When I went to the Philippines this past year, there were some questions I wanted answered. Anyone who knew me personally would admit that I had been a workaholic- a person who relentlessly works, inside or outside of college and part time jobs, until I was available to work on something new to fill the vacant spaces of my schedule. Although I knew a lot about my culture growing up as a child, I have always felt distant from my extended family due to the fact that I was raised differently, living away in the US. I felt like it was time to learn more about who I was, where I came from, and how my life has been intertwined with my family generation. I was ready to openly understand the life of my family in the Philippines and learn more about my grandparents, Lolo and Lola.
Prior to the trip, I remembered learning about the seven emotional stages of grief in college. On the first stage, shock and disbelief occurs initially when hearing about a loss. Second, you act in denial about the event happening, which results in step three: bargaining, as you seek a way out of the situation. Then, the stages four to six include guilt, anger, and depression, which is the lowest point of recovery. However, at the end of it, you begin to feel acceptance and hope. Knowing this, I would classify my grief to always reappear in Stage Six: Depression during Christmas time. It's hard to admit, and even more difficult to say out loud, how painful it was (and still is) to grieve about my grandparents. The pain is always worse during the holiday season, mainly because my Lolo had passed away before Christmas in 2009. Throughout my childhood, I was raised by my Lolo and Lola while my parents worked endless hours trying to support our family. By the time I was five years old, they moved back to the Philippines in order to reunite with my extended family. But during those four years of my life, I learned a lot of life lessons and shared many special memories that I still fondly remember today.
There were two separate instances when my grandparents passed, yet both times were really unbearable, traumatizing even, for me to cope through as I had always wished I could have visited them more often in the Philippines while they were alive. Because of my studies, I wasn't able to to attend their funerals, and this year was the first time I had visited the Philippines since visiting Lola, my last grandparent who passed away.
During the months I had stayed in my Lolo and Lola's house, which is now owned by my Auntie, I saw little bits and pieces of them that surrounded my every day adventures in the Philippines. Their photos were still around the house, my Lola's glasses and old clothes were still left around the room, and I couldn't help but notice features of my face that resembled my grandparents. Out of all the days spent in the house, I fondly remember the first day I arrived. I took a photo of my Lola's glasses next to mine as I was conversing with my Auntie about Lola.
"She's still here with us, Ressa. Both of them are," she explained,"Every time we have a family gathering, a butterfly would show up." My Auntie continued to explain how a white butterfly with four black dots always flew around during family get-togethers, and although I found it difficult to imagine that a butterfly, an insect, would happen to magically appear and fly over family parties, I believed her.
During the family reunion, I looked around for a butterfly, but there wasn't any in sight as I was socializing with my cousins. We all spontaneously decided to have a sleep over together that night, and right before I left that morning, I saw the exact butterfly that my Auntie described near the gate as I exited. "Wow, she is right," I thought to myself, "but this never happens when I'm back at home."
When I returned home from the Philippines, I was startled to realize how much butterflies items I did own in my room. I had butterfly artworks from my childhood, butterfly wallpapers, butterfly journals, etc. The crazy part was that my room was formerly my grandparents' room when they lived in the US. I started to feel like I was closer to them in some way, and I cradled the butterfly items with me around the house, as if I was a little girl showing them around the place. It comforted me, knowing that somehow, some way, they were always there with me.
Months have past since I returned from the trip, and I decided to take a walk around a park before my work shift. It was Fall, and butterflies migrated south for the winter. I noticed the many butterflies surrounding around the flowers, and I briefly smiled as I thought about my grandparents. Right as I exited the garden, I saw a big, white butterfly with four black dots landing right next to my left foot. I literally stopped and dropped my jaw when I saw it.
Butterflies quickly fly away near humans, but this one came toward me, sitting still on the ground. I kept staring at it, trying to figure out if I was being delusional. Are you who I think you are? I looked that butterfly dead in the eyes, with crowds of people walking past me, saying, "If you are my Lolo, don't fly away when I sit down on my knees next to you." I slowly squatted down, staring at the butterfly the whole time. The butterfly stayed put, even fluttering it's wings to welcome me. I couldn't believe it. "If you really are my Lolo, I'll take a step closer to you without you flying away." I took a big step closer, and the butterfly still stayed put in its position. From all the traffic and loud people surrounding me, I started tearing up right in middle of this park. I didn't even care if people thought I was acting weird, or if my pants would get dirty, or if a rain cloud were to suddenly appear over my head. I knew Lolo flew all the way to me and we are together again. He and I sat together on the ground for a long time as I cried.
At least ten minutes have past, and Lolo still stayed right next to me. I smiled at him, wishing he could talk to me about how this city has changed since he last visited. I looked at my clock and noticed I had to leave for work, and I told him that I had to leave. "Bye, Lolo" I said, "Thanks for seeing me again." As I stood back up, Lolo began to fly. Unlike the other butterflies, he flew in circles above me, signaling to me that he would be watching me from the sky. I looked up as he started flying away from me, and I walked away from the park wiping my tears away to work. I thought back on the stages of grief and thought, "If the last stage of grief feels like your heart is soaring through the air, then I've made it. I'm here."