Thursday, 6 December 2012

Towards a Healing Presence

This article is part of the talk I gave to the "Ako Para sa Bata" 2012 Manila Conference held on Dec. 5, 2012 at the SMX Convention Center Roxas Blvd. Quezon City. The conference was sponsored by the Child Protection Network Foundation Inc.

     There was little girl who lived along one of the busy streets  at  the outskirts of Quezon City. Not yet five, she longed for  a pet she could care for. Since her elder brother had asthma, pets are not allowed in their home, until that day when someone gave her a duckling.  She named it KOY.

Artwork by eleven year old Gina Muga

     As in any other duckling, KOY was a cute, round, bundle of joy. She followed it around, gently placing it in a small cardboard box with its food and water when she's not around. The little girl was very happy that she had KOY to care for.

     One day, tired from playing with her toys, she took a nap in their sofa. She placed Koy in her tummy and watched it close its eyes too before going to sleep.  When she woke up, KOY was not there. Where could it be? She looked and looked for it everywhere but she could  not find it.  She asked one of their househelpers who told her that the duckling died because she rolled over it while she was asleep . "Nadaganan mo siya."

     She was heartbroken upon learning this. She was afraid to tell her parents that she may have accidentally killed her pet. Tears fell from her eyes. 

    The child who grieved over the loss of KOY was me.  That was my first experience with grief over something I deeply cared for.
Artwork of Gina Muga

     Years later, I would experience the death of three people in my family- my father and two brothers. I missed them until now.

     In my work, I have co-journeyed with individuals who have lost their loved ones, some in the most tragic of circumstances.  I have likewise  had a the opportunity to care for children and adolescents who have lost their loved ones.

  One of the most important thing to remember is that we adults are there to provide the healing presence to children and adolescents.  The care, the empathy, the kindness, the gentleness, the presence that would mean, I am here for you, I will be here for you. You are safe in my care.  I will stay with you now.

    This is expressed in how we speak, how we explain to them what happened if we are the relative of the deceased, how we patiently listen and let them tell their own story. 

  Even if they do not tell their story at once.

  I was able to talk to a social  worker in a non-governmental organization helping children survivors in armed conflict who related to me  that they have a a child who was a witness to a politically motivated massacre of her father and her siblings.  The child had to be transferred to Manila from their hometown in the province.  She finally got to tell her story to them after a number of months.  A very bright child, she also was able to go back to school after that.

Hindi kailangang madaliin ang mga bagay-bagay  lalo kapag kausap natin ang mga bata.

    I remember a seven year old boy  whose twin brother died from a lingering sickness.  His mother, herself grieving after the incident, told me that her son refused to go to school because the parents of his classmates were badgering him to provide details over and over again. Since he did not like to talk about what happened, the parents brought these to the attention of his mother. “Sobra na ang anak mo, ayaw magkwento."  The mother would ask them to understand her child who has just lost someone very dear to them.

    Now even the grieving child is burdened by expectations of people who are not even direct relatives of the deceased.

    Nakakalungkot. It is in this situation that the parents of the child decided to transfer him to another school.

    Even parents of children who are grieving may be disturbed by the changes they see in their child.  A couple was having difficulty in relating to their 12 year old son, their eldest, who was grieving the death of a cousin who was very close to him.  The cousin, who is based in the Australia committed suicide.  The parents were complaining that he would spend larger chunk of time in Facebook instead of helping in household chores.

    They may need to give their son and their own selves more understanding and compassion now more than ever.

   The son confided that he was having difficulties with reprimands and words spoken to him which he felt judged and unloved. 

    Children grieve differently from each other. How soon they will get over their grief over the loss of something or someone dear to them is dependent on their developmental level, their temperament,  the caring given by their primary care providers be it their parents or some other significant adults,  their  community’s support system.

Ako Para sa Bata Manila Conference, with fellow speaker Lyra Versoza, organiser Dr. Sandra Hernandez
delegates Jingle Mira and Michelle Balce

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