Denial is my reflex reaction to news of death. I don't wallow in grief all at once; I walk away, pretend I never heard the news, and go on with whatever it is I'm doing.
I think I got that from my mother. I only saw her cry about a month after my grandfather, Lolo Mauro, was buried.
I was cleaning the mouse cages at Albert Hall four years ago when a friend told me that our classmate was found dead in her room. Hours later, I went home in disbelief. I then wrote in my journal, "I feel nothing, save for the croaking voice that is Melay's [the friend who called me] in my ear. I sit here on my bed, writing my thoughts down because I still couldn't digest everything."
This morning felt just like that. The news of death for breakfast. Mawwi passed away at 5 am. Everything felt like a dream. She was only about a year old.
Elisha Mawwi Balbalosa—that was her name, the baby we met during our Community Medicine rotation in Pasay. She was Zhai's first daughter, Ate Nelyn's first granddaughter. My group felt particularly close to this family because their home was where we would spend hot, idle, sleepy afternoons.
After our rotation, some of us got invited to Mawwi's baptism. We would stand as her godparents. I remember how the ceremony went: the Catholic church was packed with fifty other babies dressed in white clothes. It was a mass baptism, that first I had ever attended. The angry priest reprimanded the noisy crowd, composed mostly of ninongs and ninangs armed with point-and-shoot cameras. The past-paced photo sessions were the highlight of the day's affair.
I never really knew Mawwi up close and personal, save for the fact that she was that quiet, behaved little girl with the sweet-smelling hair.
I saw Mawwi last week. Zhai took her to the Philippine General Hospital to have her checked because she had stunted growth. True enough, she didn't grow as much as one would expect. "May problema din daw siya sa puso (She has a heart problem)," Zhai said. And when I listened to her heart, I noted a loud murmur. Later it was confirmed that Mawwi had ventricular septal defect, the most common congenital heart disease seen in the clinics.
Yesterday she was rushed to the emergency room. Just this morning, she passed on. I don't know the complete story yet, but everything happened in rapid-fire succession.
Clearly one cannot go on denial forever. How does one deal with grief then? How does one console a grieving mother?
Molly Piper who had a stillborn child years ago has been giving helpful tips on helping a grieving friend. I took into heart what she wrote, "The one thing I’ve found myself writing to these people over and over again is this: Give brokenhearted love. Ask God to give you a broken heart. That will go further with your friend than any meal or house-cleaning ever could. Granted, I think meals and house-cleaning are immensely important to offer, and some people will be particularly gifted in giving those things. But if you want to go deeper into the loss with your friend, you’re going to have to be heartbroken."
And heartbroken we all are.
I pray that this trial bring Zhai and her family closer to the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone gives true peace and comfort.