THE SEPARATIST: Memories of 2011: Pain, shock and a vow

HONOLULU  (MindaNews/06 January) —  I wish I could say 2011 was a good year for us. But it was not. My memories of 2011 will always be colored by the pain and shock Angela and I felt when we woke up that early morning of  January 22 to find out that Donna, my partner for 20 years and Angela’s mother for five, had died in her sleep. On that day, banal as this may sound, our lives changed.

Donna was looking forward to a new phase in our peripatetic lives as a family ever since she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer two years back. With her characteristic calmness and full of brio, she went through a bilateral mastectomy, dose-dense chemotherapy, and radiation. And when all was done with, she turned to me and said, “I want to go home.”

This then set the stage for a visiting scholar’s application to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. When I got the fellowship, she was so excited at the prospect of living in the US again. Then early in our Virginia-DC stay, we learned that I was short-listed for a senior position at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s School of Pacific and Asian Studies. When I was offered the job, Donna’s excitement doubled. For despite the fact that, as Angela nicely puts it, “Hawaii is in the middle of nowhere,” it was still “home.”

Donna told me that once we get settled in Hawaii, she planned to take the time off from work so that she could help Angela with her studies. She said she also needed to rest her body after that long ordeal. She was ready for a new life even as she remained wary that the cancer could come back anytime.

Those dreams ended abruptly on January 22, 2011.

As has been the case, the child always proves to be more durable than the father.

Even as she missed her mother badly, Angela went back to school after a three week absence. She did well in her classes (especially economics) thanks in part to the wholehearted support extended to her by her principal, teacher, school counselor, and most of all, her classmates who showered her with affection and protected her like she were family.

Angela kept me going during my darkest moments of despair, when I though I could not hack it as a father and a person. She made me smile through those hard times with her optimism and exceptional wit (A sample: “Dad, I don’t want to sound mean, but I cannot allow you to date for 20 years. That would not be nice to Mom and I. And if you do end up dating someone or getting married again, you need to ask my permission and get my approval, OK? Now can I have ice cream?”).

Looking back, I honestly have no idea how we got through the rest of the year. But somehow we did.  What I remember is that we began to cry less. And when the surges of pain hit us, we cried our hearts out then went back to business of learning how to live this “new normal life.”

Routine, in all its dullness, was ironically a good thing to (re)acquire. Angela finished second grade with aplomb while I finally mustered enough energy to return to the Wilson Center and complete  my responsibilities as a visiting scholar.

During the next eight months, I also began to write  a diary for Angela about her Mom and making a habit of cleaning the house regularly — the latter, a coping mechanism suggested to me by a grief counselor when I told her Donna taught me how to clean house. Then we both got ready for Hawaii and by July, we found ourselves in a pink house in Honolulu.

What we are sure about is that we could not have moved forward without you all — family and friends (old and new) — in our midst, hugging us, holding our hands, listening to our plaints and grief, and, offering us your help when we needed them and without question. Your assistance was nearby but they also came from afar, thank God to the Skype, the internet and cheap phone calls. And for all these, Angela and I are eternally grateful for what you have done for us.

These days, I still stumble a bit, but I think I am also beginning to get some handle (confidence?) on how to be a single parent. It always helps when I ask myself what would Donna do on such occasions, or when I imagine her laughing at me when I complain to her about leaving me all these responsibilities of raising a feisty, smart, opinionated 8-year old.

Work has been good and the Asian Studies Program is full of people who are very collegial and nice, and as a result, I have been able to regain some of the groove I lost, even finally finishing a long overdue paper on rodents and Philippine politics.

Angela has adjusted well in her new school and even has found new friends – both girls and boys!  She has formed with her two best friends (both named Katherine) what appears to be a girl-band (Angela and the Katherine Hearts, she calls it). They have been practicing songs by Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, and  hope to perform in the Noelani Spring Fair this coming May. She joined the Honolulu Youth Opera Choir last fall  (pictures and videos of her singing with her Angeli group are in my FB page), and has lately taken a keen interest on the guitar.

One night over dinner, we both made a vow that for the next decades or so we will do our best to make her mother proud. She has since made a “shrine” of sorts of her mother and told me that when she is ready she would like to take a look at the diary I’ve written (as of this writing it has totaled 150 pages, single-space).

We’ve had a very, very, very hard year. And we continue to miss Donna very much. I hope 2012 will turn out to be a more pleasant year for us. God knows how much we need this.

And to all of you, we – again – express our deepest gratitude.  (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries. Patricio N. Abinales  of Ozamiz City is presently based in Honolulu)