The following article was an interview of the co-founders of The Compassionate Friends Philippines by The Sunday Inquirer Magazine
But What Do You Call Someone Who Lost A Child?
First posted 08:30am (Mla time) Jan 08, 2006
By Joy Rojas
Editor’s Note: Published on page Q3 of the January 8, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
THEY remember their sorrows like they’ve had them only yesterday. More than five years after her daughter, accomplished artist Maningning Miclat, fell from the seventh floor of the Far Eastern University where she was a teacher, Alma Miclat’s emotions still rise when she recounts how she struggled to calmly tell her husband Mario that their 28-year-old daughter had met an accident.
Little did Alma know that her brother-in-law, who phoned her in Washington where she and Mario were attending a conference, was being gentle with her as well. Upon their arrival at the airport, the couple was met by a group that included Mario’s cardiologist. Alma, who was then accompanied by her sister, sister-in-law and niece to the restroom, asked, “Which hospital is Maningning at?” “When they said we have to go to Funeraria Paz, I said, ‘Oh my God!'”
For Cathy Babao-Guballa, memories of her son Migi, who passed away after surgery for congenital heart disease in 1998, include waking up to find her son, with tubes and all after a complicated 11-hour operation, “staring straight through me like there was Someone behind me.” But it was their conversation prior to his surgery that struck her the most. “He asked, ‘How long is the surgery going to take? How long is a short while?’ Then he said, ‘Will you be with me forever?'” Those would be Migi’s last words to his mom. A week after doctors thought he was out of the woods, he slipped into a coma and died two weeks later at the age of 4.
Preparing for grief
A month before Jose Luis “Luijoe” Dado accidentally drowned in a beach resort, where the family was vacationing in 2001, the boy, who was six, expressed an unusual interest in the afterlife. “He would ask me, ‘How come Jesus died and rose from the dead? Are the clouds heaven?'” says his mom Noemi who chalked up her child’s curiosity to the fact that it was Holy Week. But when the image of John the Beloved comforting Mary as she watched Jesus die on the cross caught his attention, Noemi would only see the significance of this incident at her own son’s funeral. “It was his way of preparing me for my grief, of telling me there are St. Johns in my life,” she says. “What I didn’t realize was that St. Johns could occur even after the funeral.”
Today, Dado, Guballa and Miclat are three such St. Johns, comforting others as they have been consoled through The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a grief support group they established on December 1, 2005. Founded in England in 1969 and adopted by nearly 30 countries around the world, TCF is neither a professional therapy group, nor is it affiliated with any spiritual or religious organization. Its mission simply is to offer friendship and understanding, as well as support in the grief and trauma of families following the death of a son or daughter, brother or sister.
“You don’t expect to bury a child. It goes against the natural order of things,” says Guballa, mother of Sofia, 14, and seven-year-old Leon, of the relevance behind TCF’s focus. Avers Dado, “There’s a common saying that there are names for someone who lost a parent (orphan) or a spouse (widow, widower). But what do you call someone who lost a child? It’s the worst loss ever for a family because a part of your body is lost. Listen, that’s all people need to do to comfort a parent or sibling who’s grieving. Just listening and being a friend is enough.”
Convinced that Luijoe’s death prepared her for her life’s journey, Dado, who runs a webhosting business, e-mailed writer and magazine editor Guballa to propose co-founding TCF. Guballa needed little convincing, having come across TCF during her own mourning period, before she decided to put up play centers for ailing children called Migi’s Corner. She, in turn, would invite Miclat, an old friend whose Maningning Miclat Foundation supports young artists in the fields her daughter was famous for-painting and poetry. The trio launched their first TCF meeting last December 17 at the Greenhills Christian Fellowship in Ortigas, Pasig, with around seven couples currently in different stages of mourning their child’s loss, in attendance.
Despite the awkward silence among strangers at the onset, the meeting proceeded when, much to the co-founders’ surprise, the husbands initiated what turned out to be an emotional sharing. A lecture and fellowship followed before the group parted ways on a light note. “You have to get the grief out of your system,” says Miclat. “That’s why it’s important to be around people who understand what you’re going through, those who won’t find you fussy or too redundant because they feel what you feel. While others might feel irritated because you keep talking about your loss, we can understand.”
“Seeing us and how far we’ve gone in our own journeys gives them hope,” says Dado, “that it’s possible to have a new life.”
While Guballa’s new life came almost immediately after Migi’s death, embarking on grief counseling and recovery workshops, as well as 11 Migi’s Corners and counting, “as my promise to be with him forever,” Dado floundered, neglecting her family and health for five years. “I was a zombie,” says Dado, who became obese, diabetic, and was scheduled for angioplasty. “I isolated myself and didn’t talk when I was with friends. It was like I wasn’t even there.” Eventually, her two daughters (19-year-old L and M, 18) and a grieving mother whose daughter also died from an accidental drowning, pulled her out of her black hole. “She saw the website I created for my son (angel-luijoe.net) and I could really feel her pain,” says Dado, who went as far as to visit the lady in Cebu. “So I thought, ‘If I could help one person, why not a lot more?'” The decision spurred the TCF website (http://compassionatefriends.info), its maiden meeting, and the healing of her body and relationships. Now more than 30 lbs lighter, Dado, whose daughter M will lead the teens TCF group, gladly reports that her husband Butch spent last Christmas Eve at home for the very first time. “He’s usually away because he gets very depressed,” she explains. “But 2005 was a very good year.”
Ditto for Miclat who didn’t let the fact that her house was an empty nest (her other child, 26-year-old daughter Banaue, is in the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College finishing her MFA in acting) dampen her holidays. “For Christmas, it was just Mario and I, and we danced,” she says with a smile. In between her work as a senior VP for sales and marketing at Data Center Design Corporation, Miclat is busy putting a book of essays called “Beyond The Great Wall” together with her husband and daughter. She also serves as a surrogate mother of sorts to young women on the verge of suicide. Since Maningning’s death, at least four girls, all sensitive artist types like her daughter, have sought Miclat out for advice; one of them has gone on to produce award-winning poetry and lyrics. “I guess Maningning used me in some way, to be an instrument for others,” she reflects.
Indeed, while these women may have made peace with their childrens’ fates (in 2003, Dado laid flowers by the pool where Luijoe drowned; a year later, Guballa visited the room in the Heart Center of the Philippines where Migi passed away), all admit to having moments when the pain from their loss feels as fresh as it did on the day their lives changed forever. Guballa, who attended a family reunion before this interview, cried as Migi’s face appeared in larger-than-life proportions during a video showing.
Dreams of a happy Maningning, meanwhile, somehow assure Miclat that her daughter is finally fulfilling a goal she had written in her journal: To be a better artist in the next lifetime. Still, they do not completely assuage this mother’s immense sadness. “As long as we live and love,” says Miclat whose eyes well up whenever she passes by FEU, “we will grieve, until we die.”
The Compassionate Friends will hold its second meeting on January 21, 2006 at the Greenhills Christian Fellowship, Ruby corner Garnet Roads, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, from 4 to 5:30 pm. For more information on TCF and its meetings, please call (0917) 810-1582 or (0922) 851-7553.