Going Through the Motions

Death and the Maiden (1915) by Egon Schiele

Death and the Maiden (1915) by Egon Schiele

15 November 2013
11:51 PM
Manila

M.–

I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. I think this may be the first time I am sad that our lives seem to parallel each other. Death is always painful, no matter whose it is. A part of me can accept the logic, the finality. But another part of me will always recognise the ache, the terrible loss.

We have several words for death, in my language. I don’t know why it is, but my guess is that we try to find that which would hurt less. We have namatay, which means to die, to get killed, but also to get turned off (as in electricity). Tabloids often use it for shock value, I suppose. Broadsheets sometimes try to be more delicate. Its root word, patay, means dead, deceased, slain. It is perhaps the harshest to hear; it betrays intent.

Yumao roughly means to pass away. Its root word, yao, means to leave. This is the formal usage, if I’m not mistaken. One letter separates it from tao, which means a person, a soul; and bao, which means coconut shell, but also a widow.

Pumanaw means to cease. Perhaps cease to exist?

Lumisan roughly means to depart, to go away.

Sumakabilang-buhay translates to passing on through the after life. It can be broken down to kabila (next) and buhay (life).

Watching the news, one thing I’ve observed is how much we try to circumnavigate the word ‘death.’ Maybe it’s the decent thing to do. Maybe at the face of all this devastation, one word can hold so much weight, it’s unthinkable to even say it.

I listen to how survivors themselves grapple with language. Some would use the word, iniwan, meaning, having been left behind, having been abandoned. Some would say, wala na, meaning, gone, no more, no longer. I keep thinking about how wala (nothing) is a double-edged sword, how one side is wala na, and how the other is nawawala, which means lost, missing, not found. How adding one letter to it–nagwawala–transforms the word to mean the act of losing control.

I remember when I had to call my sister after my grandfather died. I said, wala na si Lolo. As if he just went out the door and never looked back. As if I didn’t watch his pulse slow down to a straight line. As if he simply disappeared.

I don’t know how one comes back from it, M. The grief, I mean. I know you are grieving. I know you are going through the motions. I know that it takes a while to get to the point when one can move on. But I am here. And I am holding your hand.

Love,
T.

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