how the grace of God was sufficient for you after Philip had died. People see what you do as great strength, because they simply can't imagine what they will do if they were in your shoes, but they didn't realise that your everyday act is a breath of new life from the Holy Spirit, something which anyone and everyone can do if they only have a little bit more of faith in themselves as well as in the Father.

I know you didn't sign up to be in the bereavement mother's group... unfortunately none of the members in this group (or any loss group) became a member willingly. But in these two years, you have learnt not to waste your pain and your grief. You have learnt in turn to use this grief to be more compassionate to the one who'e struggling, to watch out more for the one who is lost and left behind, and you have used this pain to in hope to bring some joy to someone else.

To you, you never knew if it was harder for you to remember Philip's would-be birthday or his death anniversary. You would have wished that more people got to know Philip but since that is not possible, you worked very hard to not let the memory of his existence be forgotten. But you soon realised that the best way of showing who Philip was to you was to live your life with lessons he has left you with... faith, hope and love. 

I don't know what the future will look. I know there will be days when you will laugh (it's great!) and there will be days when for no reason your tears will just flow (and it's okay!). Some days you look around and will feel like you have everything, other days you will look at what you had lost and feel like you got nothing. It's at these moments when you will question why God had allowed you to go through this and it is during these times you will also remember what your husband told you, that God's role was to take away sin not suffering.

By now, you will know that unlike a flu or illness, your grief will not go away and you won't be free from this pain you are going through. But each time you hurt, you have learnt that it's an invitation from God to be closer to you. 

So my dear girl, Philip will always be precious to you... but above that you are not just going to be precious to him but to the One who gave him to you. 
You need to remember this, that though Philip has gone somewhere really really far, he is always in the hugs and kisses his siblings give you, in the gentle breeze when you go on your walks and even when your tears roll down your cheeks thinking about him. But more importantly, you need to remember that where he is in, God is there too.

Love always,
Me







Tuesday, August 17, 2021

When we mistake God's sign

There are moments in the past that will always be replayed in my mind and while the last few months before Philip's passing was a blur to me, I remembered this scene very clearly. 

This was after Philip's brain surgery and the night before we realised that his abdomen was a little bloated and his testicles were a little swollen. It wasn't a good sign and that night we went to bed worried.

The next morning, I was getting ready to bring Philip to see the oncologist when Dan rushed home and showed me the reading of the day. He was very much filled with faith that Philip will be fine.  

I wasn't as sure as he was.. but I just went along with him because to me, even when I didn't have peace in my heart. 

This has been an internal struggle for Daniel for the first 10 months after Philip died... and since it is the first reading for today... I will share with you his reflection. :) 


The msg the Mister sent
me today
The First Reading today is a particularly difficult one for me as it brings back many memories. It’s a reading from the book of Judges. The story is how God called Gideon and what Gideon’s response was. In 2019 when Philip was very ill in hospital, I was very afraid that he would die and I remember asking God that fateful morning. Show me a sign that would tell me Philip’s fate. I was in the adoration room in the Church of the Holy Spirit, all alone and pleading with the Lord for a sign, just like Gideon did. 

