On Loss and Impermanence
Nothing’s ever built to last — from 21 Guns, Greenday.
This line from the song is loaded with pain, but I used to sing this without feeling anything when it first came out in 2009. Maybe I was too young then to realize the truth it speaks. Years later, it has became my mantra — a line to rationalize the remorse feeling that is loss.
Loss is a part of life. Little do we know, we lose something everyday. From wasting 30 minutes of your time just scrolling through social media apps, forgetting that you have a 5-peso change from buying in a fruit stand, to losing opportunities, relationships and a loved one, it is a feeling that none of us is alienated. No matter what its form, may be of material things to abstract concepts and no matter its impact, loss is something that is universal. The only difference is our ways to cope with it.
To tell you, I am a careless person growing up. I am not that organized. I hated cleaning. I didn’t look after my personal things too much. Maybe because my mom used to maintained me. I am the youngest of four siblings, and the only daughter in our family. My mom cared for me like literally, as a princess. Imagine waking up in the morning with breakfast ready, and your school uniform is already neatly placed in a chair beside the comfort room. My school bag is double-checked. All that I had to do is to wake-up, eat and take a bath. When I go home, lunch is served and she prepares dinner as I do my homework. Sleep, and repeat. She was a very hands-on mom. She listened to all of my rants and supported my endeavors. My mom taught me how to cook, clean, babysit, all those sorts of domestication. These practical skills become my weapons of survival, while the values she instilled to me become my moral compass. With all of those in my first 16 years of life, I am beyond grateful.
Loss was clearly defined to me when my mom passed away. It is the most painful feeling I could ever imagine. She was everything, my life, my breath. She was the source of my motivation and strength. I cannot believe that life for me goes on after I lose my mom, for I have never loved anyone the same way I loved her. And it has been 5 years today since she left. I do not even know how I got through that, or do I really I?
“Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.” — Marcus Aurelius.
My mother’s death normalized impermanence for me. No matter how much you try to keep something, nothing in this world stays. And that is the truth that we have to accept. Stoics believe that the only permanence is impermanence, and this should not always carry a negative connotation. Everything you own, even you, is ephemeral.
Months ago I watched a philosophical video in Youtube (a must-watch! will definitely share when I remember where I watched it) and one point that the speaker noted is that the evil in this world comes from our desire to make things permanent. That made me think. Take a second to remember the bad things you have done and its intentions, and they all boil down to your desires to secure something or to prevent change. It is true, well for me. Most of my bad pursuits root from me wanting to keep things as is and having troubles to let go. Trying to make impermanent things permanent is a great driver to stir our selfish intentions. Nonetheless, the very fact that we are aware of this is to safeguard us and to help us evaluate our choices before pursuing anything.
I am not saying that we should just let go and be with the flow. Life still needs some sort of certainty and structure. Go after the things that you want, your dreams and desires, but just choose your battles and set-up limitations. Remember that it is perfectly fine to lose something. It hurts for now, but one day it will all make sense. Because the things that we deserve will be worth all the things that we lose.
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” — from One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.
At this age of 21, and when you already experienced the most painful loss that you could ever imagine, I assure you, any loss would feel indifferent. At some point, I wonder why I feel nothing when losing something. Yes, it is disappointing, but days go by and detachment grows. Maybe because I always remind myself that I got through bigger things than this, therefore this loss in particular, is just petty. And I know it is unhealthy because I am dismissing the feeling and it is also not a good practice to rank everything, but it helps me to easily get over something when I am reminded of the bigger losses I already have been through.
But did I stop caring? Of course not.
Being so familiar with loss makes me realize how much I care about the things I want to keep. When I feel frustrated about losing something, disappointed about not getting something or even cry about it, I know that it is really of great value. The only moment that I will let that go is when I already exhausted my all fighting for it, and still, nothing. Life is too short for regrets, so might as well try. The idea of loss just around the corner makes you cherish the things that you have now. I learned how important it is to value and appreciate my constants — starting from the people dearest to me, down to the personal things I own. I am more organized now. I clean every now and then. I keep track of my finances. I like to take control because no matter how familiar I am with loss, its pain is a fear for me to feel again, and again.
And you know, you will never really get over with loss, you will just learn to live with it. The year when she died, I cried every night. Before 2015 ended, I literally told her to help me stop from crying, because I was always weary and unproductive. Right there and then in 2016, I got through months without crying, for I solely focused on going after her dreams for me. I felt better each day by joining the groove of life and remembering that our relationship is transcendent. Also, I am very grateful for the people who comforted me in those trying times. I stood once again through their love and support.
But I never really moved on from the loss of my mom, for I still miss her everyday. It is just that eventually it got better, because I became familiar with the loss. If you cannot move away from it, deal with it. Learn how to navigate the feeling, to deal with the triggers, and to carry on despite the sadness and grief. Just like any other wound, it heals through time.
As I said, we all have different ways to cope with loss. But I think the most important thing is acceptance. If it is deeply part of you, you don’t always have to heal from it. There are things that are way too impossible to forget. But life would not pause for us, so we have to live with it. Embrace the loss, the pain and the restlessness, if necessary. My professor once quoted Mulan in his lecture saying, “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” The losses you have gone through, and the ones you are still carrying, are the things that make you who are now. Be proud that you are still here, choosing to keep going. Life is not always going to be dark. Trust me, you will have your season! Continue to live the purpose you aspire, do good, and life will definitely reward you.
PS. Remembering you everyday mom, hope you are having a great time in heaven.
September 12, 2020