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Written by Issa Paculares
They say death is not an end but a beginning.
But I tell you, you will never understand the depth of a loss until it lands on your palms.
I used to tell myself it was not real. I fell into a pit of make-believe that everything was just a bad dream, but I have woken up a thousand nights after that, and this familiar ache never disappeared.
I lost my brother three years ago, and his death took my life, too. All I had were memories and pain telling me that he was once here and that the void he left had a deeper meaning of a life well-lived than just a mere death.
As the eldest of five children, my brother was the glue to the family when responsibilities and adulthood have shipped us in different directions.
He had the leadership of an eldest, the strength of a middle child, and the warmth of a pretend youngest.
He would constantly call ahead of time to remind us about a coming celebration or pronounced seasons, often taken for granted when life hits hard.
Birthdays would excite him, as it has been his yearly goal to be able to be the first one to greet at the stroke of midnight.
He was appreciative of every effort exerted.
On his birthday, he would bask in happiness over a simple card with a small message or just a plain shirt, making him feel that he crossed your mind.
He was everybody’s friend. A man of the people. He weaved big dreams for his kin, ambitions, which he knew he had lost chances way back then.
He used to dream with me when I vocally said I wanted to become a lawyer and was loud and proud when I started my journey.
On an examination day in law school, he would never fail to make an excuse to travel three hours away from home to my boarding house, and he would bring me chicken inasal because he knew that I would be busy enough to starve myself.
He had Jollibee meals for me on bad recitation days.
He was excited for my Bar review even years before I graduated, as he planned to be with me during the start of my Bar exam preparation to become my solo support system during the Bar month.
He was like a ready hand who used to call out of nowhere to remind us about random things and moments like he was so scared that we would forget about it, or maybe because he felt like we might forget him.
He was not a saint, but he was the home that we could always return to because we knew that he would welcome us with arms open wide and a bright smile telling us that he got our backs.
I would never ask why the loss he left was unbearable. He used to be everywhere around us, and suddenly, now gone forever.
I always wished to bury my pain upon seeing him lowered six feet below the ground.
To burn my grief along with the hundreds of candles that shone brightly for his soul.
To let him go as quickly as we release white balloons into nothingness.
But who am I kidding?
Three years have passed, and I am still stuck on that one phone call telling me that I had lost him for good.
Is it too wrong to cling to every memory left?
I knew that he was too scared of being forgotten, that I refused to let go of the memories, including the pain.
Two sharp shots came from the unknown, and I lost one of the reasons for my dream of becoming a lawyer.
Along with his death, I lost myself. I lost my purpose.
I lost my life.
What is the point of studying law and justice if I can never give him his?
His death consumed the motivation in all the hopeful tomorrows that I had.
My grades went down.
I was lost, and there was no way home because he used to be here every step of the way.
In this ache, I remember him, and somehow, it was the closest to being home with him.
So I bathed in glimpses of memories that I had with him in every corner of the house, filled with the life that he had.
Missing him comforted me and I knew it was doing me no good.
I knew I was sinking without anyone noticing.
Everyone just prayed and healed while I was beyond salvation.
Until one day, I woke up seeing flashes of the good old days that I knew I would never get back.
It was an awakening pulling me back to why I started.
I remembered his love for me and that he would never want my downfall.
I woke up remembering how he dreamt of me becoming a full-fledged lawyer who could represent him.
I imagined him giving me a random call to remind me of my dream now that I had forgotten it.
That is what he does–he makes the good days float over the bad ones.
Regrets flooded how I never got to grant his wish or even had the chance to say goodbye; how time was such a traitor that he was taken away from me three or four years from fulfilling that dream.
It was my longing to hear him say that he was so proud of me for becoming the woman I dreamt of being that I conquered my grief.
But I am not going to lie; fighting against the pain of a loss, and going against the current of grief was never easy.
It required more than courage and bravery.
One minute I am too eager to redeem myself; the next minute, I am tearing up, knowing that I will not be able to meet him at the finish line.
It was a slow-paced journey of hurting and healing.
But what matters is I was finally moving after his death.
I was too broken to fight for my dreams, but I understood that I was not another losing case.
I am here.
I am wounded but alive.
No matter how much it hurt, I pushed myself to get back on my feet, rise from my fall, and dream again.
This time, I turned the pains of my heart into a fire that burns brightly for the people I can still save.
I studied harder as I grieved for every injustice that came my way.
I engraved chapter after chapter straight into my heart.
I clung to every book as if everything was a matter of life and death.
All for the people that I can still give justice. For my brother. For myself.
Because if I am fortunate enough to pass and join the roll, and the universe conspires to allow me to save an innocent person from the gunpoint of those in power, it will be the same as saving my brother.
The freedom and justice that I can give to other people will be his freedom and justice, which has been long overdue.
Because it's true.
Death may be the end of his life, but it is also the beginning of my greater purpose: to live not in the confines of his case and my melancholy but out of bounds to those who will need me in the future.
His death is not meaningless, and so is my life.
So I live with the pain, knowing that I lost him for good, but I also know that wherever this road to healing takes me, he is here guiding and dreaming with me.
He is here whispering how proud he is of me for being brave and coming this far with or without him.