"It was tragic enough to lose a loved one without a trace but learning of the tall tales and fallacious accounts that threatened to taint our name, which was the only wealth my husband left us, brought us pain beyond words."
(original article appeared in on January 25, 2006)
How fast time flies! It is exactly one year today since that fateful day of January 25, 2005 when my three very young kids and I were jolted from our sleep at 5:30 a.m. after realizing (or should I say, sensing) that their Dad (James) did not come home.
The night before that, my husband picked up the kids from their tutorial classes because it was starting to rain. It was unusual because he rarely had time to pick them up from school and on those rare occasions that he did, he always brought me and the yaya (nanny) along. Even the kids were impressed when, for the first time, they saw their Dad waiting for them ALONE at the school gate.
Upon reaching home, James slumped on the sofa looking so unusually tired and worn out. When I reminded him of the invitation we got earlier from a friend who owned a bar, he just shrugged it off because we both had a slight fever that night.
At 7:30 p.m. however, another friend who received the same invitation called him up. Since my husband was the type who could not say no to any of his friends - he almost always never did! - he hesitantly agreed to go out with him to their friend's pub. He then asked him if he could bring me along (so he could use me later as an excuse to leave the party early) but the friend informed him that it was a "boys' night out" and he himself would not bring his wife. I was disappointed.
When my husband asked for his jacket, I deliberately handed him a different one to convey my disappointment. Of course I knew which one was his favorite. I gave it to him as a gift some ten years ago. Over the years, he was able to accumulate several coats but he always reached for that jacket every time he needed one. His son (our eldest child) knew exactly where to find it and gave it to his dad. He then kissed me goodbye and said "I love you" but I pretended that I did not hear it. When he feigned a pained look, I glared back at him and wryly warned not to disturb me with calls or text messages during the night.
Before he left, he asked our son to open the gate for him. A few meters away from the house, he called to check on us. He then said "I love you" for the last time...
Two days later, the headlines screamed: "Three Businessmen Missing." One of them was my husband.
Yes, we did a frantic search but to no avail. Fearing that it was a case of kidnapping, I waited for that dreaded ransom demand, but none came. The chance of finding my husband became grim when, two weeks later, his friend was tagged as a druglord on tv, I was advised by well-meaning friends to stop looking for James because of unverified rumors from his being buried alive to his being thrown at sea to be "eaten by sharks."
At that time, I felt as if I was moving through someone else's movie. Everything felt surreal, in slow motion.
In my mind, I was screaming:
"This only happens in the movies! This can't be happening to my family! We live in a good neighborhood, we were God-fearing decent people and we never took or sold drugs, so how come this kind of thing happened to my family?"
For months, our days were measured by: one day after he went missing, one month since he went missing, and so on. I became numb and filtered information bit by bit, instead of all at once. For seven long months, I drank each single night to subdue the pain. There were days when the anguish was too much to bear that I wished for death to take me. I went through periods of disorientation, numbness, denial, acute periods of pain and then a return to numbness.
And all those malicious conjectures about my husband did not help - they just aggravated my pain. I never realized how cruel some people could be in the midst of another person's tragedy. There were even those whom we hardly knew but fanned rumors as if they knew us very well and either spread nasty suppositions as gospel truth or passed them around as alleged intelligence reports. Yes, all of these reached me!
I withdrew from almost everyone - family, friends, colleagues, the world - because every time I spoke to someone, I had to defend my husband's name. I wasn't ready to talk to friends. All I wanted to do was curl up in my bed, hide from the world and have something convince me it would someday be alright again. I longed for my husband to hold me and understand what I was feeling, as he always did. But he was gone. And whenever reality set in, my panic attacks paralyzed me. The haze, the confusion and the pain - it all gripped at my core. The simplest task seemed daunting. Those things that I once did with ease became difficult and challenging.
The most agonizing part though was informing the kids. At that time, my son was just 10 and my two daughters were only 8 and 5. When my husband's photos started appearing in the newspapers and on television, I decided it was time to tell them the truth. But how do you tell children such tragic truth?
It helped that my parents, my sister and her husband were there to lend support. Although my heart was shattered to pieces as I listened how my Dad carefully broke the news to my kids, I tried to put on a brave face for their sake. They listened intently and tears slowly rolled down their little faces as the weight of the tragedy dawned on them. When my son, after wiping his tears, confidently uttered "we will find Dad" I finally broke down. Again, everything felt surreal. This was not happening to us!
I admit there was nothing perfect in my marriage. But if I were to describe my relationship with James, I can readily say that we were the best of friends. He first came into my life 23 years ago when I was only 15 and he was 17. It is this unique friendship that pulled us through all the trials and storms that came our way.
Looking back now (one year later), my kids and I survived because we lived one day at a time. My children proved to be more mature than their age, of which I am so grateful. Their own strength became my pillar. Their Dad would have been proud of them knowing that we raised them well. My children and I silently thanked God for family and friends who relentlessly and fearlessly pursued the truth, defended us from nasty rumors and helped in the search.
It was tragic enough to lose a loved one without a trace but learning of the tall tales and fallacious accounts that threatened to taint our name, which was the only wealth my husband left us, brought us pain beyond words.
I think of other families who lost a loved one and experienced the same treatment. I can only imagine how they survived. For those who have lost a father, a brother, a breadwinner, have they moved on?
As to the perpetrators of injustice, have they found peace? Sometimes I can't help but wonder if they ever imagined such tragic fate befalling them. How would they deal with it? I sincerely pray that they won't have to leave this world the way their victims went as I am sure that they have families of their own too. Would their children be as strong as mine? One day when they face their God, they will also meet those they have judged - whether fairly or unjustly - in this lifetime. How would they fare?
Of this I am sure: THAT FATEFUL NIGHT A YEAR AGO, WE WERE NOT READY TO SAY GOODBYE - NOT JAMES, NOT ME, NOT MY KIDS!
There are times when we - my children and I - are tempted to return to denial for a while - just to feel a little better. It's true that pain lessens with time, but we are still ambushed by grief occasionally. Oh how we cried together for the birthdays, anniversaries, the Christmas and New Year celebrations that their Dad missed during the past year.
Now we learned that one doesn't get over grief... you just get through it. Counting every little blessing we have helped us cope. We are most thankful for family and friends who never left us, who stayed and continued to believe in our integrity, who understood and simply held our hand when it was too painful to talk about it. No one in my family had done anything wrong to deserve this injustice.
Whenever the feeling of loss looms over us now, my children and I thank God that we still have each other.
Indeed, our route to complete healing is still long... and it is supposed to start with forgiveness. But, honestly, if you were in our shoes, would you be able to forgive?
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