Archive for April, 2010

It should be an advertisement I could send to friends who obstinately refuse seatbelts, or watch with the girls to drive home the importance of being strapped while in a moving vehicle.

Instead I watched it and bawled my eyeballs out.

I think it is because the season of remembrance draws near. It’s three months away. But this season is not like the other seasons we know. It is fickle, and it is stoic. It may not come as summoned but it will come. No storm, blizzard, hurricane or earthquake will keep it away. It is dreaded, and yet welcomed, for that is when we can jab our finger on the calendar and say, “Yes, that was the day he was stillborn. Yes, it did happen. Yes, he was born, he existed.”

I flip through the calendar pages, I think ahead to the hot dry summer months and how to survive it, and only one day stands out.  And a wave of anxiety already begins to surface, and a sense of disbelief begins to arise again.

I think I know why I bawled over this video. Because the mother and daughter saw it, wide-eyed, and they were able to prevent the tragedy.

We never saw it coming. Ferdinand’s death just came from nowhere and blew us into pieces and took our places off the map. There were no signs, or perhaps we missed them (guilt, guilt, guilt) and there was nothing we could have done about it. When we found out, his passport had been stamped, his exit sealed, it was too late to do anything. No repeals.

And the video title– Embrace Life.

I wish I could embrace his life. Once, I held him in me, bundles upon bundles of cells, a heartbeat small, limbs moving around. Once, and it seemed long ago, I held him. And I wish I could embrace him now, full of life.


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to eat or not to eat

Some time back I read A Welcoming Life, a biography-cum-photo-scrapbook of MFK Fisher. Something in there struck me, made me consider for a moment writing it as a guest post for Glow in the Woods, simply because I (usually) enjoy eating good food, and I’m pretty sure I am not in the minority.

Fisher was devastated when her second husband chose to end his own life. He was just suffering too much, not just physically but also in dignity. She also had a sister whom she was very close to succumb to cancer. And of grief and food she had this to say:

The truth is that most bereaved souls crave nourishment more tangible than prayers: they want a steak. What is more, they need a steak. Preferably they need it rare, grilled, heavily salted, for that way it is most easily digested, and most quickly turned into the glandular whip their tired adrenals cry for…

Underneath the anguish of death and pain and ugliness are the facts of hunger and unquenchable life, shining, peaceful. It is as if our bodies, wiser than we who wear them, call out for encouragement and strength and, in spite of us and of the patterns of proper behavior we have ;earned, compel us to answer, and to eat.

I loathed to eat after Ferdinand died. I felt I was filled with grief, despair and sorrow, from the top of my head to my toes. Every single cell was not parched nor famished, but filled to the brim, bursting, weeping and exploding with strong emotions. I had no space for food.

Yet someone has to eat. The children have to eat. If the mother refuses to eat, or to cook, then friends and relatives have to step in and feed the children.

I have heard of bereaved families assaulted with trays upon trays of lagsana, tacos, beef stew, minestrone or some such foods. Supposedly foods that comfort, but when there is no desire to eat, they sit heavy in the stomach, or squat in the freezer for weeks on end.

I have written elsewhere, how long it took for me to put food on the table again. And it took me even longer to bake. To eat, to bake, to cook, are all acts of partaking in life. And sometimes it takes more strength to do all these than one can imagine.

Yet I am sure there are some who shares Fisher’s sentiments- one must eat. It is a primal need and may subdue the savage that is grief. I sat and wonder, what is a good comfort food for the bereaved? Can it really be the heavily salted steak that Fisher prescribed? Or is it a soup, easy to swallow and digest, washing away the sadness? Or a salad, crunchy and satisfying to chomp upon?

What would you eat? And what would you offer? Let us gather round the table. I think my choice will be a warm miso soup, with steamed chicken offered with a ginger-scallion sauce a close second. Welcome to the table.

