"I have a hole in my heart," I said softly as I hugged my old friend, Mark. "I know. I'm sorry, I love you," he replied.
It's been two weeks since my dad died; everything since has been a blur. My sisters and I are all coping with grief in very different ways, as different as we are.
I go to his room almost daily -- his cave, as mom used to call it -- and I sit on his bed. I must admit that when he was alive I didn't spend much time there whenever I came home to visit. It was his space, his sanctuary, and although I knew he would have welcomed the company, it simply felt too much like it was his own private world. If he invited you inside, then you knew for sure you were welcome into his life as well.
But now that he's gone, it's where I go to try to see dad's world as he saw it.
On his left an old photograph of his parents; in front of him a framed photograph of our family. Behind that is a '70s-era black-and-white picture of him and mom, with the former President and First Lady, surrounded by more important-looking people, including my mother's uncle. To his right is one of my favorite photographs of dad: he is in his '30s, a wide smile filling his slightly chubby face, his right foot resting on his left thigh as he sits. He looks happy, and I think my body somewhat resembles his. More photographs of him with people I do not recognize, but who I know must be important in the architectural world.
Although my father didn't strike me as a particularly pious man, there were all sorts of religious relics surrounding him. A rosary hung on a crucifix to his left and right. When he would lie in bed he'd look straight at a portrait of the Madonna and Child, and in gold, one of Jesus Christ on the Cross with the apostles behind him. There are Santo Nino figurines, more crosses, more rosaries.
And all around him: countless videos, music CDs, and photographs. Countless. Dad always wore a camera around his neck when he ventured outside of his cave, and he was eager to lend friends some of his favorite music and movies. There were still books, what hadn't been donated to the University of the Philippines, mostly of general interest. Today I searched for books that we had purchased during our hours-long trips to bookstores together, but there were too many to remember. In the late '80s he had me hunt for a copy of Rachel Carson's classic, "Silent Spring," which I eventually found in an independent bookstore in Pasadena. I remember he talked to me about how poisoning the environment would eventually poison us all. When I eventually tended my own garden a couple of decades later, I didn't use pesticides. Dad's voice was still in my head.
I've gone through his closets a few times since I've been home, just to look at his neatly-hanging shirts and his many suspenders layered one on top of another. Under his bed are his three favorite pairs of shoes, all casual and comfortable. I touch his walking canes propped behind his bed, and unsheath the Moro Datu blade that was given to him many years ago by someone who had regarded him as a father figure. One of my father's closest friends, someone who knew about the gift, told me that the blade was a personal family treasure. Looking now at how close it lay next to dad, I know for sure it also meant so much to him.
As I walk around I'm reminded that dad lived quite simply. There is no ostentation, no sign of luxury. Just things he loved, even once, even if he had already forgotten about them. When I open the door of the small closet where his intimate apparel was stored, there is written in pen a chronicle of my youngest sister's physical growth -- dates, her height. When he had his closets repainted a few years ago, he asked the painter not to paint over the markings so he would always remember. My father was obviously quite a sentimental man. He recognized in me the same, although these days my mother's strong influence causes me to throw away more than I can store.
I know that one day all of my father's belongings would have been either given away, donated, or thrown. There will no longer be his room in the house he built that will reveal to all who visit what he chose to do in his most private times. There won't be a room for me to visit, for me to want to spend time in, when before I couldn't leave it fast enough because I thought maybe no one else belonged there.
There is a hole in my heart bigger than my father's room, bigger than the space needed to store all his belongings. I don't think anything will ever fill it, not even my father's huge memory.
He Is Not Dead
I cannot say, and I will not say
That he is dead. He is just away.
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
He has wandered into an unknown land
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.
And you—oh you, who the wildest yearn
For an old-time step, and the glad return,
Think of him faring on, as dear
In the love of There as the love of Here.
Think of him still as the same. I say,
He is not dead—he is just away.”
~ James Whitcomb Riley