Life after death
Her name was Lalaine V. Miguel.
These were the first words I wrote in an essay I attempted to write about my mother. I looked at the word “was.” I saved the file and closed my laptop.
It has been more than 40 days, and using the word “was” is still unusual for me. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion wrote, “Life changes in the instant,” in reference to losing her husband. She was right. In an instant, “is” becomes “was,” the person fades into the language of past tense, and moments turn into memories narrated in the preterit.
“Life changes fast,” Didion wrote. Resonating the bereaved: One moment, I had a mother. Had.
My mother was pronounced dead at 5:02 in the morning, according to my dad who stayed with her in the hospital. At that exact time, I was lying alone in my apartment, frustratingly attempting to sleep. I slept at around six with the sun seeping into my window, and an hour later, I woke up from the relentless buzzing of my phone.
There were several missed calls from people I knew in high school, who happened to be my mother’s former students in elementary. I had a missed call from my cousin. And holding my phone, still half-asleep, I answered my aunt’s call. These were the people I have not talked to for a while. I knew something was unusual.
Her first word was, “Condolence.” She kept talking about the arrangements, how my sister and I would go home after I picked her up at the airport later in the afternoon. Nothing stuck in my head. She lost me at “condolence,” my mind buzzing with reasons to deny that word.
I dialed my dad’s number, and the moment I heard his voice, I broke down into tears. I knew. Denial was nowhere justified when my dad said, “Awan ni mamang mon.” My mom is no longer here.
Here is our life after death. This is how we live now. Our very own version of “life after death” is life calling for a retrograde.
Denial is grief subtly manifested, I realize now. But wailing like a child and calling my mom’s name were grief and shock coming together like a great wave. It was a liminal moment. At 5:01 on that day, I had a mother. When the clock struck 5:02, I lost her. From here on out, I would no longer have a mother gracing the remainder of my life.
“Grief never goes away,” a counselor told me. “But it is important you learn to live with it and try to move forward in life.” I have read these words before on social media. I paid money to hear it again from a professional. Nevertheless, I try. Our family tries to move forward in life.
Here is our life after death. This is how we live now. Our very own version of “life after death” is life calling for a retrograde, for a sudden retrace of the past and a refusal to move forward, one person less in our lives.
Even if we never say it out loud, no one really wanted to move forward after my mother’s death. We still set her plate on the dining table. We still talk to her as if she’s in the room. My sister and I still message her regularly on Facebook. She’s still listed as my emergency contact. Her belongings are still addressed as hers.
If that is so, why should I address her in the past tense? Though she is no longer here with me, she is still my mother. The name she was granted at birth is engraved on her memorial plaque. Her name is hers and hers only, even after life.
During all this time of grieving, I realized that it is a lie when I describe myself as “motherless.”
Her name is Lalaine V. Miguel, my mother. I have a mother. Always have. Always will.