I don’t run much. Ask anyone, I hate it. For some reason, today, I woke up with the intention to get up out of bed, step out into the sunshine and, well, hit the ground runnin’. My neighborhood actually has a beautiful path by the wetlands that lights up every summer, making me constantly wonder why I don’t get out more. Today was the day that, even if for one day, this would change. I laced up my shoes, put in my headphones, and got a move on. After quickly realizing that of all things, Ludacris and DJ Felli Fel may be the key to a motivated run, I felt that all of a sudden I was just another neighborhood runner much like the ones I see (and never really envied) every day. It wasn’t long until I got to the end of the sidewalk path, which leads over to a dirt walkway toward the marsh. I felt a sense of accomplishment for reaching a higher speed than that of walking, so I slowed down, approached the dirt road, and, through the magic of music, altered the atmosphere around me.
The song Catch & Release by Matt Simons began playing:
“There’s a place I go to
Where no one knows me
It’s not lonely
It’s a necessary thing
It’s a place I made up
Find out what I’m made of
The nights are stayed up
Counting stars and fighting sleep”
Walking down the dirt path on this beautiful day, right in the backyard of my neighborhood, seeing the town I live in under a gorgeous new light- everything felt perfect. I felt so alive. Everything around me felt alive: the trees, the water, the grass, the breeze.
“Let it wash over me
Ready to lose my feet”
As the song kept playing, as I kept walking, I noticed something. A cement block placed by hand beside the grass- an out of place intention of mankind amongst the nature that belonged there. On it was painted a heart and an inscription: “Mickey 9-9-2017“. Someone had lost a loved one. I paused for a second and pulled out my headphones to offer up a prayer. I don’t know who Mickey is, but he was somebody’s somebody. I never knew him, but I know how loss feels. I put on my headphones.
“Take me on to the place where one reviews life’s mystery
Steady on down the line
Lose every sense of time”
Loss is a topic that I’ve always had in the back of my mind to write about but never have. Usually because, much like today, there’s something good going on, and I never want to ruin it. However, much like today, amongst the trees, and nature, loss was part of the run. Loss is part of life.
“Take it all in and wake up that small part of me
Day to day I’m blind to see
And find how far
Death is not an easy topic. I hope my vulnerable words find you at a time that they may be heard with peace in your heart. If your heart feels more like the depths of the ocean, unpredictable and constantly swirling and changing, I hope these words can help float you to a more restful surface.
The experience of a loved one passing away is a specific one that is so hard to explain. You don’t know, until you know. We try to prepare one another for the inevitability of the heartache that is the grieving process, but we can only say so much. I have lost a few loved ones in my life. Each one painful, but, just like the loved ones I lost- each one different.
As a child, we don’t really have much concept of what death is. My first experience with death was at the age of 8. My grandfather on my mother’s side, Pablo “Hanford” Hermosura, passed away after battling lung cancer. This was the first death on this side of the family that we had experienced through 3 generations. I sadly admit that I don’t remember much. What I do remember of my grandfather was a low voice- not at all a frightening one, but a warm one. The type of voice that hugged me through my ears, all while arms begin to wrap around me in an even warmer embrace. What I remember of his passing was my family. As an 8-year-old, I only had those years to experience life with him, but my family- my mother- had so much more. I watched my mom and her siblings mourn their loss together. I watched my mother praying on her knees at our altar at home by herself. As an 8-year-old, I had so many questions that my family tried their best to answer. And they did. But nothing answers about the experience of death better than life itself.
My next few experiences with loss in my life were actually my family dogs. I am an only child, and there were a few dogs that I really grew up with as if they were my siblings. An english bulldog by the name of Gidget found her way into my family as a puppy while I was learning to walk. Our big brother guardian was a german shepherd by the name of Duke, appropriately named after one of my dad’s favorite actors, John Wayne. Then when I was about 9, a chihuahua by the name of JJ (Jobeth Junior), entered our family and kept my bed warm every night. The loss of these furry siblings eventually came at a time when I think I was beginning to actually understand the impermanence of life. Because of this, the heartbreak every time was so unprecedented. I wasn’t crying because I was a kid who scraped her knee anymore. I knew these tears were different. Before then, I had never known what it was like to cry while realizing the rest of my life will be a little bit different without them. Since these losses were more within my small immediate family, we mourned in our own ways: keeping collars, putting out pictures, saying goodbye while looking over at their favorite spots around our home.
