Death and ambiguous losses

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By Nina S. Custodio


Saturday, February 15, 2014

YESTERDAY, it was finally my turn to report in my Masters class. I was the rest reporter and so everyone was quite eager for me to finish because we only had a one hour break for the next class. I, too, was excited because I liked my report.

It was about death and dying.

Under normal circumstances, I don’t think a normal person would want to discuss death or dying with another person. In our culture, it would just feel a bit “weird” and morbid to even consider the possibilities of death and dying. Hmmm.


There was a time when dying was perceived quite openly as a fact of life. It was simply a part of living. There was a time when death can be freely expected to happen to anyone, but since the advent of medicine and better sanitation and health practices, the life expectancy rate of every person on this earth increased. And so now, quite expectedly, everyone assumes they would die of old age. What does this tell us?

Well yeah, it means that health-wise and disease prevention wise we are in a much, much better place. Even medical cases that were considered lost causes manage to live up to the ripe age of being referred to as a senior citizen. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good place to be but, we also have to think about the changes these have brought to our own consciousness.

In my readings in death and dying, I agreed that modern technology’s ability to push life expectancy further has also lead us to see death as being associated only with the old people. Moreover, when one dies, they usually assume it was due to an illness and not through natural causes? Why is that?

There are also cultures that have delegated taking care of their sick to health professionals putting older people and the terminally ill in hospices and homes that can provide palliative care. At one point, I feel quite uncomfortable with this ever gaining widespread acceptance here in the Philippines as I feel that being a family-oriented culture, we are expected and duty-bound to take care of our sick and elderly.

In a way, it would feel a bit disrespectful to leave the caring to strangers. But then again, in cases of the terminally ill, sometimes it does seem better to live the care up to the professionals. What do you think?

Maybe dealing with the subject of death seems easier for me because I have thread that thin line between life and death. You really realize how shallow and important some of your concerns are prior to actually finding out that your time on earth is numbered.

Facing death in the eye has allowed me to gain insight about what should matter most to me. It has taught me that life is definitely capable of throwing me a curveball and really, really bad pitches which sadly, I will not have control over. It happens; and we all should be prepared to make the necessary adjustments and hopefully still find a reason to smile and be truly thankful.

In the recent tragedy that is the Super Typhoon Yolanda, a lot of our countrymen have lost their loved ones and not have been able to find the bodies. This ambiguous losses are pretty hard on those who have been left behind because this kind of significant loss delays, if not, makes healing and moving on difficult or next to impossible. Somehow, seeing the body of the deceased signals the stark reality that life has ended.

It provides the family and friends the closure that it needs so that mourning can begin. It gives them the opportunity to pay their respects and say goodbye properly rather than just being left hanging, wondering whatever happened to the missing. It is not easy laying a loved one to rest but having that ceremony of formally sending off the person to the afterlife makes the transition easier.

Hopefully, somewhere in the near future healing can take place and then the person can move on to living his life with fond memories of the loved one, sans the pain.. It is really is bad enough that you have lost someone, I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for those who are in this situation.

Suffice to say, we need to realize that grief is a process and not a stage from which you step up to next from the previous level. We all need to realize that the process can sometimes go back and forth, depending on the circumstances surrounding the death and the existing relationship between the departed and the surviving person.

We need to realize that in the process of getting over a death, there will be good and bad times, and that at this point in one’s life, you may as well be riding a roller coaster. There is always a time for everything...for crying and healing, from feeling sadness to being free from the pain and anguish. It is important to accept that losing a loved one is part of life and that feelings concerning this life event should never be denied. You may cry, and swear and do whatever it is you need to get over this mountain of hurt and sadness.

Remember that things will get better and you heal faster when you reach out and ask for support. Do things that make you happy so that you realize that life always has two sides and they can coexist and make you a better, stronger person. Rely on faith and on yourself that things will get better and that the sun will shine bright again soon.

Chin up and cheer up! Have a Happy Sunday everyone!

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 16, 2014.


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