As Told By Rowena

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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16 thoughts on “As Told By Rowena

  1. A very sincere post. I am sorry you did not get to fix things with him before he left. However, you can always forgive yourself and move on. Your funeral culture is not very different from mine, although mine does a one time ceremony where the dead are let ago. After this ceremony, we can start giving away stuff that belonged to them, etc. Anyway, thank you for sharing, makes me want to mend my relationship with someone close so that there are no regrets when the inevitable happens.

  2. Some challenging thoughts here, both personally and cross-culturally.
    May I recommend reading Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst? Forgiveness, even of one dead, can be significant in one’s life.
    “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve)

  3. Grief really is so profoundly complex when its an unavailable parent, we are grieving for all we did not get and all the ways we possibly longed to love and be loved but could not and weren’t. I have heard it said grief is all the love we longed to give or receive and could not.. this really came to mind reading this powerful raw post.

  4. Thank you for this post. It made me think about my relationship with my own father who passed away when I was 25. For years after his death in May of 1989 I felt the depth of loss each year at the anniversary of his death. My family never had a particular ritual around his death which was deepened by the fact that my stepmother his wife died in the same month of May the year earlier in 1988. I held some resentment against my step-mother for a period of time since I confided in her when I was 17 about having a sexual relationship with my boyfriend at the time. She gave me the OK or the green light to continue to pursue that relationship. I later wished I had been more judicious in my choice of boyfriends including that first one. I guess my ritual around the deaths of my father and my stepmother centers around forgiveness for the advice I got and later did not want to honor. It is good to let go of resentments and provide forgiveness for what later seemed to be misinformed information. Perhaps the forgiveness ritual is my way of honoring both the death of my Dad and of my Stepmother. My lengthy history of serious dating from aged 17 to age 39 could have been different. But then again there are no would haves and should haves in my dating history or anyone else’s. There are just the facts — some I like and others I don’t. Forgiveness is key to moving on. Perhaps I can do a better job of that now. Thanks again for your post. I like the idea of a death ritual – like the one you shared in this post. It seems an important part of letting go especially of things that never got settled when the person was alive.

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