Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Baby In Heaven

This beautiful poem was shared to me by blogmate Dine Racoma who lost her beloved grandson just last week. Writing, like art and music, is a healthy and creative way of expressing one's grief. The poem will tug at any bereaved parent's heart.

You came to us
God's loving gift
Our baby boy
Our source of joy.

You gave us love
The purest kind
Your perfect smile
Your touch so mild.

We had our hopes
Our dreams, our plans
Until one day
God reached out His hand.

He called you home
He needed you
To join His host of Angels
So mighty, so strong.

You said, "Yes Lord."
Then bid us good bye
"I'll watch over you
From heaven up high."

Dear Joseph Michael
Our baby, our Angel
You are God's gift to us
And you are our gift to God.

We love you,
Daddy Joseph Angelo
Mommy Caren Marie
Ate Sofia Bernice
Ate Agatha Clarisse

Joseph Michael G. Racoma
20 August-3 October 2007

Thank you Dine for sharing this. Our prayers are with you and your family. Grieve well.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is Wrong To Ask God "Why?"

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOften in my work as a grief counselor, counseling people through periods of loss and transition, people always ask "Is it wrong to ask God why?" That's a tough question to answer and one that I used to ponder on myself. Personally, I don't think it's bad to ask God "why" when one is in the throes of deep pain and suffering, blinded by the tears that accompany an occurence of deep grief. It becomes wrong I guess when we remain stuck in asking God why and turning our wrath and anger on Him and on our loved ones.

The other day, I came across a devotional by best-selling Christian author, Elizabeth Elliott who is one lady who has known many episodes of loss and grief in her life. Let me now share it here with you...

"Sometimes I've said, "O Lord, you wouldn't do this to me, would you? How could you, Lord?" I can recall such times later on and realize that my perspective was skewed. One Scripture passage which helps me rectify it is Isaiah 45:9-11 (NEB): "Will the pot contend with the potter, or the earthenware with the hand that shapes it? Will the clay ask the potter what he is making?... Thus says the Lord, would you dare question me concerning my children, or instruct me in my handiwork? I alone, I made the earth and created man upon it." He knows exactly what He is doing. I am clay.

The word humble comes from the root word humus, earth, clay. Let me remember that when I question God's dealings. I don't understand Him, but then I'm not asked to understand, only to trust. Bitterness dissolves when I remember the kind of love with which He has loved me--He gave Himself for me. He gave Himself for me. He gave Himself for me. Whatever He is doing now, therefore, is not cause for bitterness. It has to be designed for good, because He loved me and gave Himself for me.\n\n\u003cp\>Is it a sin to ask God why?\n\n\u003cp\>It is always best to go first for our answers to Jesus Himself. He cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" It was a human cry, a cry of desperation, springing from His heart's agony at the prospect of being put into the hands of wicked men and actually becoming sin for you and me. We can never suffer anything like that, yet we do at times feel forsaken and cry, Why, Lord?

The psalmist asked why. Job, a blameless man, suffering horrible torments on an ash heap, asked why. It does not seem to me to be sinful to ask the question. What is sinful is resentment against God and His dealings with us. When we begin to doubt His love and imagine that He is cheating us of something we have a right to, we are guilty as Adam and Eve were guilty. They took the snake at his word rather than God. The same snake comes to us repeatedly with the same suggestions: Does God love you? Does He really want the best for you? Is His word trustworthy? Isn't He cheating you? Forget His promises. You'd be better off if you do it your way.

I have often asked why. Many things have happened which I didn't plan on and which human rationality could not explain. In the darkness of my perplexity and sorrow I have heard Him say quietly, Trust Me. He knew that my question was not the challenge of unbelief or resentment. I have never doubted that He loves me, but I have sometimes felt like St. Teresa of Avila who, when she was dumped out of a carriage into a ditch, said, "If this is the way You treat your friends, no wonder You have so few!" Job was not, it seems to me, a very patient man. But he never gave up his conviction that he was in God's hands. God was big enough to take whatever Job dished out (see Job 16 for a sample). Do not be afraid to tell Him exactly how you feel (He's already read your thoughts anyway). Don't tell the whole world. God can take it--others can't. Then listen for His answer. Six scriptural answers to the question WHY come from: 1 Peter 4:12-13 (Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though somethings strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.); Romans 5:3-4 (Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.) ; 2 Corinthians 12:9 ( But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."); John 14:31 ( but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave."); Romans 8:17 (Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.); and finally, Colossians 1:24 ( Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his bosy, which is the church.). There is mystery, but it is not all mystery. Here are clear reasons."

So yes, if you are reading this and wanting to ask God "Why?" then my reply is, go ahead and ask the questions but believe that, just as he has promised, "all thing work for good for those who love the Lord." From the depths of suffering and darkness trust that one day there will be great rejoicing and light.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Help A Grieving Child

Do you know a child (between the ages of 3 to 18) who is grieving? Are you interested in helping that child?

