How to Grieve: Finding pain in everything

photo grabbed from Everything’s Fine official Facebook page

GRIEF MANIFESTS itself in different ways. Losing a loved one, either physically or emotionally, leaves behind a trail of grief that one has to step through. Despite the well-known theory of the five stages of grief, the process is neither linear nor clear-cut. 

How to Grieve by Jade Mark Capiñanes encapsulates these conditions and how people deal with them. Published by Everything’s Fine Publishing House, Capiñanes features 19 short stories that center on grief.

Every story has a distinctive writing style and format that suits each of its narratives. The first short story How to Eat Spaghetti showcases a typical instructional format. Meanwhile, in How to Keep Count of All the Kwek-Kwek You’ve Eaten in Your Life So Far, the structure is akin to interview transcripts. 

Others take on a more standard way of narration. Some are dialogue-heavy like How to Enjoy Three-Hour Bus Rides which lack descriptive narration other than what is needed to give context. The story How to Cross a River also takes the epistolary form of narrative. 

Capiñanes cleverly sets the scene and tone of the short story with each change in format and style. Though it can be jarring to read back to back, the collection is best consumed slowly and in parts. However, the constant switch between points of view and formats may become confusing for the readers.

Capiñanes’ work is distinctively Filipino. How to Eat Spaghetti is a nod to the famous Filipino fast-food chain Jollibee and its well-loved spaghetti. The collection is littered with nods, references, and mentions of popular Filipino media. While they do not add much to the overarching narrative, it allows readers to easily slip into the characters’ shoes. It shows the readers that the characters in these stories may not be far from reality as they seem. 

However, the references end at that. They are superficial as these are popular in modern Filipino pop culture. These little nods are what connected the stories to Filipinos but because they take such a backseat, one could easily replace them with no plot consequences.

The stages of grief

When grief stems from love, it can be just as blinding. How to Take Care of Cacti, with all its thorns, represents the painful past. The person left behind could not let go of the plant despite the pain it had caused. 

Stories like How to Order Bulalo and How to Disappear depict how grief traps people and keeps those left stagnant. Even though the other person has gone, they are stuck in the past where they were happy and together. 

How to Be Funny finally sees recovery and a willingness to retry. The narrator, a seemingly lonely person on Valentine’s Day, spends his time looking for the perfect opportunity to tell a joke. Even when the perfect setup came up, he refrained as the boss would not receive it well. 

How to Grieve artistically demonstrates grief through its manifestations in people’s habits, cherished items, and lifestyles. From Filipino food to plants, the collection tells how everything and anything can remind people of the ones they have lost. Suddenly, everything in life becomes a symbol of people’s pain and loss of warmth, companionship, and themselves. F – Nicole Samson

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