introduction

 

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

defining death.

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

go further.

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

away forever.

introduction

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

asks:

What is grief, if not love

persevering?

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

the middle.

Loss, after all, compels us to

gather—to love one another more than we

ever have.

Danielle D. Castillo

April 15, 2021