Come to our special seminar on "Helping Children Grieve" on Monday, September 24, 2007 at the Greenhills Christian Fellowship church on Ruby corner Garnet Roads in the Ortigas business district. My husband and I will be facilitating a two-hour video/workshop on how to better understand a child's grieving process. This will be very helpful to doctors, parents, educators or anyone working with children. The workshop starts at 6:30 PM.

There is no fee. Just call 0917-529-1964 to register or email griefisajourney@gmail.com

Please pass on this information to those whom you think might benefit from attending this session. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Life After A Miscarriage, One Year Later

Exactly one year ago today, God gave me a second lease on life.

Some moments in life change you forever and
my loss last year was one such event. By no coincidence, there is a lunar eclipse tonight - a "Red Moon Rising". Reading about it in the papers today I thought for a moment, what could be the significance of that? I Googled it and found a book with the exact same title that talks about a 24-7 prayer movement that begun in London in 1999. The book talks about the power of prayer and how it can see one through in the darkest of times. Prayer is the "red moon rising" against the backdrop of a dark evening sky. I suppose God only wanted to remind me of His promise and His faithfulness amidst difficult and challenging times. That no matter how dark the landscape may seem to be, He will always be there for us and that all we need to do is call on Him.

It took me a while to get over that loss. Looking back now I guess I was just so glad to make it through a life-threatening situation that it was months later when I realized that, "Hey, I lost another child too." In November last year, H and I began to facilitate Griefshare and it was there, in one of the sessions that the loss finally sank in. A miscarriage, such as the one I had, is a valid loss and it takes anywhere from six - nine months for the the physical body and the emotions to get back to normal. It's no wonder then why in December, four months after my surgery, I was still weepy and touchy. I can say now that it was only around March or April this year, that I was finally able to move on.

And by moving on, I closed a chapter in my work life, but then by God's grace, a new one was born and my work life, in a sense, came full circle as I returned to the paper that first nurtured me into becoming the writer that I am now.

In the year past, there are many things that I have re-evaluated and have painfully come to terms with, to this day, the story continues to unfold. Many lessons have been given to me in the last 12 months. Last week I had lunch with my good friend Alya and I was telling (more like ranting) to her about several changes in my life. Always wise, she told me that for most of us at this stage, a "spring cleaning" of sorts is necssary when we realize that the old ways and the old relationships do not work anymore. When the winter of one's life has passed, one needs to weed out and prune, sometimes painfully, what is unecessary in order to make way for the new life and growth that spring brings.

Today I thank God for the second lease in life He has given me. Lord grant me the wisdom and grace to live it well in accordance to your purpose and will for me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sibling Loss, My Daughter Remembers Her Brother

The following essay was written by my daughter P, four years ago when she was 12 years old. I am inspired to post it here after she showed me a self-portrait that she took of herself last night, the one pictured above here. Loss early in life really imbues you with a sense of wisdom far beyond your years. It also puts into your heart a sense of sadness that will forever be there. Re-reading this again today I was struck at how vivid the images of our experiences as a family really stuck to head. P knew loss at the tender age of seven when we lost Migi in 1998. A child's grief is cyclical in the sense that it appears at every point in the various developmental stages. Perhaps now as a teen-ager her way of working it out is through photography. Perhaps it also had to do with her coming from a retreat that put her in a reflective mood. She called the photograph above "Seeking Migi For Inspiration" as she journaled her thoughts away. Below is P's essay which hangs in frame over my work table.

"All I Needed To Learn In Life... I Learned From My Younger Brothers"

Being an ate is hard work.

I should know, I was born into a family with two younger brothers. Older sisters often regard their younger siblings as pests, annoyances or simply those little brothers that you want to bite when you're "naiinis" or frustrated. Being an ate myself I won't deny the fact that yes, my brothers can frustrate me sometimes. They too can be a total monster. But I don't focus on that. When they make me mad, I just remember all the good times we've had together, the lessons they've taught me and the lessons they are still teaching me as the days pass. I've learned everything I need to know from them and they've taught me in the most unique ways.

My first younger brother Migi was born three years after me in 1994. He was born with a heart disease called Tetralogy of Fallot. Living with a brother with a disease taught me that I should accept people's diseases or differences. I understood that some people are just born with special needs or differences and that I should learn to respect them. I remember that he taught me how to share. We used to share everything! We shared books, toys, and even the same room. Most importantly we were able to share the advantage of being blessed to be raised by great parents, together.

Another important virtue that I learned from him was to be patient. As a child I remember some days when we would play and he would get too tired, his lips would turn blue, he'd turn pale and he would have to be placed in front of an air conditioner or an electric fan while being rocked back and forth by our mom. I never really complained when this happened, I understood that I had to be patient and wait until he was all right again. I realized that my baby brother had special needs. Until today, even if I know that God has called him home, I will never forget my Migi, the brother I had who taught me so much, without realizing he did. He is always on my mind.