The gist of the reading was “Do not be afraid, you will not die.” I cried as I took it to mean that Philip will not die then. 
As we all know, Philip passed away a couple of weeks later. I was shocked, horrified and indignant! Didn’t God give me a sign through the exact same reading 2 years ago? What happened to what He said to me? I was confused, angry, upset to say the least. That anger eventually led to indifference. If God’s will be done, why even seek my opinion? Why even bother to give me hope when there wasn’t to be any hope! Why lie to me? 
It took me a really long time and many struggles to come to the realisation that God’s plan will be done anyway, but we are called to “want” His plan for us. This calls for humility and obedience to His will. 
So it was with some trepidation that I re-read this morning’s First Reading. Gideon was called by the Lord to save His people Israel. But Gideon said that he was from the smallest tribe in Israel and the weakest member of his family. How could he even rise up against Israel’s enemies? It seemed so absurd and ridiculous! But God reassured him that He would go with Gideon and perform the works and power in Gideon’s behalf. Gideon of course didn’t believe and sought to ask for a sign (just like me). He made an offering of unleavened bread and lamb which the angel of the Lord caused to be burnt as a sign of the acceptance of Gideon’s offering to the Lord. Gideon then realised that he had seen the face of the angel of the Lord and in the Old Testament, anyone who sees the face of God or His angels will be struck down and die. But God reassured him that “Do not be afraid, you will not die!”
That perspective changed my thinking for now I know that God perhaps wants me to see His face and His will and go through His plan for me, but I need to trust Him and be obedient and docile to His plan for me, then I “will not die”. 
God always calls the weakest, the youngest, the one who in Man’s eyes are nothing, to be His instrument. He chose Moses, someone who couldn’t talk well; He chose David, the youngest and weakest child of Jesse. He chose Gideon and now He chooses you and me. Not to rely on our own strength and intellect but instead to put our own ego aside and just follow the promptings of the Spirit to do His will. 
God never calls the ready, He readies the called. We can come up with a million and one excuses not to do His will, but I ask you today to put aside your reason and human understanding, and just say “Yes” to Him today. “Not mine, but Thy Will be done”. You will be amazed by what will happen!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Because You were here...

Dearest Philip,

If you were here, we would be celebrating your second birthday today. I doubt it would be anything fancy, but it would be a celebration nonetheless if you are around.

After 4 kids, no one would ever believe that you were an accident. (Thanks guys 😏) Or at least no one would believe that we didn't try to conceive you. You weren't a gift Mummy was praying for, but it quickly became ironic that you were the gift Mummy prayed very hard to God to not take away. You see, as much as I was not the most enthusiastic person to find out I was pregnant with you, I struggle with the sharp pain of giving you back to God.

It's been two years and while I don't remember much about the day I had you, I realised I don't remember much about you. I was feeling all anxious a few weeks back, because I was afraid that one day you will become a stranger to me. While you are my child, I actually don't know much about you. I don't know what you like or you don't. I don't know what dreams you have or even how you will look when you lose your baby fats. I don't know what your first word would be, what your fashion style is or how even your voice sounds. I realised my child, in many ways, I don't know you. 

I recognise I had many dreams for you. I imagined that you would be a brilliant boy in school and even challenging your brothers academically. I thought you were going to be charming and all the ladies would be swoon by you. You would be like who you were named after, St Philip Neri, who would bring so much joy to the people you would meet. In fact, I always thought that you would be a priest (bishop even!), one who will be able to convince another just by looking at you. You would be such a wonderful gift, but all these my child would be what my plans and hopes for you. And because they are just my desires and plans of you... it really isn't you.

And yet despite not knowing much of you, my heart still aches and yearns for the next time we meet again. I'm sure with all the love and joy you have been getting from God in heaven, that you possibly may not be missing anything here. It's just that selfishly I wish you will not stop remembering who I am, my boy.

People often celebrate birthdays as a highlight of how much they have grown through the year. And as such, I wished my life was just like any other parent, celebrating the milestone of my child and spoiling him rotten with a special cake and presents. But this is not to be. And while you may not be physically with me today, it doesn't mean we would be sulking today. (I really doubt we will have any cake or blow any candles today though 😅)

My dear boy, your life, though short, is worth celebrating and remembering. Not just because we miss you but because we thank God for who you made us become during the short time we had together. Because of you, I have become more careful to reach out to those struggling in pain around me, to cheer them on and to support them when they needed a break. It's also because of you, I have become a better parent and catechist to your siblings in making sure that I don't lose any of them to the ways of the world. But more importantly, it is also because of you, that I was born again to believe that God really loves me. He may have seemed to have ignored me when He chose to bring you home, but truth was He has sent me many more angels to guard my heart so that I would not become cynical of the wonders of life and the excitement each day has for me. 

I have come to realise that unlike other superficial wounds, He may never allow this wound to be fully healed. Not that He was being sadistic just so to cripple me and make me lean on Him, but more importantly to push me forward to know how much more I can do and how much more I need to better live life because of my love for you.

