Good Grief: Keeping your head up through the down bad

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Joseph’s mother and her two kids. // Photo courtesy of the Alaniz family

Being in a small space for an extended period takes a toll. There are only so many television shows, movies, books, video games, Zoom happy hours, and neighbor walks someone can do before it stops giving them the serotonin they desire. With a lack of new stimulus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that so many of us are looking inward. Reliving memories, whether good or bad, has become both the program running in the background and the feature presentation film in your skull.

For me, some of these constantly repeating memories include thoughts of my mom, who I lost nine years ago to a random aneurysm at the young age of 50. I was 13 years old.

A year before that, I lost my dad. 

I’ve thought about my mom for the past 3,483 days, but the pandemic made those thoughts more intense. I’ve always wanted to know what she’d think about me setting a path to journalism, but now I want her opinion on everything that’s happened since her death. What would she say about me falling off my bike or my awful spending habits? How would she react to the first and only time I got real drunk? It’s been difficult to go nearly four-thousand days without having a parent to serve as a barometer on your choices, especially from such a young, developmental age.

The day she died replays in my head with terrible frequency, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Seeing her foaming at the mouth on her bed. Hearing her lifeless body gasp as we said our last goodbyes. It’s on a loop inside of me, broadcast with the clarity of a 4K television. I like to tell my close friends that know of my origin story that I’m over it, but that’s simply not true. Out of all of my family members, I’m the one who acts the most like I’ve put her death in the past and moved on. I’m the one who acts like Everything Is Fine Now. The shutdown taught me that I was a clown for thinking I should be emotionally divorced, free and clear, from a traumatic event in middle school.

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Joseph [right] with his mom and brother. // Photo courtesy of the Alaniz family

It’s in the past and that’s what brings us here. With all these options available to distract us from our tragic backstories, there’s always something that pops up to remind us of what’s missing—or who is missing—and what they’d think about all this. How they would process this. Would they do better than me? Would I do better with them? Yes and yes, almost assuredly.

The thing that we’re going through? The kids these days call it “down bad.” Grief, avoiding the sickness, politics, and general fear of what the future holds should have everyone going mad. These pains are especially prevalent among those that have lost a loved one due to COVID-19. Those are losses that were avoidable with the proper federal and state response; something the United States didn’t embrace early, and still refuses to treat with respect as the virus has spread to 11.6 million cases and claimed 277,000 lives.

The stories of the lost ones as a result of the virus vary. Some were as cautious as possible and unfortunately caught it. Some were dismissive of the guidance. Others had no choice but to be out in public. In the case of Jhulan Banago’s mother, Celia Yap-Banago, she was one week away from celebrating her 40th year as a nurse for Research Medical Center. COVID-19 took her life on Apr. 21. 

“I didn’t really cry that evening, and I was more like, ‘Well, this is weird.’ I knew this day would come, but I didn’t realize it would be this soon. I look back at it and I was just there,” Banago says. “I was in shock. I can’t believe this is happening. What do I do?”

Jhulan Banago’s mother came into contact with a patient who showed symptoms on Mar. 23, and she took all the necessary precautions to prevent possible spreading. Six days later, her fever was over 101 and she wasn’t eating. She began to feel better over time, but it was too much to overcome.

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The last picture the Banago family took together, Union Station 2020. // Photo courtesy of the Banago family

 

Yap-Banago immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines after graduating from Aquinas University with a Bachelor’s in nursing. She touched down in Florida before finding her way to Kansas City, where she’d start her own little family. A husband, two kids, and all the love anyone could ask for.

In an interview with CNN, Jhulan Banago promised that he’ll remember his mother as a strong woman who successfully fulfilled her American dream. While she loved her work, she never missed her kids’ award ceremonies, piano recitals, basketball, or baseball games. 

Banago’s journey on coming to terms with this loss has gained local and national support. As a member of “The Club” (a group he coined where a requirement for entry is to have lost a parent without warning), family and friends have come together to make their presence felt, despite the pandemic. His friends set up a shared online calendar for making sure the family had meals provided as they navigated this dark period. 

“I think April and May we had a meal delivered for lunch and dinner and we had variety,” Banago says. “The first few meals were barbecue after barbecue. I love my Kansas City barbecue, but you can only take so much.”

Cards, flowers, and texts poured in. Banago noticed that each member of the family processed the loss differently. His father, Amado, couldn’t stop talking about his wife. He would show old photos of her and tell stories to anyone who would listen. For Jhulan, it took him a few months before he could open up his mom’s photo album.

