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The minutiae of death - and life - are messy

Forty days ago, my uncle passed away. He was forty-four years old. He had a heart attack in his home - we tried to bring him to the hospital but he was declared dead on arrival. I saw and oversaw everything.

I had three long cries: one, when they were wheeling his body into the morgue; two, during his funeral. And one random morning to work, at the back of my papa's car, both of us bawling our eyes out in silence.

I should already be used to this, I think. And yet, I'm not.

I have conflicted feelings about death. In the last fourteen years, six family members have died. Four grandmothers, one aunt, one uncle. All of them, incredibly close to me. I grew up in a small town, and with very few relatives. The attachment I had with each of them ran deep, because I was an only child whose first pals were the grown-ups around me. They were friends to me. The funny thing is, when I close my eyes and try to remember them, I don't recall big gestures or grand occasions. I remember the way they held my hand; the way they coughed; the way they would stroke my hair; the way "Amen" rolls of their tongue when they pray. I remember the little things; and it's the little things that set me off, every damn time. One would think I have gone through the stages of grief enough times to master it already - on the contrary, no. I am still going through it, and probably will never reach the end.

It never ends, this grief.

Last Friday, I came across an old Esquire article in our office lobby. "Exhumation" by Vanni De Sequerra. In sum, it's an essay about the author's experience exhuming the bones of his deceased father to have them cremated and transferred to a columbarium.

It's grotesque, and sad, and fascinating in a way that only a person dealing with prolonged grief can understand. I've seen dead loved ones - I've seen *bones* of dead loved ones - but not this. Although, I fear that one day I may have to. It's twisted, how I feel about certain things like death and sorrow. On the one hand, I now feel like I am more prepared than any one I know. (Claiming a body from the morgue? Check. Paying for the hospital bills and getting the death certificate? Easy. Choosing a casket? Fine. Securing a burial certificate? Done. I know all the intricacies surrounding death by now. Guess I'm an expert.) On the other, I know that all the grieving I've gone through places me in an even more vulnerable position when someone dies again. I'll be carrying an even heavier burden, a sadness whose weight will quadruple in an instant, and that's terrifying.

This is what I haven't been telling people about me, and probably what I haven't been admitting to myself either. I am sad. I am a less-happier version of myself for every tragedy, and it will never be the same. Am I able to carry on and live life normally despite their absence? Yes. Have I accepted the fact that losing loved ones is part of life? Yes. Have I become closer to God because of this sorrow? Yes. Am I thankful for the gift of life? Yes. But am I still sad? YES. The truth is, no matter how many "Life goes on," and "Things happen for a reason," quotes I read, I am - and will probably always be - perpetually burdened by the weight of all these deaths.

And it is this concept of continuous, uninterrupted blues that I have to learn how to deal with.

How do I go about this? If my mom reads this, she'll call me up and say "Hindi ka kasi nagdadasal." ("You haven't been praying enough.") But I have prayed this sadness away for years, and I think I've turned my mind inside and out enough times to come to the conclusion that maybe this is just how grief feels like for some of us. Never fully coming to terms with death, but just getting used to it. We get used to the person's absence, but we never stop hurting. And then eventually, we get used to the pain too.

People ask me why I sometimes make jokes about dying. Maybe this is why. Because I know how easily it can take people I love away. But also, because it terrifies me. It has taken people I love away. Perhaps by joking about it, death would cringe and recoil, and hopefully stay away from me.

We mourn even as we carry on and laugh at life's absurdities, but also when does sorrow end? Does it ever? Or does it only transform into a weird, odd sense of humor as a coping mechanism?

Spoiler alert on De Sequerra's essay: when they were trying to exhume his dad's bones, they realized that it hasn't fully decomposed. It was grisly and upsetting, but also, considering the author's relationship with the father and the sense of absurdity surrounding the whole incident - it was oddly comforting for me. Funny, but sad. I know that feeling. Equal parts hilarious and terrifying.

On a similar note: At my uncle's funeral, there was a moment where he couldn't fit in the tomb. They lowered the casket at a bad angle, and it wouldn't get in. A parallel incident happened when he was being brought into the morgue. (He was a pretty big guy.) I was there both times; I was crying and shaking my head in both instances. Inside, I could hear my conscience scolding me - "Ano ba yan, we're supposed to be sad, eh bakit may nakakatawa?" I don't know. I am not nearly mature enough, surprisingly, to have a clear-cut answer to this question. I still manage to keep my composure while wiping my tears anyway. Because how else to deal with this sadness, other than trying to find the hilarity, the absurdity in it all?

The minutiae of death are messy. But of life - of life after someone's death - even messier. I am managing just fine, I think. But I allow myself to cry every now and then, alone and in silence, because I feel like it's my way of honoring my loved ones. And also, it's my way of reminding myself that sure, life goes on for the rest of us, but it doesn't mean we have to move on completely.

I cry to remember. And maybe it's because I really never want to forget.