It's been two years my boy, and while it seems this year I started the day (again) in tears, I too look forward to today. Your siblings and us have decided that we will be fasting and abstaining today. Not because we are grieving, but it was with the intention to support and carry another with our prayers and thoughts as our gift to you. (Don't worry, we will reward them to a nice dinner... it's after all your birthday 😅)

Your siblings especially your brothers may need a little help from you to get through the day, judging from the discussion as to what they can eat in school 😅. And while they think chicken should go under the category of fish, I am seriously proud of them too for wanting to do this in honour of you. Can you see what a great priest you would be if Julian, your brother, is willing to forego food for you? 

Happy birthday my dear boy. I know God must be very pleased (and busy answering the prayer intentions we will be offering) with you and your heavenly party would be well taken care of. Maybe if you want, you think you could ask God to draw us a picture of the rainbow in the sky so that we could also be part of your heavenly birthday celebrations too? 

Have a wonderful time in heaven my dear boy. 

I love you my dear, never stopped, never will. 

Eternally yours,

Mummy

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Legacy of a Baby

I remember before Philip's death, I'd always looked forward to the next year because the current year was what I thought to be sucky or had nothing to shout about. Somehow, when Philip died, I was probably just going through life and was neither excited or dreading the year to come. Partly because nothing would be more tragic than that and because I was really learning to live in the moment.
It's been a year since Philip died, and yet this year I'm pleased to share that I am looking forward to the next year. Not because that 2020 has been bad (I really am grateful for 2020), but there's so many exciting things to look forward to in 2021. (And no I'm not having another baby😏)

A rainbow we saw at our 
family holiday this year
Through the past year, I have had many people coming to ask me if I ever once was angry with God. And while it doesn't seem so, I have been upset with God many times. I was upset that He gave me Philip when I didn't ask for it. I was more upset that He took him away when I prayed very hard for him to stay. I got irritated when He dangled some hope in front of me through bible passages and when Philip started to re
act to the meds only to abruptly snatch that away from me. I was bitter and envious when I saw kids the same age as Philip, growing and thriving while I just buried mine. 
I even became cynical in the power of prayers and wondered whether God bothered to answer mine. Like during Philip's last days, I had always asked God to assure me that everything would be fine by showing me a rainbow in the sky. I saw rainbows on a balloon, on a sweater, in the hospital charts but never a rainbow in the sky. 
Then Philip died, which probably would be enough to justify if I ever walked away from God.

Many times, the bitterness and anger from life come from this little voice we hear in us. 
This voice which tells us "Life is not fair. You don't deserve this." And strangely, as we grow older, we tend to believe it more and allow it to take over our lives more. 
We think God didn't fulfil His part of the contract and permit ourselves to be angry and walk away, because after all, God failed. 

I still don't know why God chose to give him an illness with a next to nothing fighting chance or to take him away. I don't believe He needed Philip to be an extra angel in heaven (I mean He IS God, He doesn't need to take anything from us to make Him happy 😏), neither do I believe that He thinks I will screw up being a mother of 5 that's why He took Philip away. (That's really just being extra...

So why do I stay on being a loser? Because my little (Saint) Philip still gives me hope. 💕

Philip after his second op
Philip taught me through his operations and illness to smile despite the challenges (I mean he had moments when he laughed even while "facing" death and pain), to never let the tragedy of his life define him (he was never known to be the baby with cancer, but the cute and smiley baby whom the nurses would try to win a smile from), that living a life with hope, looking forward to the next day is wayyy easier than being bitter and angry.
Many who are angry with God with the unfairness in life, forgot too often that even He had to allow His Son to die. 

My little saint may only just be a baby, who has no degree, knows no language, gets no followers, but just like the little baby in Christmas, is cheering me on to live out my life with greater courage, more hope and humanity.

Could God change the tragedy from happening? Of course. But did God ever leave me? Never. 
And as we end 2020, I pray that I will always be reminded how blessed I am to have bore and held a saint in my arms and how much love and hope I can offer from the gifts I have
gotten thus far.   


