On Grief: Kamatayan

Our Guest Blogger Series with Kristen Jordan continues as she discusses an often overlooked topic: lost cultural identities, uncovering the dark histories of our ancestors, and the painful process of facing these truths.

Our hope is that this inspires others to learn more about their lineage. We hope that this gives us a deeper understanding of who we really are, empowers us to evolve, and helps us become more whole.

We are all immigrants, after all.


by Kristen Jordan

“To be dislocated from the land of my ancestors - I need them more.”
spoken in mourning at September New Moon Circle in Toronto


As a diasporic being hungry to reconnect with my roots, I’ve longed for stories of my family's journey. Growing up Lolo would scoff or laugh when I would ask him how he was raised, what it was like to be in the Philippines when he was young, or what the journey was like coming to Canada in the 70s. “Why do you want to know?” was his gruff response. When I was younger his resistance angered me, but I realize now that his hesitation to share these stories expose traces and lineages of grief. For those who made the difficult decision to leave home for foreign lands, they would rather forget, or find it painful to recall those times. Because that journey meant risk. It meant struggle, hardship, leaving behind.

For those who made the difficult decision to leave home for foreign lands, they would rather forget, or find it painful to recall those times.

I try to remember this when scheming up ways to have these conversations with my grandparents now. I try to remember gentleness, compassion, and gratitude for the choices they made to undertake that journey of immigrating to unknown lands. All the courage it took to leave home, and the many ways they had to extend their vision beyond doubt or fear. To take in the immensity of that love, to sit in contemplation of that movement - the sacrifices our ancestors made for future generations, for us, to thrive - has brought me humility and so much gratitude.

I continue to ask my Lolo and Lola about our immigration story, for tales of how they grew up, what Great Lolo and Lola were like. The stories come, but more is craved, a deeper knowing.

How do you find home when the homeland is far away?

Born and raised second-gen in Canada, my parents understand our dialects, but passed none of that knowing down to me. If I could understand Ilocano or Tagalog would I be better armed to listen and receive the stories I crave to hear? On my path of decolonizing, I’ve gone through waves of mourning. Crying over my inability to speak and understand my mother tongues, crying over what’s been lost.

How do you find home when the homeland is far away? Is home the land of your ancestors, or the land you were born and raised on? Can you uncover your ancestral wisdom, or learn the stories of your family and roots, when your own mother tongue(s) cast strange shadows in your mouth?


Over Thanksgiving dinner I asked my Lolo’s brother, Lolo Julio, what the traits of a Sison are. The storyteller of our family, he spiralled off into a history lesson of the Philippines, through Pangasinan, the land of our ancestors, the land of salt. He took us across the islands, following the trail of the Chinese pirate Lim-Ahong. When warrior Princess Urduja rised I yelled out her name with joy and pride in recognition. Recognizing her great embodiment of matriarchal strength and power brought me bliss! It empowered me to remember her as an ancestral force and guide.

When Lolo spoke of the Spanish he was full of anger. I could feel his grief standing next to him. The heat in his face, his ears, his hands. I felt it spread through my body too. “They tried to colonize MY country…” The grief when he spoke of the violence of the Japanese occupation.

Good grief. What is good about grief?
In what ways does grief serve our journey Home (inward, towards wholeness)?
Grief is the processing of experiences that have brought us sorrow, sadness, anger, pain
What makes grief good is that allowing ourselves to feel
To really feel
Is healing.
Our body knows exactly what it is ready to let go of,
What is ready to be remembered will rise to the surface.
Our feelings guide the Way.
Sadness and anger is stored energy in our cells, ready to move through us
To be transformed.

To really feel
Is healing.


In sacred ceremony with Mamerto, an Ifugao elder holding ceremony space here in Toronto many moons ago, I cried over the losses I felt to be my inheritance as a diasporic being. Loss of language, loss of stories passed down, loss of elder-wisdom, inaccessible to me because of distance, death, and all that lay between here and where I thought Home to be. Mamerto shared wisdom in circle that day and shifted my perspective on what and where Home really is. He affirmed and reminded me that our ancestors and elders learned what they learned through the land. Home is in your body, and the relationship you have with the land on which you find yourself living is of the utmost importance.

I walk knowing this now:

As long as we live close to the land, wherever that land may be, we can access the wisdom of our elders. We can heal. Across time and space we have distanced ourselves from our ancestral stories, and some things cannot be recovered. But the root wisdom and knowing is present still. It lives within us and in the land. The source of our ancestral wisdom is Mother Earth herself. Even when we are without our language(s), the land will lead us, teach us, and hold us if we open to it. If we ask. If we create space for reverence and connection. Daily. Moment to moment. Breath by breath. Every bit of this Earth is sacred. The guidance we seek is below our feet, in the trees, in the wind, in the flight and song of birds.

As long as we live close to the land, wherever that land may be, we can access the wisdom of our elders. We can heal.

There is water in our blood, and these waters carry memory. Beyond distance, beyond death. Beyond the violence of colonization, these forces live in and through us! A space of deep listening is calling to us now. Our ancestors have always been with us. We are being guided to make space, to sit with ourselves and filter through the noise of the outside world. To find home in our bodies. To find ourselves, at home. To attune ourselves again to the wisdom that lives in our bones, in our blood. 


The earth is your body.
Your body is your first earth.
Your first site of reclamation and healing.

- Maria Montejo, Mam Jakaltec/Popti Indigenous Knowledge Keeper