During times when I am being comforted by friends and family at the loss of my father, they often say how sad it was that our family lost Papa during Christmas time. It’s Christmas Eve as I write this. It is true that I miss Papa very badly. My life feels like something important is missing… I would imagine this is what it would feel like to lose a limb. You never get over losing someone you love… you accept the loss until it becomes part of what is the new normal.
I should feel sadness and grief. Papa was my best friend. I confided in him about everything in my life. The highlight of my busy days were convincing him to try new cuisines like fusion Japanese at Sumo Sam’s, a Korean hole-in-the-wall like Pearl Meatshop, or shabu-shabu from David’s Teahouse. Making Papa smile took away my stress away and gave me a sense of purpose during times when I feel so unhappy about the anxieties of law practice. It gave me something to look forward to, knowing I had some extra money to take Mama and Papa shopping for little luxuries.
But oddly, today is not as sad as other people and myself think it would be. There is a sense of loss, yes, but not quite a sense of sadness.
Maybe I have accepted that Papa is gone, but there is little sorrow to be gained from his loss. I don’t know if other people in mourning would understand this but an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and love fills in the absence and keeps out most of the sadness. I catch myself coming to tears from time to time, and mostly during inopportune moments: While I am driving and the radio station plays all the Beatles songs that Papa loved; While I am in the mall and I realize that Papa isn’t waiting for me to get home; While having coffee in S&R and writing in my journal about Papa’s last days; While a friend and I are talking at Bo’s and I describe what happened during my last night with Papa.
I cry because in that void, love rushes in and fills the emptiness, and I am overwhelmed by how much love there is for Papa. I drown in it. My only regret is not that I can’t see my Papa anymore. My regret is that when I call out to say I love him, I can’t see the look in his eyes that says he has heard me. I can’t see his amused little smile. I can’t feel the strong grip of his left hand… even in his much weakened state, Papa still had an iron grip, squeezing my hand and answering me when his words didn’t make sense anymore. The sadness lies in the fact that human as I am, I need to feel my affection accepted and reciprocated.
And this is where the gift comes in.
Papa’s loss is a gift to my family, surprisingly. His death brought about many things. My sister and I reconciled and patched up our differences, as we worked together to make Papa’s last days filled with devotion. Rifts in my family were healed. People we were supposed to be at odds with stepped up and showed us how much they really cared. A best friend I supposedly burned bridges with, didn’t let himself be brushed away by my indifference and stood by my side during these terrible times. People I didn’t know that cared for me sent flowers, offered prayers, and showed up and made me feel like my family and I mattered in their lives. I heard more stories about the lives Papa touched and these gave me greater appreciation for the man who set aside his claim to fame and fortune for a life of service to the poorest of the poor.
All these, I would never discover if not for Papa’s passing. I grieve his loss but I am also grateful for the treasures it uncovered.
One of my favorite Christmas tributes, by Fra. Giovanni Giacondo, says that:
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
I see that in my Father’s passing. And in a way, his absence invites me to a deeper level of sensing that he is nearby, invisible to the eyes but essentially felt by the proverbial heart.
What sorrow is there when I know a greater sense of intimacy with Papa now? The love we have for each other fills me with tears of joy. Perhaps this is what true faith is about… a trust in something which our eyes does not see, our ears do not hear and our hands do not grasp? Perhaps this is love at its most pure and holy.
I am touched by all who reach out to me and my family out of concern for our well-being. But know that we are strengthened, not destroyed, by Papa’s passing. We hope in the day that we will be reunited with him in heaven.
It is with this love, faith and hope that I reach out to you. Know that there is no loss in my life. I reach out to you with the fullness of the gifts given to me. I was blessed with love and this love I return to all of you, for the goodness and kindness we share as family and friends. An overwhelming sense of gratitude for the sweetness of life and the treasure of knowing that we all have someone to lean on in the moments of our loneliness.
Merry Christmas to one and all from Boy, Tess, Janjan and Janice Perez. Tonight, may a star lead you into the darkness, where your greatest treasures lie.