What happens when someone who lights up a room — one who constantly radiates positivity and easily makes friends — loses the greatest love she’s ever known? This is my tribute to a well-loved travel buddy, who lost her father during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When loss comes out of nowhere

dealing with grief during the pandemic

I woke up in the middle of the night and checked my phone out of habit and saw my friend’s post about her dad’s passing. It was an unsettling moment because earlier that day, she already said that he had gotten better.

Her papa was rushed and admitted to a hospital on a Sunday because he was experiencing symptoms of pneumonia. It’s difficult to imagine how restless she might have felt. More so now, that pulmonary illnesses are often linked to coronavirus and the unreasonable stigma it carries.

A couple of days passed and she was happy to share an update: Her father tested negative for COVID-19. Everyone hoped and prayed for the best; but instead of recovery came death. Her father’s sickness took him swiftly like a thief in the night. He never came home from the hospital. I cannot remember how long I froze and stared at the ceiling as my heart broke for her. She was a papa’s girl.

Also read: 10 Amazing Things I learned from Travelling with My Dad

The day I gained a friend

Camille and I went to the same high school. We weren’t close, as I was a year ahead and we ran in different circles. The two of us became good friends almost a year ago through my boyfriend, who is her kabarkada.

Our Baguio-La Union trip last year was such a revelation. Camille was an awesome travel buddy, and that mountain-to-sea escape was the first of the many adventures we shared. That’s where we really bonded; it felt like we’d been friends for decades.

Travel memories I’ll always keep

I remember talking about her upcoming trips as we  walked along Session Road in search of the famous strawberry shortcake. She was headed to Cambodia, then Thailand. We talked about how we feel about solo travel — that she wanted to go on a solo trip and how I felt the same, but many things were holding me back. Camille is brave and courageous. I wish I was the same. 

We finally got our cake, went to Baguio Cathedral, and waited so we could have our rosary bracelets blessed. To my surprise, she took off a ring — which she wore with a chain around her neck like a necklace — and placed it on top of the table. It curiously lay there together with the other religious items. I don’t remember the exact words, but she said something along the lines of, “Para bumait yung nagbigay!”. We laughed our heads off about it.

Camille is hilarious and unpredictable. I knew right then and there that she couldn’t care less about what others would say, and many of us would agree: How we wish we could be a little more like her. We just walked and talked endlessly, and found ourselves eating our cake at a  crowded 7-Eleven. Writing this made me miss that slow day so bad. 

Why my heart aches for her loss, too

Camille tells incredibly funny and vivid stories. Her favourites are those about her beloved papa. I know this because her eyes would brighten up and you could easily notice that unmatched pride in her tone whenever she talked about him.

The story of how she and her siblings would come home drunk with him, and how much that annoyed their mom. Countless cool narratives about her papa being very close to so many of her friends. The videos she would post. Camille did not only have a very loving and chill father-daughter relationship; her papa was also her best friend.

She does not deserve to lose that great love. Regrettably, I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I am more than sure that her father makes up half of who Camille is. 

His death specifically shook me to my core and got me thinking about my own parents. I instructed them to go and have a physical examination, which they both agreed to do. But still, it wasn’t enough to comfort me. The realisation that life is short and the overwhelming sadness that came with it kept me awake until four in the morning. Thoughts like, “Why be enthusiastic about life when someday we all get to die?” and “What’s worse is that someday could be right now or tomorrow.”

Today, I am trying not to be eaten up further by those thoughts. I decided that maybe the answer is what I’ve been doing all along: Living one day at a time. 

Also read: COVID-19 Lockdown Reflections: 9 Things I Realise I Take for Granted

Dealing with grief amid these uncertain times

This pandemic changed the way we see the world. In a way or another, this has affected our lives and routines. Some lost the jobs that fed their family and sent the children to school. For others, the pandemic meant saying goodbye to a favourite hangout filled with memories. To so many, COVID-19 brought about the irreparable loss of a loved one. The grief of those experiencing the latter can neither be cured by any vaccine nor fixed by time. 

dealing with grief during the pandemic

This year has been surrounded by so much sickness and death. Many of us mustered the strength to carry on by holding on to the belongingness you can only sense when you’re with family. To wake up one day with that constant being taken away is a pain that I am too cowardly and scared to face. But that uncertainty is a reality.

Today, I can only worry about my friend and write this for her. I promise to take her back to her happy place in La Union and breathe in the salty scent of the ocean. We will remember and honour her papa with every sip of coffee and shot of tequila. She knows this as I’ve told her more than once that she’s one of my life’s rays of sunshine.

Her father’s death will take a huge part of Camille’s being, that’s for sure. The “sunshine girl” will never laugh and smile the same way again; the smile in her eyes when she tells stories about him will be replaced with tears. But I know this to be true: Her dad, Roberto Victoria, will continue to live within her.

“i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart )i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)”

— E. E. Cummings

In memory of  Mr. Roberto Victoria.