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Writing your life story

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 21, 2020 4:00 pm

Why do you read my columns? I think it’s because I write about my very ordinary life. “Sometimes it makes you feel — I know what she means.” I go through that, too. Other times you think, “Is that the way it goes? That sort of reminds me of the time when I...”

That’s why we enjoy reading. I have been reading a book written by a woman whose mother just died, traveling with her through her grief afterwards. I didn’t have the same kind of grief. My mother died in the terrible throes of Alzheimer’s Disease. Her going spelled relief for us — for me and for her, too. Reading this book made me realize there are many times and ways of experiencing a mother’s passing. Her mother and she could talk to each other until the end. My mother and I could not communicate for years. I mourned her loss for years while she lived. My overwhelming grief had passed long before she left. 

Nevertheless, I still miss my mother. I miss her laughter, her voice, her sense of humor. She left around 10 years ago but I miss her until now. Losing her has taught me what losing a mother means to her child. The child will miss her mother forever. At first the missing is painful but over time it visits like a pleasant memory, remembering her favorite shade of lipstick, or pair of shoes, or perfume. We never forget our mothers. We never forget people we once loved.

Once upon a time I was very active in a group that studied Carl Jung. I made many friends there, the closest of whom were Sonia Roco and Carissa Singson. Sonia and I are the same age, more or less the same circle, but Carissa was a classmate of my oldest daughter. Nevertheless, we became close. But I dropped out of that circle. So I was delighted when they sent me an invitation to their book launch. 

Let me take a few steps backwards. Carl Jung is a psychotherapist who preaches what he calls “individuation.” This means the art or the science of knowing yourself as the individual that you are. Your strengths, weaknesses, the events that made you the way you are. In a sense, everything in your life that contributes to what you are today.

This Jung group was introduced to Jennifer Leigh Selig, PhD, a Jungian (what you call people who believe in the philosophy of Carl Jung) who was giving an online course on “Deep Memoir: A Course on Writing Your Life’s Stories.” They have not finished this course yet but got inspired into folding some of their work into a book called Vessel of Voices, which covers certain turning points in their lives and the effect those events have had on them. In its own way, it was very touching for me to read about their personal experiences.

The group is made up of the following in alphabetical order: Clemen C. Aquino, Elena C. Arnaiz, Gayle C. Certeza, Gizela M. Gonzalez, Ma. Belinda B. Morales, Edlyn Grace C. Ng Cha, Ruby Villavicencio Paurom, Bernardita Azurin-Quimpo, Sonia M. Roco, Rene M. Samaniego, Maureen Patricia Noble Sandejas and Carissa Moonyeen Retizos Singson.

As I read the book I was particularly delighted by the piece of Gizela Gonzalez (“Ging” to me). Ging is technically my second cousin. Her father, Tito Gonzalo, was my father’s first cousin. But because my father was orphaned young, he grew up with the family of my grandfather’s brother, Bienvenido, the grandfather of Ging. I used to call him Lolo Bindo. I grew up thinking this branch of Gonzalezes were my first cousins. Tito Zal — that’s what I used to call Gonzalo — gave me away on my wedding day, when I walked down the aisle trembling on his arm.

Of course I was delighted also by the pieces of Ruby, Bernie, Rene, Maureen (who knits like I do but is much better than me), Sonia and Carissa, because they are personal friends. And I liked Gayle’s piece. Her misadventures had special appeal to me. Sonia’s piece spoke about her life. I could relate because we’re the same age and Carissa’s piece was beautiful for me because of things she left unsaid but touched on as softly as the sakura blossoms fell.

The other pieces were also quite touching. The one whose grandmother liked to drink scotch. Just like me once, I thought. And the final piece that was written in Tagalog and set in San Pablo, Laguna, where I have relatives and where I used to spend occasional summers as a child.

Vessel of Voices is a beautiful book to give yourself or your female relatives on Christmas. It speaks to the reader from the heart of the writers. It moves you to smile, sometimes to laugh, and sometimes you come close to tears.

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