(And if you don’t feel like eating, these appetizer plates can be fun to fool around with, to play around with your food. Two options available: this and this. The price is low for something that serves both play and function. But I am not saying I’m buying it. No more stuff, you know?)

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I am not a collector.


I just don’t have the patience, and I am not disciplined and organized for such ventures, and I am not the sentimental sort- my heart is cold and hard, like a rock. Most of the times, when I learn of someone who collects something, I always quietly wonder: what is wrong with them?

The irony is of course, I have a spouse and two daughters who love to collect. Seashells, rocks, pennies, vintage coins, stamps, antique cameras, tube radios, guitars, magazines, stickers, glue sticks, … …  dust.

The thing is, like it or not, deliberately or not, we have collections of stuff.

I realized that when I saw this blog. When I looked through her collections (and I wished her approach would have been more visually dramatic! I kept thinking, oh if I were you, I’d have done it this way to give it more visual omph… I’m a terrible person. Sorry.) I started to think, Holy cow, I could have done something like that myself! Of course it will take me days and days to document my book collection- how should I do it? By subject, color, or size?!!? In some ways I think such a project could be very clarifying.  I will know exactly what I have where, and what collections I do have.

We inevitably all collect something. Many something’s.

My head is just swimming trying to mentally compute how many collections of stuff I have in my house. The thought of it makes my heart race, in a bad sort of way. It made me sweat to know that I cannot deny myself the role of the collector. I am hyperventilating and I want to open a cabinet, throw out all the boxes, bubble wraps, magazines, and other miscellaneous items, crawl in there, close the door and wait for someone to rescue me from the mental torment of knowing that I do have collections.



I am also still trying to collect pieces of myself. It is the aftermath of grief. We all had the day when our world exploded and shattered to many tiny shards. And eventually we need to sweep up the bits from under the carpets, take the tweezers and pick out the tiny bits lodged in our flesh, discover bits of memories and old selves forgotten in crevices and dark corners, scrape together our inspirations, strengths and motivations, and somehow, pull ourselves together again. This really gives deep meaning to the expression “to collect myself again.”

I guess, I do collect. I am collecting. I am collecting myself, my many selves.

And I will collect and collect and collect and still find a piece missing.

How about you?

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time and stuff

I thank you for your kind words, sympathies and stories after my previous post. You have no idea how much it helps to know that you, too, had itched. And it also helped to imagine you, a smaller (and miserable) version, covered with crusted pink calamine dots. I still remember calamine from when I was young, the smell of it, with a long cotton Q-tip stuck in the bottle, then pulled out and dabbed over wherever was itchy.

So what did I do being trapped indoors? Not much.– which is why Earth is still safely orbiting the sun. Phew.

I could have worked on keying in my recipes, organizing the kitchen, scrubbing the kitchen grout, cleaning the blinds, or at least give myself a pedicure but I did not. I was tired. I was dead meat. So mostly I slept. I read some too. I wondered if a knight in shiny armor would not come rescue me from my misery, then who would? Maybe a huge, lumbering turtle would let me climb on its back and then sprout wings and take me to the stars? Chickenpox does funny things to the mind, really.

I did, for some minutes contemplated the execution of a photo project wherein I document everything that I own. Gasp. Like he did. This is a project that requires time, patience and courage. I’m afraid I will give up after ten minutes, freaked out that the camera memory is already exploding. But the truth is, I don’t own that much stuff.


I never did own a lot of things because I never had a room of my own. But then I started accumulating books while working on my Masters thesis. On top of that I was living in Hong Kong, where clothing sales went totally crazy. And then I got married and we bought a house. I started to get serious about cooking and baking and the kitchen cabinets filled up fast with implements and appliances, and then began to burst at the seams. I bought more books. Clothes. Toys. More books. More books. Clothes. More books. More books. Books. Books. Books. Books. Books. Books. Books.

And I realize the more I have the less time I spend being totally happy.

I worry about the books yet to be read. Clothes yet to be fitted into. Recipes yet to be tried. Ideas to try. Crafts to experiment with. Articles urging to visit places I can’t yet go to. Things to learn. Stuff to know. So I’m trying to simplify.

