Sacred showers

By: Cherry Salazar - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | November 11,2021 - 08:00 AM

Trigger warning: mention of suicide

The year was 1996. I had asked my parents for a younger sister because I wanted someone to look after. When she was born, I remember my Ate and me peeking through the hospital’s newborn baby section. We were asked to name the youngest addition to our family, never mind that we couldn’t really distinguish the faces of babies from one another because they all looked the same until after a few months. I won that fight, and our bunso was named Maricel. It is the anagram of “miracle,” a fact I’ve known since childhood.

Growing up, we were inseparable. Most, if not all, of our photos showed us clinging to each other, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek.

But I didn’t think I would cry as much as I did when she died.

We were the closest. (That I had to write that in the past tense is an imposition I make upon myself.) Bath times were our playtimes. We formed abstract figures in our shampoo-lathered hair, and we laughed at each other as we jiggled and joggled in the cold water.

I would read W.I.T.C.H. comics and play teacher with her as my student. I would write a breakdown of the characters and the plot with chalk on a cement wall in our house. We watched films together and she would read the same books I had read until she discovered a genre she liked. Eventually, she grew up to be the more voracious reader between us.

She followed me around, waiting for my class dismissal so we could go home together, and joining the school choir after I did. During the weekends, we played song association. She learned the guitar on her own, then composed and sang their high school graduation song. Eventually, she grew up knowing more about music than I did.

I taught her how to write the alphabet. In the evenings, I would sneak into her room to read her notes on the diary I gave her, correcting misspelled words like “fanthom” to “phantom” using my favorite metallic gold gel pen. She couldn’t not have known that I rummaged through her things, but she was never bothered by it. Eventually, she grew up to be the better writer between us.

As it often does to people, adulthood brought us apart. I decided to live somewhere nearer my workplace, while she had to figure out her way through life. Still, I was the only family member with whom she kept in touch. Whenever there were special events at work, while others brought their sons and daughters or boyfriends and girlfriends, I always went with her.

With mobility restricted considering the pandemic threat, my younger sister and I found company talking until the wee hours of the morning about anything from Merrell shoes to Sisyphus. We watched musicals together, in separate homes we made for ourselves, when they were being streamed on YouTube for free. We played online escape rooms and exchanged notes about our Netflix watch list. She introduced me to internet slang and the *puppy eyes* emoji.

And then, there was silence. I’d find memes on my social media feeds with no one to share them to. I’d make plans for our dream post-pandemic out-of-town trips without her to go with. And I wouldn’t know who to ask when I can’t decide if I should push through with my online shopping budols or not.

To my mind, there is no worse death to the bereaved than suicide.

When people die of old age or sickness, the surviving kin and kith would have, at the very least, subconsciously prepared for what is bound to happen. The anticipation will not, and can never, diminish the pain, but there may be some comfort knowing that if the departed were given the choice, he or she would fight to still be alive and present in their lives.

Those whose loved ones died in accidents, perhaps even crimes as brutal as murders, are struck with the suddenness of their departure. The shock will not, and can never, diminish the pain, but there is somehow someone, something, to blame: the drunk driver, the murderer, the system. And if the departed were given the choice, he or she would fight to still be alive and present in their lives.

What, then, of those who chose to end what others would have died for? There is never any preparation to soften the blow, and nowhere to point fingers to. How can one grieve, knowing their loved ones chose death?

Knowing, even, that their departed were in so much suffering that they could not see the love that was around them?

That they were in so much suffering that the only hope they could find was to end it all?

There is no euphemizing grief. Neither can it be measured by tears shed in solitude or by words written in private obituaries. It comes when it comes, and we only get better at holding a space for it.

My younger sister and I were the closest. And while bath times have long stopped to be playtimes, I often take a shower imagining the old days when my younger sister and I would wash each other’s hair and blow bubbles from soap.

Finally, I cry. A miracle.

* * *

Cherry Salazar, 28, is a journalist and documentarist. She found her younger sister’s lifeless body and signed her death certificate.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Center for Mental Health hotline at 0917-899-USAP (8727); (02) 7-989-USAP; or 1553 (landline to landline, toll-free).

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