March 2021 marked the 4th year since my father’s passing. The pandemic kept me from traveling to see my sisters and mother in California for the annual death anniversary. It might sound morbid to anyone not familiar with this aspect of Filipino culture, but for us, a death anniversary is a time to remember. In fact, many of us traditionally celebrate birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries with a visit to the gravesite of a loved one.
On my father’s previous death anniversaries, my sisters, mother, niece, nephews, and I would head to the cemetery with a few beers, some whiskey, and a cigarette for the old man. We’d set up lawn chairs and blankets so we could sit around and talk shit about the good and bad times. Someone would arrange his flowers, another would clean his marker—remembering to take the same care of the neighboring markers on either side of him. When the sun got too hot or the kids too cranky, we’d pour a shot on the grass beside him, bid the curmudgeon an adieu, then meet at my sister’s house for food.
You’d think I liked the old man considering the time taken to honor him at his gravesite. Nope. I never really felt comfortable around him. Not even as a child. Once I was able, I moved two states away just so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. So, why bother with his death anniversary? Being able to get together with my family is my guess since I’m one of the most pathetic introverts out there. Growing up, making friends was difficult, so my sisters and mother were my best friends (Insert sappy violin music here). But nothing’s ever really that simple is it?
The fact that my father and I didn’t get along seemed lost on him during his last few years. There were lots of unresolved issues between us, but we were good at ignoring them. Just easier that way. Maybe I really didn’t care to fix what was wrong with our relationship, and for that, I fully accept the blame. But his death left me with so much unexpected grief that I completely broke. It’s infuriating and unfair.
Forgiveness isn’t in my nature. Just too damn stubborn. Doesn’t matter anyway since he’s dead and I can continue to go on with life ignoring him just the same as when he was alive. What I’ve learned is that grief doesn’t just mean you’re sad for the loss. It also means you’re pissed at how things ended.
Thank you, Rowena, for this honest post. This is a side of grief that is often unsettling and uncomfortable to talk about. Rowena has talked about this topic with brutal candour.
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