“To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability that is in one’s self and all others, your warriorship is untrustworthy.” Chogyam Trungpa
My heart has been broken many times, some more severely than others, but the biggest heart break came with the illness and death of my father, Cristino.
My father was a hard working contract painter who immigrated to the US from the Philippines in the 1960’s to build a better life for my family. As a youth he endured starvation and the death of multiple siblings due to poverty and then survived Japanese occupation of the Philippines during world war 2, by hiding in the jungle. He was a survivor.
So, when my father, the rock of the family and the symbol of comfort and certainty for me, became debilitated by multiple bleeding strokes in his brain, I was in shock. How could this survivor, who’s only ever shown me his strength, be taken so unfairly into this debilitating state? In no other place was there a time where loss and uncertainty made such a big impact on me. Thanks to my strong parents, I only new certainty and grounding. I guess I carried on in this way as if nothing would ever change. I had a naive assumption that my parents would live forever and always be there for me even though I was the youngest of 7.
So when he become ill, I focused all my energy and efforts on finding a way to fix him, to make him better. At the beginning of his illness, I would stay up all night, surfing the Internet for information about his condition. I learned that he had developed amyloid angiopathy of the brain and studied feverishly to understand it and find out where there might be trials that he could participate in. I asked a million questions of the many doctors who treated my father and alongside my 6 brothers and sisters asked for alternative therapies and medicines to help him. He almost passed during his 1st massive stroke and in ICU we thought we would lose him, but then he came back and we were grateful for the miracle.
Sadly, his recovery was short lived. A few weeks later, during one of my routine visits at our family home, I helplessly watched as he experienced a more debilitating stroke that crossed the hemisphere of his brain and essentially turned him into a vegetable. To be honest in this moment of writing about my multiple moments of heart break I didn’t realize how desperately I wanted to fix him. I thought for sure that there would be some hope for him, but as time passed and his conditioned worsened, I watched as my father who was my greatest source of strength and inspiration could no longer hold himself up, feed himself, care for himself nor speak for himself. His debilitated state broke my heart a little bit more every day that I saw him. So I did what any child would do, I helped him, I spent the night in a cot next to him so he wouldn’t feel alone. It was hard, but my heart was so heavy for his pain that I wanted to do whatever I could to ease his pain and suffering. He hadn’t completed an advance directive so he lived in this state for several months.
When he finally passed in October roughly 16 years ago, my heart broke again. At that time I was 30 weeks pregnant with my first baby and grieved over everything he would miss including the child that I was about to bring into the world that he would never meet in person.
I don’t claim to be a spiritual warrior, but I feel like I’ve been through some of the steps: the heart break of helplessness when faced with incurable disease, the heart break of witnessing death, and the heartbreak of grief and loss for all the time I wanted to spend with my father. Having lived through such a big personal loss for me, I guess that means I survived too and maybe I may just be a candidate for this “warriorship” that Chogyam Trungpa describes.