One Last Look

I wanted to change my mind, but I had already given my word.

It was a choice between losing a treasured relationship and keeping my treasured painting. I grudgingly decided, relationship is more important than a framed acrylic rendition of a perfect day I tried to freeze in time.

In Cebu, where my family and I had our once-a-year vacation, one of the places we went to was the butterfly farm. More than the colorful butterflies, it was the flowers on which they fluttered that riveted my eyes. And more than the flowers, I loved the way my boys enjoyed the nature scenes normally appreciated only by their flower-crazed mom.

I took a shot of the bird of paradise, a flower which always fascinates me, to remind me of that idyllic day.

When we got back home, I rendered the photo on canvas, replete with the feelings still intact. After my Bird of Paradise was framed, I hang it along my other paintings on our wall. But it was my favorite of all.

The days that followed were tragic. We lost my sis-in-law and mom-in-law (Amah) one month apart.

In our grief, one elderly but very strong lady, Auntie Hedy, held our hand. She made decisions where we couldn’t, provided assistance where needed, and in between events, comforted my mom-in-law more than all of us combined.

All my married life, Auntie Hedy had been a fixture in Amah's life; they were each other’s phone pal and best friend. She gave of herself in ways one could never replicate, even if one tried.

In one of her visits to Amah in our home (they talked for hours!), I wanted to give her a gift (a token of appreciation is more like it) and wracked my brain on what it could be, she being one of those who has everything.

No ideas came. On her way out she stopped by my paintings, looked at them very closely, nodded appreciatively, and remarked, “These are good!”

My mouth moved before my mind could think, “Take one."

She went straight to my Bird of Paradise without buts, ifs, or maybes and said, “I love this,” taking it down.

I was stunned that an octogenarian would see what I saw and put in that painting. She hugged it like it always belonged to her and walked off to her waiting limo.

Separation anxiety ate me up for days, easing only with my mind’s promise that, “I’ll paint one just like it.”

Psychologists invented the term separation anxiety because, well, there's no such thing as reconciliation anxiety, is there? Beginning with Adam's ouster from the Garden of Eden, separation has become a word so cruel it causes modern man wrinkles and ulcers, if not early death.

I look back and laugh at it now (my face red with embarrassment). It is never a choicerelationship is up in the treasure list and a favorite painting is nowhere near it.

I also chuckle at a column I wrote about this same exact feeling. I am uploading it here with the hope that you, too, will laugh at some dark experience in the past when you had to say good-bye to a part of you.

One Last Look

"Take one last look," my husband said one day. I did—and my eyes smarted, my nose sniveled, and my lungs contracted. I was two seconds close to bawling.Now, what would you call someone who drivels over an aging and ailing bundle of metal and motor, in fading green, labeled Toyota Corolla? Hilarious, they said. Serious, I said.

"What's wrong? You sound awful!" my sister, the queen of tact, spewed when I called her soon after that.

"Separation anxiety," I moaned.
"Tony left you?!"

"Worse. My car left me."


I bawled.

Despite tender loving care, that green, fading thing had lately been acting up—whining, gurgling, making too many trips to the casa. It had been gas guzzling and throwing temper tantrums anywhere it wanted to.

But it was six years of my life
when I found myself at the crossroads of a long-running career, vacillating for months on end whether to drive past it. It provided literally the space I needed to think a million thoughts, replay in my mind a million memories, pray a million prayers, and finally answer my biggest what if.

Quite poetic, if not melodramatic: greenie was my refuge, where I could shut myself from the rest of traffic, make life-changing decisions and come to terms with them, with no change of lanes or u-turn. We were together through my last years on an old, well-traveled path (my career) and through my first years on a new, unfamiliar terrain (my retirement).

It even carried my favorite things
wall hangings and mementosand me, from office to home for good.

Years ago, when I was due for a new car (of my choice for the first time), in lieu of the one belonging to the company pool, I waived the privilege. Management had just announced that raises for the staff were cut because finances fell below benchmarks. I told the boss it wasn't a good time. He gave me that look that comes when you find a ride after walking for hours wearing new shoes, "Whew!"

Months later, our client Toyota had a sale-of-the-century where cars were practically given away. "Now's a good time, Grace," the boss said. "Take your pick.”

Still concerned about the staff's non-raise, I focused on the cheapest model and spotted a bright green. From that day forward, greenie and I were together every single day until that one time when I took "one last look."

As you read, I hope you're laughing with me and not at me. Separation Anxiety is for real and wreaks havoc on one's equilibrium.

Like traffic, separation anxiety has variants—light, moderately heavy, heavy, or all, intermittently. We can only get past it to where we should be by seeking God's grace.
In Isaiah 43:18-19 ". . . the Lord says, 'Do not cling to the events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there.'"

(BTW, from that old road, I still keep one other attachment—a huge key chain collection. As I am now traveling a new drive with new interests, and vowing to disallow another separation anxiety, I am giving this collection "one last look" without bawling. If you're interested, let's talk. I need reassurance that you'll care for them as much as I did.)

I did let go of that entire collection—gave it away to about a dozen people whom I knew would also let each item go someday—with no ifs, buts, and maybes.


mabel said...

Dearest Grace,
I am so lucky to be a part of your "separation anxiety" 5 years ago. Remember, just like Hedy, I saw some of your paintings around your house and told you that I always wanted a calla lily painting and you gladly offered me one.But,unlike Hedy's birds of paradise. mine was still frameless but I didn't mind because I was just too excited to have it.And 5 years later, another beautiful calla lily painting from you as a wedding present! Can't wait for another 5 years to have another one.. from you? Thank you very much, Grace!

gadachong said...

Hi, callaBella!

Thanks for dropping by. You won't wait five years for another calla, I promise. Just nag me--and nag me good--months before your first wedding anniversary!

Anonymous said...

ur rily a best writer.. i'm proud to say that i'm 1 of ur biggest fan..hope to see ur paintings...

Grace D. Chong said...

Dear anonymous,

Thank you for the vote of confidence. I wish to meet you someday and show you my paintings.