By Ronnie Mosley, Humanitarian Photographer

A few weeks before I was to accompany Dan Johanson (Badjao Bridge Director) and the Badjao Bridge team to the Philippines, I received an email from Dan containing a heartbreaking story. Little Pina, a five year old Badjao girl, had slipped and fallen into the water during the night after leaving her father’s side where she slept. Little Pina always slept with her head on her father Abel’s chest. Abel felt responsible for her death as he failed to wake up when she lifted her head.

Dan informed me that Abel and his wife Paysa (mother of Pina) were in shock over the loss of Pina and needed someone to talk to who could better relate to the loss of a child. I wept as I read the email and saw the photo of little Pina. Not only did she have a beautiful smile but she was such a promising student in the Badjoa Bridge school. So much loss, so painful to think about, having for my own frame of reference our families indescribable loss only a year ago.

As I sat before Abel, Paysa and Abel Jr., in their little house on stilts over the water on  Panglau island in the Philippines, I wept with them as they told me of their loss. They described feelings that I could certainly relate to, and they asked me several questions. One of their questions was; will the pain go away, the pain that caused poor Paysa to climb to her roof and contemplate taking her own life, the pain that keeps Abel from going back to work. I told them that I wish I could tell them that the pain goes away, that time heals all things but that is simply not true. Instead I shared that in my experience,  and from the experience of those whom I have talked with at length, the pain does not stop. You learn to live with it. I call it starting a new life. 

 You learn to live this new life and you learn to accept this pain that cannot be “fixed” or made better. I let them know that they hurt so much because they loved little Pina so much, I encouraged them to work on associating the pain with love. You can’t have one without the other. To work towards letting that pain remind them of the intensity of the love they have for their precious daughter. The importance of realizing that it’s ok to hurt, it’s ok to feel really really bad. The pain is bad enough without the added anxiety of thinking you should work at fixing the pain. To shut out the pain is to also end the relationship with the one that you lost here on earth.Most importantly, I had the privilege to just listen to their stories about their little girl that they loved and continue to love so very much. To assure them that they are not alone in their pain, that I share their loss and their grief and that we walk this path together. In the early stages of grief, that is about all that one can process. It does not remove the pain but it makes it a little more manageable, sharing the load with another.I was blessed to offer them hope, to encourage them to focus on the things that little Pina loved and was passionate about; that by doing this, the relationship continues and her story lives on.

 To read Ronnie’s complete story of this trip, head over to his blog: Coastal Traveler.