Friday, November 03, 2006

On Losing a Father

A father will always be his daughter's first love. The man by whom all others will be measured against. One of the defining moments of my adolescence was when I lost my dad at the age of 16. His loss came at a crucial time in my development and left me with wounds so deep it took me the next 20 or so years of my life trying to heal them. It is always very difficult for a parent to lose a child. When a parent dies, a part of your past is gone forever.

Dad's death came so suddenly, literally like the proverbial "thief in the night" that many poets have used to describe death. I was 16, my younger brother was ten and dad was 49 - gone from a massive heart attack, his first, at the peak of his career. Dad died young when I think about it now. Yesterday, at the cementery, staring at his grave marker, I was hit with a realization - I couldn't help but mutter aloud, "Ang bata pa nga ni daddy namatay." (Daddy died so young!) 49 is just seven years from where I am now when I think about it.

Whenever a child loses a parent before the age of 18, he/she carries the memory of the loss way into adulthood and it is something that he/she processes with every milestone attained. Children's grief specialist, William Worden in his book " Children and Grief: When A Parent Dies" writes about the 10 signs warning signs to look out for in a child who grieves. The problem here lies when the signs last for a very long time and seem to increase in intensity with the passage of time:

1. Persistent difficulty talking about the deceased person, especially a parent;

2. Uncharacteristic aggressive behavior;

3. Anxiety about the safety of others, especially a surviving parent - normally, this decreases during the first year after the death;

4. Physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, etc. or the worsening of a previous physical condition - of course, in this last case, medical attention is called for;

5. Sleeping difficulties such as persistent nightmares and/or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep;

6. Changes in eating habits such as overeating, not eating properly, or signs of anorexia or bulimia;

7. Social withdrawal;

8. Difficulties in school, either socially or academically;

9. Persistent self-blame or guilt; and

10. Self-destructive behavior or a desire to die - a warning sign that adults should take seriously and act upon immediately!
One of most helpful ways I personally found in working out the grief over my father's death was through writing. Putting my feelings on paper has always been cathartic for me. I recently came across two blog entries by two popular and well-read artists - one is Butch Dalisay's One For My Father. Butch is a multi-awarded writer and author and his personal recollection of his dad's death left a major lump in my throat. Another piece was written by multi-awarded composer, artist and life-coach Jim Paredes' How Would We Find Each Other In Heaven. Jim's piece is insightful and wistful and explains the concept of "father-hunger" that is prevalent among children who lose their father very early on in life. Their writings struck a major chord in my heart, making me remember my own dad and reflect once more on how his early loss impacted the ways by which I eventually navigated the emotional terrain of my own life. Dad's been gone for 25 years now and yet, like Butch and Jim, his memory will always remain in my heart brief though the time we may have spent together.