Then came Leon. He came into mylife just three months after Migi became an angel. Leon seemed just somuch like a sign of Migi saying "Ate you've got to move on now." Now, I am old enough to understand that God had to take my Migi but he also sent me little Leon to help me move on, keep living my life. So much like the saying, "When God closes a door, he opens a window." I totally dote on Leon. He is now a happy and robust 5 year old who teaches me more lessons and reminds me of those little values and good doings I tend to forget. He's got just about the greatest concience. He is the first one to reprimand me if I do something wrong. And when I've made a mistake, he always tells me that it's okay to lose and that I can just try again. He really does! He also reminds me of even the most unique of things, especially not t o have a boyfriend yet! He says his reason is that when I'd get one, his heart would hurt. Leon is very intelligent for his age and really takes whatever he learns in school very seriously. Especially those good things they tell you that you should do in kindergarten. Lately he has been reminding me that I should always eat fruits and vegetabled. He is ever so sweet and has so much compassion for others. The other day he told me, "Ate this Christmas we've got to help poor people." Leon really doesn't realize how much he teaches others just by being his usual perky 5-year old self.

A lot of people have commented that I'm a "goody-goody". I really don't mind being called such because it makes me realize that I have been blessed to have grown up in such a stable family. My family is supportive and very willing to accept me for who I am. They have created who I am today. My brothers have been my biggest inspiration throughout my grade school years and I really haven't been through an English teacher yet who doesn't know about my brothers. This is the first time though that I've written about how much they really mean to me. Through this, I want to thank them, Migi up in heaven who I know may even have been with me the whole time I wrote this, and sweet Leon who is my remaining little boy. I just want them to someday know how much they mean to me. I want just the best for them. But no matter what happens, whether they find out or not and whatever may happen during our lives, my brothers will always be the world to me.

P.B. G. December 10, 2003

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Griefshare Ministry on the 700 Club

This day has been quite a long but terribly blessed one.

The day began with H and I guesting on "The 700 Club" to talk about our Griefshare Ministry. What was particularly poignant was when they showed us a clip of an interview I had done for them back in 2000 when there were only two, going on three Migi's Corners. I had very short hair on the video and P was a chubby nine year old while L was a precocious two. I couldn't help but tear when then-little P talked about her two brothers - "My younger brother is totally different from my older brother in many ways... and he's not a replacement for my older brother." So wise even at such a young age.

How much our lives have changed since then. Now, there are 12 Migi's Corners all over the Philippines and H and I now share a common ministry that is Griefshare. As Kata Inocencio, the 700 Club host put it perfectly, from Migi, there came about Migi's Corners for children, and now there is Griefshare for adults and families. Truly the ministry has evolved and continues to change from where it began nine years ago. A decade back, I would not even imagine doing this kind of work. But such are the ways of the Lord, that He is able to transform the worst nightmares of your life into something that will benefit many people. And the projects and ministries have never been about us, but about the saving grace of our Lord, of how He is able to comfort us at the lowest point and give meaning to a very great loss. "All things work together for good to those that love the Lord..." This, we hold on to as we continue to do HIS work for us here on earth.

The episode on Griefshare will air on August 9, 2007, 1130PM on QTV

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Losing Your Parent In Adulthood

This post is for my good friends - Ginny and Glenda whose devotion to their fathers inspired me and for Leah, Carissa and Lia who take wonderful care of their own dads in the best ways that they can.
I came face to face with mortality this week -several times over, in fact.

Last Monday, I received a text message saying that the father of a high school classmate had passed away after a long illness. The following day, I went to the hospital to visit the father of another very good friend from high school. Yesterday, I received an email from another from a childhood friend, saying that her dad’s health had just turned from bad to worse.

At midlife you suddenly become very aware of your mortality when you notice that the death of persons very close to you – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents – become more frequent. My sage of an eight-year old put it perfectly yesterday when he said, “You seem to be going to wakes every two weeks now.”