No more Amazon.com. No more books from the library even, just read what I have now. No more clothes until I can stop wincing at myself. Recipes- tricky. I like to try new things but apparently research shows most people can be happy with a rotation of ten recipes. (Really?? Just ten recipes?! I find that hard to believe but it is supposed to be true! How many recipes do you survive on??)

No more buying of things that is supposed to make me more centered, more womanly, a better person, less cranky, more likable, or more rich. Not that I do not wish to be more centered, better, non-cranky, likable and more rich. But I just gotta let me be for a while. Don’t you think?

What have you been up to, if not itching? How much stuff do you have and what earth-shattering thoughts have you entertained of late?

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We are poxed. Yes, Val’s got it, and so do I. And she has it much worse, even worse than Sophia’s. Urgh!

She’s got it all over, including her genital area, her eyelid, her lips, her throat, her tongue. I feel terribly sorry for her. She is feeling better now, thanks to my friend M working hard to find a fitting homeopathic remedy for us (many books recommend Rhus Tox, do NOT just use it! It could suppress it or make it even more severe, you need a more specific remedy for pox, or everything, for that matter). We could use the same remedy and within minutes after taking it, my itchiness felt bearable, I could even put Lyra on my back in the carrier so she would finally take a nap. Val calmed down much after taking the remedy (trust me, she is a super-dramatic girl) and said her itchiness also felt more bearable.

Things have just been crazy, and miserable for half the household. Sophia and Lyra are healing nicely, and going outside with R most afternoons to enjoy the breeze and fresh air. Val and I huddle inside, the coolness and wind allegedly not good for pox (the Chi.nese are just really suspicious and wary of the cold and the wind, they bring the evil diseases and make everything worse). I am a bit stir-crazy. Scratch that. I am in quite an evil mood now. My teeth are sharp, my claws itching and I’m ready to chow down anything with flesh coming close to range. You included, my friends, you included. I am not having any mercy in me.

I have about 30 pox on my face. Now I know calling someone “pox-face” is such an awful thing (not that I’ve called such names before. Honest!) and ought to be outlawed. The thing is my skin takes forever to heal. And I mean, FOREVER. I’ve got mosquitoe bite marks from two years ago. How long these pox marks will take to heal, I have no idea. Maybe for the rest of my life. Perhaps that solves the problem of swimsuit season for me, coz I am never going to be exposing myself ever again. Do they make full-length wetsuits with tummy-control?! (Oh, btw, I’ve tried the La.nd’s E.nd Tummy-control swimsuits. I ordered eight of ’em and will be returning eight of ’em. ’nuff said.)

Well, at least we are stocked up on popsicles. Chocolate-covered coconut ice-cream bars and we’re eating them like nobody’s business. It’s not liquid food, which is what Val needs now, but it gets close. Screw nutrition right now. We talked about taking a bath in gelato. We talked about having a big post-pox party, and the decorations will be … polka dots! Bwaahahahhaha… and we’ll serve cup-cakes decorated with polka dots and rubber chickens decorated with polka-dots.  We’ll dress in, of course, polka-dotted dresses! The game of the party will be join-the-dots and the pinata animal will be a polka-dotted chicken.

Well, truth is, I have to admit I am not just anxious and feeling sorry for myself and my children, I feel a bit angry. What can you do with the shit life hurls at you? Sure, sure, I’ve tried to be philosophical about it- it is a detox process, you will find that you have the strength to endure extreme itchiness and then you can endure about anything else that the shit of life throws at you. This is the opportunity to rest! Pamper yourself. Not lift a finger and be read to. (Well, I’m doing lots of reading, to my children. And I’m still cooking, gah.) Yes. But still. I am antsy. The weather is nice now, and nice weather is not a forever thing here. Soon it will be blistering hot, and we wasted all that nice-weather time being sick inside. This annoys me to the extreme and makes me spit fireballs.

