The brush was dipped into the palette of brow powder and then swept across my grandmother's eyebrows. It contrasted against the beige foundation which was sponged smoothly from her face to her neck, and rouge the color of crushed roses tinted her cheekbones. But my grandmother wasn’t going to a party, her body was being prepared by the mortician for viewing, and I was there to help dress her.
Given that I barely slept a wink in the last forty eight hours, I could have just collapsed from exhaustion right there in the morgue, but I was determined to hold my composure. I did not even weep that morning in the hospital when she passed away, nor here at 2:00 am waiting on the mortician as he embalmed her body.
I bought a simple white dress, stockings, and a pair of fancy silver sandals. It was as though she was on her way to a dance, and Nanay being someone who loved shoes, would have approved that I placed very beautiful footwear upon her feet. It almost did not fit because rigor mortis had set in, and the heeled sparkling sandals required the feet to be arched.
The whole thing went as a blur: the funeral, working on the paperwork which was surprisingly complicated, the interment, the nine day novena, and the forty days prayer for the dead. It only hit me when I went home one day, after all of our neighbors had gone home, that we arrived at an empty house. I will definitely miss Nanay feeding the doves outside in the yard in the morning, or watching TV while we are having dinner, talking about what our relatives were up to. During the summer of her death there were days when I engrossed myself in projects so I would not dwell on our loss, yet somehow this profound sadness would catch up with me, triggered by seeing a picture of her, or seeing the walking cane I gave her.
One afternoon, I was telling a story about Nanay to a friend when out of the blue I just started crying. I don’t know, crying because I missed her, because I missed my parents too, who left this world not too long ago, crying out of exhaustion, self-pity, despair, guilt, and relief. I was irked because she never “came to my rescue”, unlike so many times she stepped in to defend or rationalized others’ shortcomings, confused because I was in favor of her mastectomy operation to remove the tumor, which unfortunately triggered a heart attack leading to her demise, frustrated because I felt like I could have done more.
But in that same afternoon, beneath the soothing canopy of butterfly trees in my friend’s garden, I came to accept that it was over- that all I could do now is just whisper to the wind and allow all of the pent-up emotions and frustrations to surface.
I think I did find some sort of closure, after being able to explore how our loss affected me. Losing one’s support system that you’ve had since your childhood isn’t easy; I knew I was changed forever. But I also knew I became stronger and more self-reliant. I remember during the funeral people who drop by to give their sympathies would tell me, “It’s going to be alright.” It does not really happen that way- like your grief will just vanish in a few days. The truth is, you alone know how and when the grieving process takes place.
One day, sitting in our terrace, I smiled to myself remembering some of the funny moments I’ve had with Mama, Papa, and Nanay. Right then, instead of feeling sad again, I was filled with nothing but gratitude for having those memories with them. That was the day I knew I was going to be alright.