The birth of our children and the death of our parents are miles apart on the journey that is life but they are major events that transform us forever. When you lose a parent, that part of your past is gone forever. When that parent is ill for a long-time, prior to his/her passing, we find the roles reversed, as we become parent and our parent, in all his/her vulnerability, becomes the child.
Alexandra Kennedy, a psychotherapist who specializes in adult grief, wrote the book “Losing A Paren.” after her father’s death. She writes -- “The generation of adults referred to as the "sandwich generation" is simultaneously raising children and caring for aging and dying parents. Many also have full-time jobs. The pressures are immense as these adults, already emotionally overwhelmed, try to attend to the competing needs of parents and children. No matter what they do, someone seems to feel hurt, left out, or resentful. Tied down with responsibilities at home, many members of this generation experience a lack of freedom to respond to their dying parents as they would want to.”
Kennedy explains that a parent’s illness or decline can place a tremendous strain on family life, demanding an exhausting expenditure of time, attention, and money. She stresses that the whole feeling of uncertainty and anxiety is both emotionally and physically, and financially draining.
As a people, we are blessed to have very strong family support systems, and though grief is not as freely discussed, there is more room and openness now for the bereaved to share their feelings in support groups or through one on one sessions with a counselor, priest or pastor. However, because as a people we were not raised to be vocal about what we want and need, many, who belong to the current sandwich generation find themselves taxed and burdened after the death of a parent. It is normal to be drained after a loss – emotionally, physically, and sometimes even financially – but there are steps that one can undertake to get back into the stream of things as one begins the journey towards healing. Here are some things that you can do for yourself as you move on after the loss of your parent :
• Be patient and kind to yourself. The supermom or superdad is a myth. Especially during a time of loss or illness, you do the best you can and leave the rest to God and other family members.
• Grief recovery takes time. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable and go with the flow of your pain for as long as you need to. At one of our recent Griefshare workshops, I was apalled by the story of one of our attendees. This young woman had lost both her parents in a span of three days. A cousin had told her, “I am giving you three months to recover.” Goodness! The woman had just lost her entire history and two beloved parents and she was expected to get back on her feet in the blink of an eye!? There is no set time table for grief and no one can tell you when you should be over your loss. For as long as you remain functional and do not harm yourself or your loved ones go ahead and do your grief work well.
• Take time each day to retreat to a quiet place where you can re-group, meditate, pray, journal, cry or just be with your thoughts. In grief work moments of solitude are essential. Afterward these times of quiet, it becomes easier to get back to the duties of daily living.
• Share your feelings with your children and listen to their concerns about the situation, you, and their grandparents. Children can be wise beyond their years and there is much that we can learn from them about ourselves if we take the time to listen.
• Be as open and express your feelings to as your spouse or partner. I was touched when my friend paid tribute to her husband whom she says was extremely supportive in every sense during her father’s illness. Make your spouse or partner understand that grief takes time, and tell them what you want and need from them.
• In situations where you cannot be with your dying parent, Kennedy suggests that you be creative – write a letter, meditate or pray, talk to your parent through your heart. In your time alone, work on healing the unresolved issues in your relationship.
• Support your other parent in the best way that you can without burning out. Delegate other responsibilities to your children, your siblings and find other possibilities for emotional support of need be eg. Seeking counseling, joining a support group. This is a time when family dynamics are expected to shift, when major family changes are slowly set into place.
• Do something special and pro-active each year to remember your parent with love. Reaching out of one’s grief to help others is one of the best ways to heal. I remember one mentor of mine who was very close to her father who, during his lifetime, was very passionate about basketball. On the anniversary of her father’s death, she, together with her brothers would organize a basketball camp for the street children in their community, the highlight of which would be a tournament in memory of their dad.
One of the key things in grief recovery, whether it be the loss of a parent, a child or a loved one is for the bereaved to be able to move from the wrenching feelings of longing and loneliness for the presence of our departed loved one, into a place where we are able to remember them with joy. “Death is not the end of love”, Mitch Albom wrote in “The Five People That You Meet In Heaven”, simply because, we carry the memory of our loved ones forever safely in our hearts.

This article appeared in my ROOTS and WINGS column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 15, 2007

Friday, June 01, 2007

Nine Years Later, All Is Well

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I was all set to go to bed when something told me to open my Migi's Corner email. And true enough, my son who now lives forever with his Father in heaven had a surprise waiting for me...

For those of you reading this who do not know my history, Migi was my four year old son who passed away on June 3, 1998 from complications arising from an open heart surgery. Migi's Corner is the foundation that we set up in his memory. The foundation's mission is to improve and uplift the living conditions of children confined in the charity wards of our government hospitals. The first corner was set up in 1999 on the eve of what would have been his fifth birthday, at the Philippine Heart Center. Todate there are 13 Migi's Corners all over the Philippines.

I digress...

Each year, for many years now, as Migi's angel date approaches, somehow, God always manages to send me a message. This year is no different. As I opened my Migi's Corner email (migiscorner@gmail.com)which I had not opened in he last three months... I was met by an email from a former Theology teacher from Miriam College. Maricel wrote to say that she was now based in Norway and on one of her quiet times, using YouTube (I found this funny when I first read it but hey, never discount God's humor...) she had "stumbled" upon a video that featured Migi's Corner! So she sent me the link of the Migi's Corner Video and I clicked on it. True enough, it was a beautiful MTV of Bukas Palad singer Laine Laudico-Santana singing the lilting and comforting song "All Shall Be Well". The coincidence doesn't stop there, Laine happens to be a very good friend who has been supportive of Migi's Corner all these years. I'm not sure if she forgot to tell me about the video or that she did not know about it since she was not filled at the corner itself. I plan to ask her about it this week-end.