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Celia Yap-Banago at her job as a nurse for Research Medical Center. // Photo courtesy of the Banago family

The family opened up a death claim against the hospital. Banago and his family hired the services of legal firm Brent and Kristie Welder. The legal team and married couple seemed to best reflect the ideals and ethics of the Banago family.

While myself and Jhulan are just two stories among the millions out there, I noticed some of the similarities that I’m sure whoever’s in the same situation can relate to. For instance, both of our lost parents took care of everyone and anyone that needed help. Whether it was simple or not, they dropped everything to make sure the problem was solved. 

These troubling moments in our lives happened unexpectedly, but we’ve somehow managed to overcome them and are now using them as motivation to keep grinding. Would I have wanted her in by my side as I grew into the person I am now? Absolutely, but I’d like to think I’ve done alright so far.

They may not be with us physically, but they’re with us where it counts and that’s all we need for now. We know we’re making them proud by chasing our dreams. It would’ve hurt them if they saw us curl into a ball and give up. We have to honor their fighting spirits by continuing to strive for greatness. After all, it’s what they did.

I wish for that to be true for anyone else dealing with any kind of grief and pain, but if it’s not, I hope you’ll reach that point. It’s not easy at first and it’ll break you at times when you least expect it, but keeping a loved one in your memory is a great way to cope and it’s certainly one of the healthiest ways to do so. 

I’m not a therapist so I can’t confirm that, but Burton Rogers is. 

Rogers was born and raised on the east side of Kansas City and celebrated his ninth anniversary in counseling in August. His emphasis is on assisting individuals to find positive coping mechanisms after losing a loved one due to homicide. There is an overlap between losing someone to violence and losing someone to a virus, as they’re both sudden losses that give families and friends no chance to say goodbye.

With the uptick in gun violence in Kansas City, you could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and a shooting could occur where you’re unfortunately hit. With COVID-19, you could take off your mask for one second in public or touch a spot that someone with the virus came into contact with, not wash your hands, and then your situation becomes life-threatening. What comes next and its precarity is a constant background threat.

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A Banago family holiday photo. // Photo courtesy of the Banago family

When he’s with his clients, Rogers is looking to see if they re-experience any of the trauma they felt since the loss. If flashbacks or nightmares happen, he’s trying to find out if the frequency of those go down as time progresses.

“I’ll look at alterations and cognitions, how they see themselves, how they see others, how they see the future and on top of that, outbursts of anger or just periods of depression,” Rogers says. “I’m looking to make sure that those are being stabilized as well and also just how they’re relating to other people. There could be a scenario where they find themselves isolated and I’m looking for if they’re engaging people along the way.”

The first thing Rogers recommended for people seeking help with grief is to find their support system. Like Banago, it is friends and family that aid the most and it’s with their guidance that they can help the griever make the right steps with what comes next. 

The other thing he emphasized is to not make any major decisions in the first six to seven months, such as moving. A mind isn’t in the right space to think about what’s going on clearly, so it’s best to stay away from a drastic life choice unless it absolutely has to happen. Flexibility is also key for people who are helping their close ones get through a tough time. There are certain moments or items, such as a song that reminds them of who they lost or the anniversary of when they were taken from this earth, that could trigger them and cause unusual behavior.


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“The biggest piece and this goes for any trauma piece, but particularly with homicide, is that it’s nonlinear,” Rogers says. “There’s going to be ups and downs. You could have the best treatment protocol and there’s not going to be a scenario where it’s straight to the point.”

If there’s one thing that I hope readers take away from this, it’s that there is no timetable for healing. It could be nine days, nine months, or nine years of suffering, and all of it is valid. You have to do what’s best and what’s right for you in order to take the next step.

Ride a motorcycle for miles and find your healing road. Impulse buy that missing piece in your collection. Reach out to your friends and family. Tell them you love them and you want to see them shine. Talk to a therapist. They’re here to help, not hurt. There are still good people on this planet and they want you to be the best possible version that you can be. 

There is no correct way to cope with losing someone who you held so close in your heart and soul. You can have all the help you need, but at the end of the day, only you get to decide what’s right for your mental health. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but we still have to win the race.

We all want to see you succeed and overcome the odds. I think I’m doing that in my own way, and I wish the same upon everyone. 

We’re going to make it. I promise. One way or another. 

Categories: Culture