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Picking Up the Pieces, Picking Up my Cross


Dearest Philip,

How are you in heaven? Have you been busy testing your wings in your free time or have you been swamped with prayer requests during your "working hours"?
It's been almost a year since we last met. Despite the reasons to smile and be grateful for, there hasn't been a day when mummy stopped thinking or missing you. 

Since your passing, (other than having another baby 😅) I did many things to deal with your absence. I stayed away from big gatherings so that I didn't need to deal with pitiful or sympathetic conversations, I stayed away from babies who are similar to your age so as not to be reminded of my loss, I even locked myself in my own cocoon so that I didn't need to wear any mask to cover the rawness of the pain.

I have heard many people commenting that time will heal the pain. To that, I have learnt to just smile and keep quiet. Maybe they are right.. maybe they have experienced something in life that I have yet to learn, or maybe it's just that they are really blessed to not have lost something that mattered more than life to them. 

But the biggest struggle I had after you died ironically wasn't dealing with your absence but with my own guilt. 
I had always wondered if I had done enough for you, if I had really shown you in my capacity how much I love you. The night before your death, daddy and I even dressed ourselves up to attend a function because we didn't want to dampen the spirits of the people who were there. And even though we left 5 minutes into the start of the event, I'd always wondered if you had blamed me for not being around you more. Not many people knew this, but the reason why I never opened the casket during your wake was because the c-pap mask that you wore during the last days of your life had caused an abrasion and a dent at your nose area which I only noticed it after they removed the mask when they died. You must have been really uncomfortable during that time but I wasn't able to offer any consolation. You were left on the hospital ward for quite some time because daddy and I couldn't find your original birth certificate and because of that you couldn't be transferred to the mortuary. 
At times I read about stories of children going through the same cancer as you. Most of them don't make it but because they underwent chemotherapy and radiation, they did live longer. And I wondered too if our lives would be different if I had chosen the chemo route for you. 
I replayed your last few months in my head throughout the year and always wondered did we do enough  for you and more importantly did we tell you enough that we love you. 

The gospel today reminded me a very harsh truth what being a disciple meant - to carry my cross daily. Darling, unfortunately you will always be my cross I would need to bear till I die. When you died last year, a part of me died together with you. 
And even though you were with us for only 6 months, you truly taught me so much more than what I have learnt in my whole life. When the doctors told me about your diagnosis, it was not only the first time I actually felt any concrete pain in life, but the first time I had experienced the cross. My faith was crumbling and there were moments when I doubted the goodness of God. 

Because of you, I have learnt to understand the phrase "not my will but yours be done". On the day of your funeral, not only did I bury you, I also needed to bury my disappointments and my dreams I had for you. But I came to learn that while there was nothing wrong with my hopes and dreams, God just had a very different plan and vocation for you. And it was through you, mummy learnt to ask for strength to surrender. 

It didn't take me long to realise that nothing will ever be possible to fill the void you left behind. It's ironic, but human logic of finding something else to fill the void doesn't help in the healing. Healing ironically came when mummy decided to give away more of her heart to those around her.
Because of this pain I experienced, I have learnt to reach out to more people who are struggling with a little more humility and compassion. And each time when they opened their lives and hearts to me, that small part of my heart starts to become alive again.

I have learnt to be okay with God's choice of not healing you, because even though I am your mummy, I know that He loves you more than I do. Thank you baby, for jumpstarting my relationship with God, for teaching me in a very concrete manner how to submit to my daily cross. 
It's been one year since I last saw you... but it's also one year closer to meeting you again. So until I get my chance to hold you again, I promise you that mummy is going to live her life and laugh again. And know that every breath I take, I'll be taking one for you. 💕

Always missing you,
Mummy. 

P a few weeks before he died
P a few weeks before he died

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Growing with Grief

It has been four months since I have made a new friend - Grief. Not that I ever welcomed her into my life, or that I asked to hang around, but she decided to make herself comfortable and stay on.
I soon got comfortable with her and somehow I realised that till the day that I die, she will be my constant companion.