More than a decade later, in December of 2015, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Caridad “Carrie” Hermosura, passed away after living a long life, her final years with Alzheimer’s. At this time, I was 22, well aware of the journey of life and death, but still unprepared for the emotion that comes with the transition between the two. I was old enough to remember her from all our years together up to just a few weeks before. She always bragged proudly of her children and grandchildren, giving them advice to always “select the best” in life. Even when her mind began to fail her, her beautiful heart had no problem shining through. This loss was the first of my adult life. For some reason, since I was older, I felt I should “know how” to handle it and felt even worse in the moments when I couldn’t. Even though my family cared for my grandmother during her gradual decline and witnessed it all, there was no preparing for the loss. Looking back with 20/20 hindsight, and like I’ve been saying all along, there is no preparing for it. There is only being there for it, with everyone. In the moments when I was struggling to handle it myself, my family was there to remind me I didn’t have to do it alone. It’s in these moments you realize that death can make you see the true beauty of life.
In January of 2017, we unexpectedly lost my grandfather on my father’s side – Filemon “Lolo Momong” Pascual, just one week after his birthday. The day after we celebrated Lolo’s birthday with him over dinner, he went into the hospital. This loss was so sudden. My father stood by his hospital bed for hours, right by my Lolo’s side. He watched him take his last breath. There were days I would forget that he was gone because the idea of it had never crossed my mind before. His adorable toothless smile and genuine, body-shaking laugh were still so fresh in my mind, that it made me feel it couldn’t be true. But it was. And that was hard. All my cousins and I had been old enough to have so many memories with Lolo and get to know him, so we would share stories between us and our parents realizing that this man’s legacy spans generations. There are even several great-grandkids who could share their memories with him as well. Of course, my grandmother, our queen, our “Lollie” has the most and best stories to share, and we all listen intently trying to catch a glimpse of another scene in his life. Lolo’s passing was not at all expected when it began to happen, so it seemed bad. After mourning our loss and reminiscing on life with him, I realized, for the situation at hand, it was, odd as it is to say, fairly beautiful. My Lolo was present of mind until the end. He was able to go out and have fun with his family right up until he had to go into the hospital for the final time, and this was right after celebrating his birthday with his family and spending the end of year holidays with all his loved ones. He didn’t suffer, and he was completely surrounded by the people who loved him most the entire time. He deserved nothing less. This was the loss that really taught me that death is a part of life, and that if nothing else, what matters, in the end, is that we lived for the ones we loved.
Four months after this, in April of 2017, one of my best friends since high school, an amazing friend, truly talented musician, a kind, generous, exhuberant soul, passed away. His name was Kevin Redrico, and this is still one of the hardest losses I have had to live with. He was 24 when he took his own life, after living with depression. Kevin was one of those people that, even in high school, you knew was so incredibly special. He was the freshmen that would sit with the seniors. He was the one who raised his hand and volunteered to be homeroom representative on the very first day, of the entirety of high school. He was “most likely to become famous” and rightfully earned the leading role in several productions and choir shows. He coached me during my first solo performance and showed me I didn’t have to be nervous. He was the one who found my own first secret blog on Tumblr and told me to keep writing, but I never did because I was too shy. He was an undeniable light in everyone’s lives. Kevin’s passing brought up the conversation about mental health in our community, which is certainly one that I believe should continue. The time between my learning that he was gone to his memorial was about a week. A week of work and daily life, while internally mourning the loss of my friend. A week of crying in stairwells, seeing his face everywhere on social media, and watching every possible video I could find of him. His passing was also the first one that made me feel the need to describe how I felt in words, which was nearly impossible.
I said that one can only prepare someone for loss with so many words. The loss of Kevin was the one that made me find those words, and I hope these words find those who need them.
When you close your eyes and simply feel the world around you while at peace, it’s familiar. It’s something you’ve gotten to know and formed over the years. Imagine that the familiar feeling in your heart is a piece of clay that molds to fit its surroundings- your own individual world, inside and out. The clay as it is, is your baseline, your daily life, your comfort zone and happy place. When we lose someone, something in the surrounding of that clay was plucked out of the mold. Now there is an open empty space. Unnaturally, uncomfortably vacant after losing what was once there. Our clay, our baseline, life as we know it to be day-to-day has changed forever. Something is missing and now we somehow have to reform to find a new mold without what was lost. And this can be a terribly difficult thing to do.
“Everybody got their reason
Everybody got their way
We’re just catching and releasing
What builds up throughout the day”
Through the passing of time, the support of loved ones, and honoring the memory of those that we have lost, we can begin to heal. It took me a long time to write this because I always felt I wouldn’t want to “ruin” a good day- a day where my clay is just about settling back into a new shape. However, I encourage you to not be afraid like I was. Why would remembering someone we love “ruin” anything? Why would it spoil anything to remember people we loved and lost, and to honor their memory? Taking the moments to remember them, then living on with the rotation of the earth with their memory fresh in their hearts is how I go on living day to day with their legacies. This is how I reshape my clay. Remember their love, continue our love, and share that love throughout life.
“It gets into your body
And it flows right through your blood
We can tell each other secrets
And remember how to love.”
– Catch & Release by Matt Simons