More meaningful though is the message of Laine's song with lyrics by Fr. Johnny Go and Manoling Francisco S.J. especially at this time of the year.

"Broken wings that cannot mend
Are we afraid to dream again?
Our days are full of passing faces
Our hearts are bruised in many places,
Yet all shall be well, shall be well
You'll see all shall soon be well...

I know you'll see through all the pain and sadness
All things, all men, all the world
All shall be well.
Shall be well.

It's not the end, you'll dream again
I know you'll see, believe in ME
All shall soon be well.

When there are no rainbows
after the rain
And there isn't freedom from the pain
I know that in time you will see
Believe in ME, all shall soon be well."

What greater comfort can a mother receive in the days leading to one of the saddest days in her life? Yes, truly God works in comforting and wonderful ways, and on this, Mig's 9th angel date, I can say with much faith, that yes, God is good and all is well.

Please click on the link I provided above, or view the video down here to appreciate the message of the song and why the visuals are so meaningful to me and the work that we have done with Migi's Corner over the last eight years.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coming Full Circle

Personal Testimony delivered at Greenhills Christian Fellowship on April 22, 2007

My husband and I lost our four year old son nine years ago in 1998. Migi, who was then four years old, passed away due to complications from an open heart surgery. The loss of a child is a pain too great for words.

Three months after his death, God blessed us with another son. Because I was recovering from childbirth, I stayed home most home the time to take care of our baby and another daughter who was then seven years old. Out of our family’s loss experience, the Lord brought forth a foundation called Migi’s Corner, a foundation that sets up play corners in government hospitals where children in the charity ward can go to play and read while recovering from illness or surgery.

In 1998, there were no workshops or support groups in the country that catered to bereaved parents like myself. Thus, I would find myself surfing the internet for hours, reading up on grief and recovery. Eventually, I went back to graduate school, took a course on bereavement studies and since 2001 have been teaching a course on grief at the Ateneo de Manila University.

GRIEFSHARE, GCF’s grief ministry was born out of that loss that my family experienced nine years ago. Sometime in June last year, my husband Hector and I approached Pastor RG Foncardas about the possibility of setting up a grief recovery program in GCF. Because we had received so much comfort from the Lord during our grief journey, our family wanted to be able to give back that same comfort to other people who had lost loved ones. And because we knew in our hearts that the Lord is the only one who can pull you out of the darkness that is grief, we wanted to share that with others who had been bereaved as well. The church was most supportive and gave their blessings to support the ministry. We had planned on an October launch for Griefshare.

On August 27 last year, I found myself hovering between life and death when it was discovered that I had an ectopic pregnancy. Thus, in the early morning of August 28, 2007 I had to undergo emergency surgery. Thus, even before Griefshare could begin, our family had experienced another loss.

I could not understand it back then and was searching for God’s message. Now I look back and think that perhaps it was another way to prepare us for the ministry we were about to undertake.

On November 2007, Griefshare was finally launched and our first module “graduated” 12 students who were in varying stages on the grief journey when they first came to attend Griefshare. From that initial batch we had seven bereaved parents, three widows, and two people who had lost either parent or sibling. It is not an easy ministry because it is one that demands you to be involved mind, heart and spirit into the lives of your participants. The greatest joy that my husband and I have found is in watching our participants burdens lift as they come to know the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and when they begin to process and understand their own grief.

The recovery is quite visible in marked in others. Initially they come with such heavy laden hearts and you see it in their eyes, their speech, the way they move, in their manner of dressing. Half--way through the 13-week program, you can see the load become lighter, the smiles return, and they slowly learn to laugh again. They start wearing brighter colored clothing, re-invest their lives in new activities, they learn how to pray and reflect, seek Bible studies and begin to truly trust the Lord once more. God truly gives grace for the healing.

Grief is a process that cannot be rushed and GRIEFSHARE does not guarantee that you will be completely healed from your losses after the 13-week program. When one experiences a death, it is like going through a tunnel, the downside is that it is dark but the upside is that there is a light at the end of it. GRIEFSHARE helps its participants begin walking through that tunnel, showing them what to expect while they are in the darkness and at the same time reminding them that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark because God is there.

A GRIEFSHARE session is divided into two parts – in the first part, participants view a videos where U.S. grief experts who are Christians themselves talk about the healing journey – Dr. Larry Crabb, Dr. Bill Bright, Elizabeth Elliott, Kay Arthur, Barbara Johnson and participants who have been through the Griefshare workshops themselves. The second part is where we come together in a smaller support group to share what we have learned in the video and share what is going on in our own healing journeys. We always end our sessions with prayer and thanksgiving for what has transpired during that day.

