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Coming of Age

Hey! Sharing this piece I wrote in January 2023, almost a year ago now. For most of my adult life, I’ve grappled with the Christmas blues. But something happened a year ago that made me change the way I felt towards the holidays. Here’s to letting in the warmth again.

Merry Christmas!

Twenty-twenty-two was the year I turned 30.

I had some good things going for me: a steady relationship, healthy family members, good friends, a travel-and-work lifestyle that I designed to fit my own terms, and an almost electric excitement over what the future brings. The path was steep, but it was straight and simple, and I was prepared to climb it. 

This is what being a grownup must feel like, I remember thinking on my birthday.

But 2022 was also the year I lost my aunt and uncle in a car accident.

Coming home from a party two days before Christmas, my uncle swerved onto the opposite lane and crashed headfirst into a wing van. Rescuers rushed them to the hospital, but efforts to revive them were useless.

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Uncle Jonathan and Auntie Marz didn’t even make it to Noche Buena.

I am in a car headed to Vigan when I hear about the crash. I am with my partner, about to mark a milestone of spending Christmas with her family.

In the days that followed, while celebrating Christmas in my partner’s hometown, I became acquainted with grief and all its shades.

It’s an unexamined feeling – a confusing mix of sorrow and cheer – that finds me quietly grieving in a corner one minute and cracking jokes to my partner’s cousins the next.

And as a rough finish to this messy emotional canvas, a nagging guilt hounds me. “How could I feel joy at this time?” But in the same breath, “How could I not?”

When growing up you approached watching films as a sense-making tool to view the world, during confounding moments in adulthood, you do the same.

In this case, I turn to my all-time favorite.

In Little Miss Sunshine, a family goes on a road trip to California, so seven-year-old Olive can enter the titular beauty contest.

One of the characters unexpectedly dies in the film, and although Olive is much too young to grasp the weight of this loss, the adults try to grapple with this reality — as well as all the other failures in their lives — with a mix of painful sobriety, quiet grace, and, yes, a little lightheartedness. It’s not so much a coming-of-age story about Olive as it is about the adults surrounding her.

After Christmas, I take an early flight back to Iligan to attend my aunt and uncle’s burial.

I watch my mother laugh as she recalls a half-forgotten memory in her eulogy. I feel my heart melt as I see my baby nephew’s smile for the first time. And in between sobs, I exchange witty banter with my cousins.

Whether in film or real life, I’m discovering that the canvas of life can’t be colored in black and white. It is a splatter of colors, a mingling of hues, a tangle of emotions in varying shades.

And nestled in these nuances, I’m uncovering the fullness of being human.

We welcome 2023 in Auntie Marz and Uncle Jonathan’s home, just like every other year before.

It is a celebration not only of a new year but of the lives of our dearly departed. We know that as much as they wanted us to grieve their passing, they also would’ve wanted us to cherish the fact that we are all together — here, now, witnessing another of Earth’s revolutions, as it will do so every year, even when every one of us is no longer living.

And as I sit back, watching my aunts dance while my cousins sing ‘I Will Survive’ on karaoke, my eyes well up. I can’t tell whether they’re tears of joy or sadness. Perhaps both.

I dry my eyes with the back of my hand before anyone notices. I smile. This is what being a grownup must feel like.

Erika Cruz is a freelance digital marketer. She is also a filmmaker, a photographer, and a writer. Before entering the world of digital marketing, she practiced community journalism for several years and focused on the issues of human rights, social justice, women and children, the environment, and Indigenous Peoples. You may reach her at [email protected] 

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