To a mother missing a son

'Grief knows no bounds. Sorrow knows no limit ... Each grief is sacred. Each sorrow is unique. Each soul is precious'
To a mother missing a son

Edita Burgos, mother of missing Filipino activist Jonas Burgos, joins a demonstration in 2013 calling for increased efforts to find missing people. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Human rights defenders in the Philippines welcomed the conviction in September of former army general Jovito Palparan for kidnapping two university students.

I was with the parents of the missing students. We assured ourselves of much needed prayers. I cannot even imagine their thoughts and the pain they are going through.

I share this letter, which was written to me right after my main suspect in the abduction of my son Jonas in 2007 was acquitted by a court last year:

"I read the papers. I watch the news. I know your story. I feel your grief. I have seen your quiet anguish, witnessed up close your dignified desperation.

"In the few moments of our encounter, the first time I met you, I dismissed the urge to ask you about your missing Jonas.

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"I set aside the emotional attachment and deep sense of empathy I feel for you, thinking how inappropriate it would be for someone as young and inordinately insignificant as me to delve into the abyss and privacy of a mother's grief or a family's longing.

"I understand the need for veering away from the prying eyes of simple intrusion.

"But allow me to tell you now that I have always felt a close affinity to you — your grief, your emptiness, your search, your longing, your faith, and your courage. I was born on April 28, the day your son was abducted and disappeared.

"As I was celebrating the day I was born, you were entering a period of darkness and uncertainty. While mine calls for celebration, yours calls for vigilance, cries out for justice and thirsts for answers.

"I have followed your story. I have searched the web for information trying to piece together the events that have brought so much uncertainty and suspicion in my mind about our leaders' capacity for social responsibility and justice.

"I have often thought whether the lack of compassion or empathy or both is the culprit in our ability to inflict so many wounds on another's life.

"As I vicariously relive your story through various media, I often end up wondering whether we have lost our humanity and that only a few good men and women with great faith and courage, bolstered by a sense of social responsibility, are capable of restoring my faith in humanity.

"Last night, as we turned on the news, we were greeted by the sight of the only person on trial for your son's case, walking away a free man, because seemingly his guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt.

"Lack of evidence — how can such three words bring so much pain and anger?

"I heard the quiver in your voice; saw the tears that were unshed; felt the familiar pangs of disbelief turning into anger as I continued listening to what you were saying and taking in everything that was never said.

"I sighed. I sighed for what was and what should be; for what is and what should never be; for all the what-could-be. And I felt so despairingly sad.

"This morning, as I prayed the rosary, I remembered you and your son. It isn't the first time that I prayed for you or those whom I really do not know well, because I often feel deeply the world's pain.

"As my day went on, I presided over a four-hour research meeting when someone handed me a copy of the newspaper. She said the front page might be of interest to me. I looked at the front page — and there your picture was largely splashed; the camera having captured exactly the look of anguish on your face.

"It makes me wonder about my own grief. Often, I have asked myself, which is worse — to have experienced the joy of knowing that you are carrying life inside you and losing it; or, having the child for 37 years then, all of a sudden, being left in limbo as to whether the young man you've nurtured and protected is out there — only God knows where.

"But I know grief knows no bounds. Sorrow knows no limit, neither of age nor status. Each grief is sacred. Each sorrow is unique. Each soul is precious.

"As I walked back to my office, I couldn't get your image out of my head. I found myself sitting in front of my computer screen pounding away this letter that I was moved to write. I don't even know how I could get this letter to you.

"Please know that I am deeply disturbed and in anguish, too, over the treatment of your son's case. Please know that even in memory, in some lull moments of my waking hours, I hold you, your family and your son in my prayers.

"Please know that in my part of the world, in my own ordinary spot, I think of you often and wish I could do something, anything, to wipe away the cobwebs of confusion and soothe your pain.

"Please know that as an educator I will continue to disturb the minds of my students and the people with whom I come into contact, with the knowledge that life is for transforming whatever corner of the world we are in, in whatever circumstances, and by whatever meaningful means necessary and possible; as much as your son did, or tried to do, in his own meaningful way."

Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen believed to be soldiers abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.

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