If you know of someone, or you are someone who has lost a loved one through death, I urge you to join GRIEFSHARE and begin your journey towards healing and recovery. We meet here every Saturday afternoon from 2-5PM. Psalm 30 verse 5 says, “Weeping may last for a night, buy joy comes with the morning. Loss always takes place for a reason and pain can be transformative if you embrace it. The Lord has promised to one day turn your mourning into joy. To God be the glory. Thank you very much.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Nothing By Accident

The Lord always works in mysterious ways, HIS wonders to perform.

I remember reading this line back when I was 10 year old and wondered what it meant. Through the years, it has taken on a deeper meaning as I have seen it come alive in several circumstances in my own life and as I have seen it happen in the lives of others. I am a firm believer that nothing happens in this world by chance or accident. That there are no coincidences and that no one is ever just "lucky" but that when something fortunate or serendipitous takes place, it happened because God has allowed it to, for a purpose.

Last Saturday, my husband H and I began the second module of GRIEFSHARE last April 14, 2007 at the Greenhills Christian Fellowhsip Church in the Ortigas Business District. As a I looked over the partcipants in the room that afternoon, a sudden realization hit me, six out of the seven families there had lost a loved one through sudden death, five of them through a tragic accident. I could not help but feel for their losses but in the same breath, asked God to help us, to fill both H and I with the courage to minister to the lives that had been entrusted to us for that Griefshare module. Clearly, it was going to be a pretty heavy session.

GRIEFSHARE starts out by viewing a video where grief experts from the United States share their knowledge and comfort about the experience of loss. After the video and a short break, we break up into a discussion group and share with one another what we learned from the video. THe discussion becomes a support group of sorts where H and I, together with another facilitator help the participants navigate their grief journey. It was there, after hearing their stories that it was evident that 6 out of the 6 families (one had to leave earlier) had experienced losses ALL due to accidents. I am sure that this was meant to be by God. To lose a loved one in itself is also a great tragedy, but to lose someone so suddenly and through an accident, complicates the grief even further.

If you are reading this, please help us pray that those who are currently attending our GRIEFSHARE group be healed in God's time of their loss. Grief is a long journey but with prayers and support, in HIS time, it is always possible to move from a place of deep sadness into a place of hope. We are also beginning a teens group and most of our participants are healing from the loss of their sibling. Please include them in your prayer time too.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

From Mourning To Moving On

MANILA, Philippines - Next year, it will be 10 years since he died.
Does loss really become more bearable with the passage of time? How does loss transform you? It has taken me close to 10 years to find the answers to these questions, and the exercise continues to be a work in progress.Let me try to explain by telling you my story.

In 1998, my 4-year-old son Migi died of complications from open-heart surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. We were told that there was only a five percent chance of mortality, so my husband and I decided, after much prayer and discussion, to go through with the procedure. Twenty-four hours after surgery, Migi lay in a coma, never to awaken until he was called home to heaven in the early evening of June 3, 1998. A few days before his death, we had been told to expect the worst, some sort of forewarning or preparation. Nevertheless, when death comes, the pain still hits you with such full force and you are completely knocked out of your senses. In addition to this, at the time of Migi's death, I was six months pregnant with a third child.

Death changes you in ways you can never imagine. One has to walk the actual journey to understand the terrain of griefwork and mourning. People who have had no prior experience in losing someone they love, no matter how well-intentioned, will never understand the depth and breadth of the loss that you experience. And though pain is universal, every loss is unique. Two parents who have each lost a child may have similarities in the ways that they grieve, but each one's experience will be as unique as the relationship that the parent had with his or her child.
A widow's pain is not the same as that of someone who has lost a parent, a sibling or a child. Yet, all of them will go through a period of mourning and recovery.

Does one ever really recover from a loss? I prefer to say that eventually, one gets to move on and get on with the rest of one's life, but never really fully and completely recovers from it. If you are brave enough to completely embrace the pain of your loss and stay with it, then you can emerge a better and more com-passionate human being.

When you lose someone you love, there are only two ways you are changed, you either become bitter, or you become better. I opted to take the latter road.

But how do you get there, and when? There is no timetable for grieving. You can allow yourself to grieve for as long as necessary, so long as you do not harm yourself, or become harmful to others. Initially, there is a period where you just want to be by yourself and with your sadness. That is perfectly okay and acceptable. However, this period should not be extended unnecessarily, especially if other people depend on you for their existence - children, spouses, parents.

Everyone grieves a loss in a family, but in many different ways and degrees. Dr. Kathleen Gilbert, my professor in grief psychology at the University of Indiana, likes to say, "In one family, there may be one loss, but many griefs."

Acceptance and communication are essential to the healing process. You cannot move on if there is no acceptance. Says the February 2007 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association: "Acceptance was the most frequently experienced (positive) grief indicator, and yearning was the dominant negative grief indicator from one to 24 months postloss." Yearning for the loved one is the most difficult emotion that one will have to deal with, especially in the first two years after the death. Does it get better after the second year? Yes, slowly, painfully, but in time, it does.