I keep thinking, let this end. Get me out of here.

I do not deny I parallel this to all the other non-nice things I’ve experienced. I do not deny thinking, haven’t I had enough crap already? I think if I write everything down, it will fill both sides, single-lined, and that is way too much for a petty soul like me to endure. Where do I unsubscribe from crap?

This is getting nowhere. I just need to release some vile steam here. Just teeth-gnashing and scratching, or trying not to scratch is not enough. Sometimes even ice-cream does not do the trick. Whine.

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There was a time when the internet was my lifeline- to read, to write, to connect. Often I’d declare, “Thank G.od for the Internet!!” Without the internet, I would have been so alone after Ferdinand died. I wouldn’t have known where to turn, what to do.

There was a time when I spent at least an hour everyday reading blogs. Nodding, sobbing, reaching out my arms into the virtual screen.

Of late, things have been different.  I would go for days without getting on my Reader- when previously I would surely have wilted if I had not read my blogs for the day. It belonged to the same hierarchy as brushing teeth, drinking water and breathing.

I am not sure, does this mean the grief had gotten lighter? That Life had become more vibrant again, that I can occupy myself with other things?

I am not sure, because shortly after my last post I had plunged into very dark waters, sinking all the way down, clutching a black iron ball of heartache with me, until I finally hit bottom, and then slowly, almost dead, I rose up again. I experienced some suicidal thoughts. I wanted to come here to write about it, to open up a perhaps taboo conversation. But once I saw light above and came to shore, I did not dare to revisit those thoughts, afraid that I’d be pulled back down again.

Life has indeed gotten busy (especially with S and Lyra getting their chickenpox! Lyra did fine but Sophia had it bad. It was hellish for a week, the constant discomfort, moaning and tears, and nothing I did help. Now we’re waiting to see if Val gets it, and if I will get it…), but not necessarily richer. Whisperings of those memories never truly fade away. But still, all I have is now, all we’ve got is now, so we trudge on. We move on.


R came home talking about interview questions getting “creative”. I rolled my eyes and he asked,

“OK, so, what will be on your epitaph?”

I finished rolling this supposedly miraculous mixture of essential oils over my temples, put the cap back on the roller, turned around, paused and flutter my (short) eyelashes for theatrical effect and said, “She had a headache every month.”

R paused, then he laughed. I did not find it funny, with the pounding going on all over my skull.  He exclaimed, “You took the funny approach, very good!” Ha. Funny approach.

I asked if he had heard of the six-word memoirs and told him maybe he could find a few to steal for an interview.

That weekend I switched out our wardrobe in anticipation to the mercury rising. I have four big plastic containers filled with my clothes. About twenty percent of those fit me. Many were of pre-children sizes. Some I bought while on sale, tried on with tummy sucked in till my face turned blue, thinking, “When I lose weight this will look really good. Plus,  it’s ten bucks only.”

As I fished through piles and piles of “could-have-been” sizes, a six-word memoir came into my mind. I went downstairs and told R I’ve got a six-word memoir, but he was not to steal it.–

“She thought she’d be skinny again.”

After I laughed at myself and stabbed some knives into my side to drive in the irony, I went back upstairs and filled four big bags with “could-have-been” clothes, all cute ones, and readied them for the drive to Good.will.– Some genuinely skinny girls could use them.

I knew why I kept those clothes. It has got nothing to do with being economical. It was more a virtual strangling of the self, this vain desire to be the old self again. Slim, healthy, carefree and pre-grief.

I  just will never be that self again. I decided I needed serious shedding.

Not just of the pounds and jiggly belly and the extra pair of thighs, but also the useless notions of wanting to be the old, carefree self. I am still free. No one can imprison me except myself. So I decide to set myself free. It is not easy becoming, and being this new person, but I don’t see any other way.

Still, I kept a couple of size 4’s, just in case.– Which is the most ridiculous size clothing you are keeping in your closet?!

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