It has been a year since super typhoon Haiyan ravaged our beloved city. I’m sure everyone has different stories to tell and to pass on to the generations to come. I will never forget what happened on that day, every detail, every feeling, every expression, every cry… I mean, who could ever forget the day you lost almost all of your family members to something uncontrollable and horrifying? A year ago, I lost both of my parents, my eldest brother Jonas, his wife Geo, and their son- Tarin, leaving only me and my elder brother Julius as survivors. Up to this day, the remains of my father haven’t been found and we do not know if my nephew is still alive.

I've told the Haiyan story of my family a thousand times, I even wrote about it in detail on this website three months ago. After sharing stories of survival from typhoon Haiyan, I've been thinking about how it would be awe-inspiring when the time comes that I will be able to share stories of redemption and acceptance. Now, a year after the devastation I am beginning to finally see the light and accept God's will.

Life is definitely unpredictable. Just because life was always easy for you it doesn't mean it will stay that way forever. Just like how my life was turned upside down on that fateful day of November 8, 2013. Never in my wildest imaginations, have I ever thought going through such a horrific event like that. I’m sure everyone will agree with me if I say these things only happen in the movies, or it’s impossible for us to experience it first-hand.

For 22 years, 3 months and 3 days I've been so happy and contented with my life. Of course I had problems and bad days, but still I always thought that life was so easy, so carefree, life then was just awesome. Why? I had two of the best, hard working parents; I had two of the coolest brothers a sister could ever have. I gained an amazing sister when Kuya Tata got married to Ate Geo and of course I had Tarin- the most adorable nephew and playmate in the world. I had wonderful friends; I had a job and got along so well with my colleagues. My family had a small food business and we even planned on expanding this year. It was part of our bonding because we always enjoyed spending quality time with each other and at the same time earning some extra cash. We had so many plans after Nanay retired last December 2012. What more could I ask for, right? My family wasn't that wealthy, I didn't always get I want, but my parents made sure that I will be provided of everything that I need and it was good enough for me. We didn't need to go to fancy and luxurious places for us to enjoy. Camping, flying kites, going to the beach or on road trips and even just staying at home around our dinner table, joking and sharing stories over food was more than enough to make us happy. I considered myself very blessed. Thank God they didn't have a choice to pick a daughter, because being raised by Cesar and Thelma, made me realize the value of having a heart that is happy and full.

Funny how at one point I had this picture perfect life, I had a heart that is content but in just about 2 hours, I was left with nothing but a heart that is empty and all of a sudden, everything changed.

November 8, 2013 was the day I lost my everything. It was the first time I saw my father helpless and struggling. Knowing him, he always knew what to do, he’s one of the strongest people I know that’s why seeing him struggle and gasping for air was difficult for me. November 8, 2013 was the day my mother died in my arms. It was the day hypothetical questions turned to reality, because that day I had to make the toughest decision in my life, whether to hold on to Nanay or just let go. It was the day I was sitting beside a water tank on the steel frames, shivering and the only thing that mattered to me was my family and how I wish I could save them all. And that’s the thing when you witness everything that happened, you tried to save them but you couldn't, you lived, they died, you got no one to blame, so you blame yourself. So many times I asked myself why it happened, why they died, why not just me instead? That was the time I realized that family is everything and no amount of money or any material possession can ever compensate the feeling of loved ones lost.

November 11, Monday, my brother and I went to Cebu to seek refuge. It was hard for us to leave Tacloban, to leave Nanay, Kuya Tata and Ate Geo’s remains just wrapped in tarpaulins on the sidewalk, with Tatay’s remains not being found and Tarin’s whereabouts unconfirmed. However, Kuya Duke incurred and injury on his left leg and immediate medical attention was necessary. We needed to make a choice and no matter how difficult it was, we had to leave.