What are some of the things I have found personally helpful in my own grief journey? First and foremost is prayer. I cannot begin to tell you the countless times I have gone down on my knees when the sadness became too difficult to bear and almost overwhelmed me. God's word and His faithfulness are what saw me and my family through all the dark nights of our souls. It is a comfort that we now give to other people who are bereaved, through a grief recovery program called Griefshare.

The second most helpful thing for me was to find a way to communicate my pain. Women are much better at this because when they grieve, there is a social element to it. We like to talk about our pain to anyone who will care to listen. Journaling is an exercise that both men and women can use to help alleviate the heaviness in their hearts. All you need is a pen and paper and a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. Write away your pain.

Third, and perhaps the most important tool, if you can call it that, was the act of reaching out to others who are also in pain. Born out of the experience of losing Migi was a project called Migi's Corner, a play area for pediatric patients situated in various government hospitals throughout the country. Another friend and bereaved mother, Noemi Dado, together with Alma Miclat, helped put up The Compassionate Friends, a monthly grief support group for bereaved parents. After her daughter's tragic death, Gina De Venecia set up the Ina Foundation that seeks to provide a shelter and counseling services for bereaved mothers. There are countless other foundations set up by people who have lost loved ones. I believe it is when we step out of the shadows of our own loss and pain and begin to truly reach out to others who walk the same path, that we truly heal.

This article was published in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, April 8, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Caring for the self and Remembering a Son

I always get a little crazy and blue in the week leading up to Migi's birthday. Somehow this year was more difficult than the previous ones even if I was now close to nine years away from his loss. Perhaps the knowledge that he is now a teen-ager triggered my deep sense of loss this time around.

For the uninformed, Migi is my 4 year old son who died in June 1998 from complications due to an open heart surgery. It's been close to nine years now and yesterday, February 21, I like to think that he turned 13 in heaven.

My good friend T, and I hied off to Tagaytay early Monday morning for a huge slice of quiet time. We decided to stay overnight at one of my soul sanctuaries -- the Good Shepherd Convent in Tagaytay City. God always knows what we need even before we ask for it and looking back now on the events that have transpired over the last four days, I was certainly meant to be with the Good Shepherd sisters last February 19.

We arrived early enough to savor the mid-morning breeze and were warmly welcomed by the sisters. Although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, spending time at the convent, amidst it's lovely gardens and being so close to nature, has always been a healing experience for me. T spent the greater part of the morning talking to Sister Rose while I settled quietly into our spartan room on the convent's third floor and caught up with much-needed sleep. The 19th was the start of a personal 3-day hiatus from life's stresses and a shutting out of everything and everyone (except family and very close friends). After lunch, T and I each sequestered a hammock and we just hung out there alternately meditating, chatting and reading God's word. I know, it sounds like a weird combination but that's how T and I manage to throw our cares and worries to the wind. To each her own formula.

Sometime in the early afternoon, a bit of distressing news came to me and I was momentarily taken over by a deep sadness. Taking hold of my Bible, I turned to my devotional that day, and how quickly the Lord addressed the cries of my heart. Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd was my reading for the day. And to add even further comfort, it was like someone asked me - "And where do you find yourself this day?" - at the Good Shepherd convent! What further reassurance did I need from the Lord that everything would be all right and He would take care of all my anxieties? HE had spoken loud and clear to me that afternoon.

When it became a little cooler, T and I moved down to where the labyrinth was and we took turns walking it. Coming to the convent and walking the labyrinth has always been part of my rituals whenever I needed to make a major decision or needed enlightenment on certain issues. That day was no exception. To the uninitiated, a labyrinth, as defined by the Lessons for Life website "is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are."

T went ahead and walked the sacred path as I sat in the shade to meditate further and take photos of the beautiful scenery. When she was done, it was my turn to enter the path and think about my life and the decisions I needed to make. Try as I could to focus and steady my breathing, I was bothered with too many issues buzzing around in my head. When I finally got to the center of meditation, I closed my eyes and just stared at the bowl of water with lilies that was in front of me. When I opened my eyes, the thought, "BE still and know that I am God." came to me and was repeated several times. Prayer as they say is always practiced two ways - one is when you talk to God in a very personal way to thank Him, praise Him and and ask for whatever it is you need; and the second type of prayer is when you just sit still and listen to His voice and His leading.

T and I called it a day at 9PM and though it was all quiet in the halls and pitch black outside our window, save for a few stars, we slept oh-so soundly. I had no worries. H was home with the kids, allowing me this private time to unwind and regroup in God's garden. The following morning, we woke up refreshed and greeted by a glorious sunrise. After a hearty breakfast (oh how the nuns love to feed their guests with delicious home cooked meals!) we again hibernated on our hammocks for some more quiet time before heading back into the city.

Time spent quietly in HIS presence and surrounded by the magnificent work of His hands is am experience I would recommend to all mid-lifers. It is an advocacy I have begun to espouse to all women I know. Quiet time always helps us return to our center and our focus on HIM who knows our heart .

