Trigger warning; This article mentions themes of depression and death.
From the author’s journal written on Nov 12. 2023
I have been trying to write this memoir since I got out of the hospital and gained enough strength to grip a pen and just let the words flow. But every time I attempt to compose my first paragraph, fear always creeps in – the fear of being unable to express and give justice to my story, the fear of being mediocre with my prose potential, and the fear of disrupting my healing by reliving the trauma. Apart from the fear, the demands of this mundane life naturally interrupt my recollection.
Despite taking a year off from college, I kept myself occupied since I’ve always been that type of person: productive, positive, and persevering. I have been busy as a bee with advocacy work, physical therapy, horrifying hospital visits, reconnecting with friends and loved ones, and academic deadlines. I won’t deny that a part of me did all of this to deliberately forget about that tragic night and compensate for the time and the life I’ve lost.
Today, November 12, marks the first anniversary of my accident. Since then, I’ve never had the opportunity to fully grieve, to spend an entire day thinking about nothing but it.
I never had the luxury of time to process the pain, rage, and sorrow the way I was meant to since I was so focused on holding it together to show other people that the accident did not damage me, if anything, it only made me stronger. I keep forgetting that I owe myself some time to pause and drop everything to reflect on this life-changing event. Today, I am writing this piece to remember and navigate through my repressed mourning.
I won’t go into detail about my accident; maybe in the next column or when I get the courage. But today I want to talk about grief.
Grief is a complex yet natural response to loss. May it be loss due to the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, job, or resources, grief is the inevitable shadow that walks with us even more where there is light. It is both a universal and a personal experience for everyone. In my case, I grieve the person I used to be and the time when things were still normal. I also grieve the future I would no longer have because of the limitations incurred by my accident.
In her 1969 book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggested that this cobweb of emotions comes in different phases – five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
I refused to look at myself as much during the first several months after my injury since knowing how much I have changed physically would undoubtedly hurt me emotionally. To keep my sanity, there were times that I daydreamed about my old self in an attempt to alter the reality I was facing. When I realized I could no longer turn the tide, I started getting enraged and began blaming people around me, myself included. I whispered to God, “Why me?” I was constantly wondering if the things I did throughout my life deserved such consequences. Then I began to haggle between reality and my desires to somehow alleviate my suffering and make my second life more bearable.
Although I am not yet clinically diagnosed with depression, I could say that I had a fair share of moments where I got extremely sad, anxious, and purposeless. I got confined again a few weeks after I came home to Puerto Princesa because I relapsed. Just when I thought my coming home would mark a bright beginning, my health regressed after infection abscesses appeared in my injury sites. The doctor told me that my antibiotics were no longer working so they had to put me under intravenous (IV) therapy. But even with the IV, my infections did not heal. The doctor told me that if left untreated, it could lead to sepsis. I broke down as soon as the doctor left the room because sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition. Everything was happening all at once then: the rising hospital bills, the things I wasn’t prepared for, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and the recognition of death. In those depressing moments, I almost lost hope and the will to continue living.
But being the optimistic person that I am, I managed to convince myself that every tomorrow promises something better than today. I may still be at the point of acceptance, but I’ve come so far. I realized that I deserve to live and experience life at its best. Having this second life is a privilege – a miracle – that needs to be enjoyed and revered.
Friends have told me, “Mabuti at ang bilis mong naka-move on at recover.”
If they’re talking about my physical health, well it took me four operations with a total of nine procedures, a month before I was able to sit without getting dizzy, five months of therapy, a few kilometers and kilograms I needed to bike and lift before I was able to walk again, two confinements, another minor surgery, and several tablets of awful tramadols to be where I am now.
I hope these people know that in my life, I’ve mastered the art of “faking it ‘til you make it” because of the continual pressure I’ve been under to bounce back from whatever setbacks I experience. What people don’t generally see is that beneath this veneer of grace and composure lie tremendous layers of pain from which I am still striving to recover from.
Grief, like the keloid scars of my donor site, reminds me that while my wounds have already healed, they are now a permanent part of who I am. Grief lives on and scars our souls for a lifetime.
I recall having a chat with my guidance counselor about moving on and forward. I told her I wanted to “get over” this period of my life and begin again. She reminded me of the mourning paradox: you can’t get over your loss until you “get through” it. We must become acquainted with grief, no matter how unpleasant and upsetting it is, so that when it comes on our door, we are not astonished but rather soothed. And it will be just like greeting a familiar friend with a warm embrace.
Grief isn’t always a negative feeling. Once it is processed, it transcends into the illuminating kind like the one I am feeling as I finish this essay.
Grief has become a familiar face to me, but so is grace. True to my name, Lara Grace, my life is a testament to God’s grace and unconditional love. He showed me grace by allowing me to see the world once again with a renewed perspective and by making me an instrument of light and hope for others. Grace is also in the faces of the people I love and those who stood alongside me and helped me survived my battles. To everyone who has been with me every step of the way as I traverse this path, no amount of thanks would suffice for what you’ve done for me.
To the one reading this as well as to those who are grieving, I hope you take comfort in the fact that you are not alone and your emotions, no matter how confusing, are valid. It may take some time – it took me a year – but the love you have in your heart will eventually outgrow the pain you’re experiencing now. It was not simple to get here, but the road of transforming pain into grace, as well as the possibility to experience hundreds of pleasures and sorrows all at once, is what makes life interesting, hopeful, and worth fighting for.