The first time my parents
introduced death to me, I thought it was
tranquil and undisruptive, like a childhood
myth or a fairy tale. There were no signs
of pain nor sorrow. Loss, from the books
I’ve read as a child, was told in dream-like
narrations. There was always heaven, an
angel, and God—an ideal world for our
departed. We all fantasize about a place far
from the land the deceased have stood on—
we all wish for something sounder. And the
ability to tame hurt and loss fascinated me.
I understood why we needed to
narrate grief this way.
As a child, I imagined that death
would be an endless voyage to nowhere. My
imagination played with these words: absent,
gone, and departed. Father described it
as being “away” forever. I imagine a boat
leaving the shore, its figure getting smaller
and smaller as it drifts farther away. Having
the ability to keep an eye on it, to watch it
slowly leave the shore, was a meaning I’ve
carried throughout the entire process of
I’ve come to realize, however, that
this was never the case—time always beats the
race. Delaying departure was a privilege. We
could not always linger over farewells. As I
grew older, I learned that it was dusky and
short-lived, never soundless. Death can even
sometimes be deafening. Loss to me felt like
I was left by the shore and I had to swim the
vast ocean to understand. I swim in haste—
there’s a ringing resounding in my ears as I
When my Uncle died two years
ago, I began to notice the loss of movement.
I listened closely to the unfamiliar softness
during special occasions and family dinners.
I was afraid to enter his uninhabited room on
the second floor of our house. There was a
sense of having too much room and too many
silences in between conversations.
Uncle never had kids but he was a
father to many. Our family has lost loved ones
and he was always there to bear faith. He was
there to keep us together. He died while I
was in school. I was reviewing for my exams,
on a mountain 65 kilometers away, when my
mother called. I was supposed to visit him
that weekend. No demise has interrupted me
this way, even when I grew up meeting death
in many ways.
Before I was born, my father
lost his two kids to cancer, and we were too
young to understand. Our responses to his
situation were innocent and playful. We
would ask him to play with us over and over
because losing was okay and he had chances
to start over. I thought having us gave the
family something to hope for.
I also remember when we lost our
grandmother after a few years. I was 10 years
old and we were told to stay at home most of
the time and I would always ask why. Father
would say that she was gone and that was
all. He never used the word “dead.” When
I was at the wake, I saw her in her casket,
preparing for departure, waiting to be taken
And through this, I’ve realized
how delicate we are when it comes to
depicting bereavement. My parents
portrayed death simply like how we lose grip
of a balloon. It floats up to the sky, ever so
serenely, until it fades into clement clouds.
We are all, somehow, able to transform pain
into something peaceful, and perhaps this is
because we are afraid of wounding others.
We distort words and translate them into
palatable forms and poignant analogies.
Much like the line from the American
television miniseries, Wandavision, Vision
What is grief, if not love
These responses help us
understand arduous circumstances,
especially in times when we are left to
rationalize the situation and turn to healing
practices for us to mourn. We attempt to
alter suffering by turning to love—by clinging
to a language that could coax and embrace
us when there is no person left to hold.
Sometimes, we have no choice but to latch
on to love and language. We are living in
a time where there is barely space for us to
physically care for each other, and the best
we can do is to embrace each other through
words and the language of art.
This is what Visiting Hours is
about. Because I could not physically extend
my affection to those outside of my abode, I
turned to the love and language of my own
family. Our proximity to people allows and at
times, hinders us to fully empathize with loss.
For me to be able to reach out to others, I was
determined to understand what loss means in
a closer circle. Because our family, too, have
lost the people we love, and perhaps the best
we can do would be to remember and rest
together, for now.
I allowed myself to listen to
memories stored carefully in different
corners and spaces of the places we’ve
shared, along with keepsakes and histories
of our deceased family members, as if it was
for me to unearth.
Upon visiting and listening to
unoccupied and borrowed rooms, my family
members shared their anecdotes as we were
gathering paraphernalia. I’ve gathered
stories, ones told while I was taking images
and retrieving articles, to create an inventory
of remembrances marked in the confines of
our family’s shared spaces.
Here, I translate my grief into
different languages, forms, and renditions.
Even when the limits are my home, I’ve
yearned that this attempt to revisit, retell,
and rediscover my encounters with loss will
build a path to somewhere and someone.
Maybe we can all make bridges and meet in
Loss, after all, compels us to
gather—to love one another more than we
Danielle D. Castillo
April 15, 2021