Many don't realise it and tell me that with time, she will become a stranger and slowly fade away. However, those who told me so, probably have never lost a piece of their hearts before. There are both good and bad things about grief. The good, I always tell others, is that life will never get worse. The bad and saddest thing is, unfortunately, life will just go on. 

Since my last blog entry, I said that I was staying in my tomb for quite a bit.  Being in my tomb was probably like being at the bottom of the mountain, seeing and learning different views which being on the mountain top will never be able to help me see. 

1) We often credit God way tooooo much for our own good.
In the past four months, I kept hearing people commenting about how God has a better or greater plan for me. Like how He will never give me a cross way too big for me to bear. *Rolls eyes* (apparently my sarcasm did not die with Philip
That initially made me wonder what did I do so wrong or so right that God decided to give me such a big cross. (I mean it would be wayyyyyyyyy easier to love God if He could just reward me with a big lottery win) But it seemed that because humans need to have an explanation for everything, we console ourselves by telling us that God can't be that cruel to us. 
Or how maybe God was just doing me a favour by saving me a greater heartache and taking Philip to a better place now. (Of which I smiled and decide to walk away)

Unfortunately, I didn't do anything right (or wrong) to have what I got. It was all the while going to be my life. God didn't give me the cross. He did however allow it to happen and with it He gave me the right people to journey with and watch out for me. The right enough raw ingredients of hope, faith and grace to recognise that there is something to look forward to even if I were to die tomorrow. (Which obviously I hope I don't) And from those raw ingredients, hopefully it will grow and become a testimony that He had never abandoned me. 

2) Grief was never meant to imprison a soul
I shared with some friends whom I still meet up with that "Call me if you need me" is probably one of the worst lines I would want to hear in times of grief from a friend. Not many realise that the person whom they say it to hardly use that "call me" card. 

Many friends thought I needed time and left me alone. I don't blame them for personally death isn't something many are comfortable to deal with. The unfortunate thing was, not many realised that I didn't need time alone or to be left alone... I needed them. Unfortunately, being in your own tomb, causes one to look inward, at one's pain, one's misery and just at oneself.
I became selfish and excused myself from many of the gatherings they have organised. Afterall, I thought whether I appeared or not, the gathering would still happen, so why should I go? The gathering seemed to fulfill their need of void of boredom rather than comforting me in my loss. 

Yet, I learnt that the purpose of grief wasn't to highlight the unfairness of life, but to emphasize the importance of joy. It does seem ironic, but people seem to appreciate the gift of joy more when it comes from someone who would be filled with pain. It was as if many aspired to want to be joyful than be cynical. 
Just like because of Easter and Good Friday, we can appreciate the gift of Christmas (cuz if not, it's just another baby's birthday?) And so with pain, one learns the magic of joy. 

3) Life is better when you don't need answers
After Philip died, I wondered if I had done enough. The memories of having him in my arms broke my heart, but the "what ifs" I had killed me. "What if we decided to do chemotherapy?", "What if we started treatment earlier" or "What if he was around still?". These questions get worse when you grief somehow. 

Till now, I can't tell you why Philip was given to me only for 6 months. I can't tell you also why God decided to allow one to go through disasters or any calamity. And for the rest of my life, I would probably be pondering on that just like how Mary did till the day she died. She who survived through the death of her spouse and son would probably wonder what did she say yes to. She was afterall (just) doing God's work and she got everything seemingly against her. 

But her doubts, questions and heartaches never made her think twice in who she believed in. And the sooner one realises that one can never answer (and not need to answer) all the questions in life, the sooner you will be able to appreciate life and its surprises better. 

Letting God be God was one of the hardest thing I learnt in 2019. It probably gets harder as we age because we start to attach job scopes and images to what God has to be in order to be "God". But we forget that we are not God and everything is a gift. All my life I have been taught to pray and get what I want, but now a wise priest has told me to start wanting what I got.
I learnt though that what He has taken will never be greater than what He will give. So be comforted that He is a wayyyyyy better God than the one we have in mind.


