Words Heal

Writing has always saved me.

Words have been my lifeline for as far back as I can remember. They have pulled me out of the deepest pit, they have been the light that pierce through the darkest of nights.

After my father was buried on an April day in 1981, I couldn’t cry for a very long time. Life got in the way. There were so many things to attend to, and I didn’t want to disappoint my mother. I had to be strong for everyone. For many months, I managed to hold it all together, to stuff it all inside. I was the bravest sixteen year old I knew of at that time.

Until December came and we were asked to write an essay for our English class about a life-changing experience we had gone through that year. It was of course, a no-brainer for me.

For what could be more life-changing than seeing your father have a massive heart attack right before your very eyes; of running barefoot on the street under the blazing noonday sun to ask the neighbors for help. And then to be told a couple of hours later, be told by your 10 year old brother, tears streaming down his chubby cheeks that daddy was gone?

I didn’t know then, what I know now, that what we had experienced as children was considered pretty traumatic. An experience that would impact our lives and future for many decades after.

So on that December evening, I wrote the essay that my English teacher asked for, and I couldn’t stop writing, and soon enough I was crying. At first the tears trickled slowly, until they were falling in rapid succession on my paper like raindrops, smearing everything I had written down. Then came the uncontrollable sobbing. Seven, eight months worth of sobs. The dam had been broken, my mourning had been unleashed.

I wouldn’t stop crying and my mother was so afraid that I was going to pass out. She dragged me out of my writing chair, pushed me into the car and drove off into the cold and dark December night.

We must have driven for an hour or so all around our village until I calmed down. Mommy didn’t say a word, the whole time except “Sige, ilabas mo lahat iyan.” (“Let it all out.”) In that safe space, she had given me permission to grieve, and she just let me cry.

When we finally returned home, my eyes were so swollen, and I was exhausted like hell, but also, for the first time in so many months, I began to feel better. It felt as if a huge burden had been lifted off my chest and I could breathe better. Finally, a ray of light had broken through the cracks of my despair, giving me just enough light for the journey that lay ahead.

Fast forward to 1998. In June that year, my eldest son, who was four years old, died; three months later, in September, my youngest son was born. I felt in limbo once more. Physically, and emotionally drained, I was functioning on auto pilot, and was numb all over. I could not find the words to express my sadness. I could not write.

But God works in mysterious ways, and a few weeks after giving birth, I receive a call from my friend An, asking me if I could write a story for Good Housekeeping about the experience of losing and gaining a son for the November 1998 issue. At first I refused. I didn’t have the energy or courage to do it. But An said, “Think about it.” And I did.

One evening, while the baby slept, I sat in front of my computer and poured my heart, guts, and soul into that story — and the story simply flowed, it came to life, buoyed by my sadness.

I cried so much that evening all the way into the wee hours of the morning as I tapped away on my computer. The baby must have picked up on my sadness because he began to cry too. I picked him up, fed him

and rocked him back to sleep just as dawn was about to break. And for the first time since he was born, I sang him a lullaby. For the second time in my life, my writing had saved me.

And I haven’t stopped writing since.

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