Coming to Grief

There was some ambivalence in my heart when the hour came--that hour that had something to do with attending the wake of a person I only came to know through that late night e-mail I received from Charlene Cuaresma, the Ilokano Amerikano health activist who is into causes affecting the various ethnolinguistic groups of the State of Hawai`i.

It was the wake of Erlinda Adviento, a nurse from Urdaneta, Pangasinan. Urdaneta--and the Pangasinan Province--is of course the same place my ancestors from my mother's side came from, the same soil they tilled, the same earth they walked on, the same place of paradise and peril they had to confront, find roots, lose roots, and return to for connexion, memory-making, and healing. Adviento was stabbed dead by her husband, her death leaving all of us into causes such as domestic violence and cancer awareness gaping, muffled, speechless.

On that late Friday night that I received Charlene's e-mail, I just attended the brainstorming session Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline, now also knows as Domestic Violence Action Center, had asked me to participate in--a brainstorming session that called, among others, for me to make a poem and recite it, in the Men's March that the DVAC people are thinking of putting together early next year.

It was 11:00 PM or so when I received that news, and in the solitude of my University office that looks out into the dark hills in late night like that one Friday, I knew I had to do something to that raw feeling that I had. My head was filled with resistance without any name, spinning in surprise and terror and telling me, Oh no, not again, not again.

My heart was the same, and my lips just simply went numb, unable to say one word.

Silence makes the language full, in plenitude.

I felt that silence in that dark night of my soul, in that late evening that I had to battle what the computer screen was telling me: Another Filipino woman is dead, stabbed by her husband.

The pain I felt at that time was abstract now: palpable, unbearable. My sorrow was beyond taxonomy: no term here, no classification, and no category. Refusal was the operative word and the emotion had to be allowed to make its own deluge, cyclone, storm, tsunami, allowing the wrath of that unnamed because yet to be named exorcism that would be necessary in the days to come.

I did not know the victim but I knew she was a wife. That she was a mother. That she was a parent. She probably had been a lover of that husband that stabbed her to death and then sent her to kingdom come.

I remembered what I said in that brainstorming meeting: I am joining you and you have my participation on the strength of my circumstances that my wife and my two daughters are women and that men need all the education that they can get to be able to help address the issue about domestic violence.

And now this death, senseless as senseless all deaths of this kind are.

What meaning can one ever draw from domestic violence? Nothing, not a thing!

These were the thoughts that were in my head when a colleague and I decided to go to the wake at St John the Baptist on Kalihi, a church near the hills overlooking the sea that extends towards the Waikiki in the earth.

I was to read a poem--that poem I wrote for Erlinda Adviento. Days before, some good-natured people who received a copy of my poem had told me about their plan of having me recite my poem for Erlinda during her wake. I said, yes, and so I had to fulfill that.

And so to St John we went, and there, after the communion, I saw Charlene, in one pew with Bea Razon, one University of the Philippines nursing graduate and health care advocate who has distinguished herself with her work to advance the skills and peofessional knowledge of Philippine nurses through her NAMI training program.

I read my poem, and when done, I gave a signed copy to Erlinda's first-born who was standing by the aisle in the front row and opening himself up for that hug that healed, the hug of people who were concerned, the hug of people who could not understand the meaning of another death like this one, and among Filipinos as such.

Filipinos dying from DV account for about 85-90 percent, say experts. And if you have the Consulate figure that says that about 85 percent of the Filipino population in the State are Ilokanos, that resulting figure gives you a staggering number of Ilokanos beating their wife, their children, or perpetrating DV.

Some Ilokanos would say, Enaf olredi.

I would say, Kuston, kuston, kuston.

A Solver Agcaoili
St John the Baptist at Kalihi
Hon, HI/Nov 16, 2007

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