Image from relationadvisors.com

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The promise for Lazarus

It has been three weeks since Philip passed away. One of the hardest challenges now is finding the answer to the question "How are you?". Honestly, if I said I'm fine, it would be a lie really. And if I said I'm not, it will leave both of us (you more so) in a very awkward position. So I'm often quiet when I get that question, to which they will ask the poor mister how I am. 

But in case you still wonder if I am fine, I am fine enough to run the household, to still look pretty (ownself say ownself), to eat my meals and even laugh too. But no, I am not okay yet, which I had learnt just within weeks of P's death, that this grieving may continue till the day I die. Meeting up with more than 2 people (me included) may make me feel anxious. Even doing routine things I did before P's birth, feels different and empty. Almost everyday, there will be moments where I sit down and wallow in the void and just cry.
In short, my days are basically grouped into two - a bad day with some good moments or a good day with many bad moments.

It didn't help that it was my birthday a few days back (which left most of my friends in an awkward position whether to wish me a happy birthday or not). So just within weeks of sharing Philip's passing, my Facebook wall came to live once again with friends wishing me a Happy Birthday. My phone would buzz every few minutes with greetings from friends far and near. I would usually have acknowledged the greeting and just indulge in the attention given for that day. This year though, I just kept quiet.

The greetings I received from my Facebook were left unread, the messages I got from my phone were left unanswered. I was not interested in any of the messages related to my birthday. So yes, I had chosen misery over joy on my birthday. Or rather I didn't allow myself to find joy. After all, since Philip (whom I named after the patron saints of joy and hope) is gone, where is my joy and hope now?

I remembered when Philip was dying, I had asked a wise priest before if God had thought if I was going to screw up and that's why He took Philip away. But that priest reminded me that it will be an insult to God for He who is generous in His love, doesn't give only to see us fail. 

On the night after Philip's first surgery, I was somehow prompted to read the passage on the raising of Lazarus. And because I hardly have any inspirations to read the Bible, I thought it was God telling me that Philip would be okay, even if the odds seemed bad. But Philip died and there's no way now that P will come back to life (especially when his remains are really in an urn). Then why give such hope, I asked. 

Unfortunately or otherwise, hope is often used as synonyms as desire or wish. My wish was that Philip would be here with me but that isn't the hope that God had promised me from the beginning. God just told me to hold on to the truth that He won't fail. 
For He who knows the agony of hoping against all odds that things could change, will understand the depth of grief when they didn't.
And for He who chose the most painful human experience to sacrifice His Son for my salvation, will also weep when mine died. 
And for He who knows how much I can and will love my son, knows that that is only a fraction of how much He already loves me.
That has been the Hope that was promised to me since Day 1.

We managed to do a small
celebration for IZ
It is unfortunate that henceforth my birthday month will always remind me of P's passing (which means I won't know if I would acknowledge next year's greetings. Actually, anything in any day will do so too). Whilst birthdays focuses on the person, I chose then to focus on the pain since it was very much of me now. The "Happy" in Happy Birthday (and no.. the word "Blessed" also won't make a difference) seems to be ironic since I am far from that.
But birthdays, as the very wise priest pointed out, serve as a reminder that God hasn't forgotten about me and has spent is still spending time on me to work on me. (Such wisdom... What am I to do when this priest passes on?!?!) And a birthday should not be the only day we celebrate and remember that fact, but the evil one is always trying to tell me otherwise.  

In all tombs, including the one which Lazarus laid, life stopped. Truth be told, though not physically, a part of my heart had died and I had retreated to a tomb when P left me. While it may not be today or tomorrow, the Hope I have been assured of, promised me that it will resurrect one day. Many have told me before that with time, things will get better. I may be wrong, but time doesn't make the hurt go away. It will however, teach me lessons to put my hope and joy on the giver rather than on His gifts and patience to continue to wait in awe for that something great that is waiting to happen.

As for now, allow Jesus to sit with this "Lazarus" in the tomb to weep and to pray together with.