God is ever present in the sunsets of our lives...

as well as the sunrise...

and He has his eye on us 24/7. Matthew 8:26 says - "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. are you not worth much more than they?"

Whatever you are going through right now, or wherever you are on your own life's journey, God has placed you there for a reason.

"Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path... exactly where you are meant to be right now... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love." - Caroline Adams

Next -- Pampering the body and the spirit

Monday, January 15, 2007

Women In Grief and God's Faithfulness

My friend Chinchin's faith is amazing. When one spends time with people like her, you really feel and touch the presence of God. Chin had been in a fire that gutted everything she had ever owned. Worse, she herself suffered second-degree burns from the heroic act of saving her bedridden mother by jumping from the second floor of her home down to the ground floor. The other day her mom finally, after a long struggle passed away.
I spent some time with her last night coming straight from the grief support group that H and I facilitate every Saturday afternoon. Though the sadness in her eyes was palpable, her unwavering faith in the Lord was truly admirable. "It could have been worse you know," she told me. "We could have lost her in the fire..." Managing to see the positive in the midst of loss and tragedy is clearly an act of faith. "I'm just really going to miss my baby..." she said wistfully. For the last three years now Chin had been taking care of her mom Cecilia who has been bedridden. Her devotion knows no bounds. Her mom has always been her prime concern. I remember the day that we received our TOWNS award in Malacanang in October 2004, she was elated but her thoughts were on her mom whom she had just rushed to the hospital. Chin is truly, a beautiful person inside and out. Often misunderstood in the past, she is now entering a new phase in her life. I pray that the Lord give her the strength she needs for the journey and that she continue to cling to Him in this, perhaps her darkest hour.
At church today, our pastor posed this question to the congregation - Is anything too trivial for the Lord? Definitely, nothing is too small or trivial for HIM. I was reminded of His faithfulness once more when I had to switch to a new cardiologist this week because my previous one had migrated to the U.S. last November. My mind had been set on seeing Dra. L who had been referred to me. But for reasons only God knows, she had cancelled clinic on the day I was supposed to see her and was terribly late on my second try. Waiting in her office that day, a very pleasant and pretty doctor came in whose aura immediately caught my eye. I asked the secretary if that was Dra. L and she said no, it was Dra. Cheng. After a few more minutes I found out that she too was a cardiologist and that she was also part of healthcare's network. Coincidences? No coincidences in God's divine plan.
I then asked the secretary if I could just see her since I had yet another appointment to catch. After two patients, I went in to see Dra. Cheng, told her my history and exchanged pleasantries, I told her that I was seeing an Dra. Domingo, electrophysiologist for my Wolff-Parkinson's-White and it turns out that she and that doctor were very good friends as well. I then mentioned that I had grown up with Dra. Domingo. "Oh did you go to Philippine Science?" she asked me with a smile. I then replied that no, but my husband did. It turns out that Dra. Cheng had gone to school in Maryknoll grade school (where I too went) and then to Pisay for high school. Even more amazing was the fact that her father and H, sat together on the Pisay foundation board. Too many coincidences is how the secular world would see it but as I left the clinic that afternoon I was filled with great thankfulness in my heart for how faithful God is in leading us to the right people. So many times He has lead me to the right healers. Truly, nothing is ever trivial in God's sight :)
Quote : "It is only through solitude that we can find our true center and discover our real selves. " I took the photo above as I was strolling on a beach in Pacific Grove, CA last year at a particularly low point in my life. The old lady in the shed caught my eye and I could not help but think about her life. Was she a widow? Why was she alone? As I told a friend before, our perception of things will always be colored by our own personal experiences and history. I look at the photograph now and think that the lady is probably relishing her quiet time with God in the midst of a beautiful ocean. Savoring her solitude in her sunset years :)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Prayer for Enlightenment

Lord I have so many whys. I could go on and on, but nothing will change no matter how many times I ask. I do not understand this. I do not understand You. But I realize I am not meant to. You, O Lord, are high above all, and I must give my questions to you once and for all. Forgive me when I limit You, doubt You, and expect You to fail me. I am so small compared to You, yet You love me more than I can comprehend. Instead of focusing on the questions, I want to start focusing on the Answers – You. Help me to better understand Your attributes and Your plan for my life.

Faithful God, I must look at You first. Teach me about Your goodness and sovereignty. Teach me to see the big picture and not just the pebbles of my unanswered questions. Lord, I’m willing to try. Help me to understand that I CANNOT do anything without Your enabling. You only expect me to love You and learn about You, and your spirit will do the rest within me and through me.

Lord, I don’t understand. I’m asking You and being very honest with You. Please answer according to Your will, but also, can You show me how I am to deal with this? What would You have me to learn? How would You have me to operate from this point on. Teach me Lord, guide me and fill me with your spirit and grace. In Jesus Name. Amen.