Being in Cebu made things a bit easier for me. My cousins were always ready to help deal with the hospital paperwork, bills, etc. My brothers’ friends were there too, so they were able to help and stay at the hospital with him. However, waking up in the morning was actually the worst part. There was a time I wish I could just sleep and dream about my family forever, because reality seemed to be a nightmare. During family gatherings after the typhoon it was when I felt uncomfortable, sometimes I'd rather be alone than be with my relatives because that’s when I feel my family’s absence, that’s when I feel incomplete. That’s when I ask myself “Why are they complete? And we aren't?". It’s tough to deal with a lot of things all at once. So many people were trying to contact me, asking about what happened, how I'm doing, etc. I always end up telling them the story and assuring them that I’m okay and doing fine. I just kept telling them, "We are the children of Cesar and Thelma, it is unacceptable to quit!" Everyone’s telling me that it’s amazing how I deal with all of this. But the truth is, I was trying to conceal and just stay strong for everyone, I didn't want to breakdown because there was no time for that, no time to grieve, no time to just let it all out and cry. We had to survive because we don't have any other choice. While we were in Cebu, family of Ate Geo from Baguio and some of our relatives living in Manila went to Tacloban. They started the search for Tarin, got in touch with the media, posted photos in social networking sites, spread so many posters all over the city, but up to this day, there’s still no sure sign of Tarin. With the help of our forever heroes- our uncles, cousins and Ate Geo’s family, Nanay, Kuya Tata and Ate Geo’s remains were laid to rest in Palo, Tapitan Cemetery 8 days after the typhoon. It was also rough for us not to be there while they were being buried; I wanted to give them the funeral that they deserved. But, after thinking about it, the situation didn’t agree with my wishes, it wasn't the most practical thing to do. So Kuya and I talked about it and decided to do the proper memorial service at the right time. 

I came back to Tacloban on December 7, 29 days after the typhoon. Seeing the damaged homes from Ormoc to Palo was unbearable but it’s amazing how some people still have the courage to smile and laugh despite being roofless. They served as an inspiration for me to continue being strong and positive. I did not want to think of negative things anymore; I've learned to just accept the reality, let go and let God. At that moment I thought to myself that I may not know the reason why this happened to us just yet, but I know someday I will.

There is always a turning point in one’s life. A time when you need to decide whether a situation will make or break you. Typhoon Haiyan was the turning point for me. It made me realize numerous things about life. When I thought I was about to lose myself because of what happened, it was when I was able to know myself and my strength. It made me realize that I shouldn't have questioned why they died, because we do not own anything in this world, we are simply visitors and everything that we have right now is borrowed, including time. Maybe I never thought about losing my family that way and so soon, but who am I to decide how and when they will go? For all I know, they are having the best days of their lives right now and I can feel that they are happy wherever they are. Besides, all of us will eventually go. The real tragedy is not making the most out of our lives while we still have time. I've come to realize that surviving the strongest typhoon ever recorded makes me one of the strongest people on Earth; well, at least I'd like to look at it that way. Just like what I said earlier, some situations will make or break you, it’s just a matter of perception. I may be small but I’m invincible. Isn't it amazing how it is in the darkest moments you’re able to fathom the things that seemed unclear?

I thought Haiyan took away everything from me, but I was wrong. I still have my brother, our loving relatives and friends who've been very supportive and encouraging. And we will be eternally grateful for them. The words “thank you” won’t suffice for the overwhelming support that they have shown us. They were one of the reasons why I was able to cope with everything that happened. They made us feel that we will never be alone in this. Also, Haiyan forgot to take away my resilience and optimism, rather it has strengthened my faith in God and myself. The belief that no matter how uncertain or blurry the future is for me, everything will be alright because I know that I have guardian angels watching over me.

They say after the storm there’s always a rainbow; it thrills me what kind of a big, wonderful, metaphorical rainbow is in store for me considering the literal super storm I encountered a year ago. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

Looking back, typhoon Haiyan taught me a lot of things, things I could never imagine I’m capable of doing. Never thought I would suck venom out of Ate Geo’s snake bite, never thought I can survive the storm surge, I didn't know how to swim, but Haiyan taught me how. Never thought I can walk from Diorico’s bakeshop to BFP, roam around downtown looking for a functional hospital and medication, then walk to Jan Rey Subdivision where my brother and I spent our 2nd night. I learned how to use a mountain bike for the first time, with no practice and mind you it wasn't easy for a short girl like me. It was either I use the bike or I walk again going to the hospital where my brother was being treated. I never thought I could bear seeing several dead bodies just lying on the streets. And lastly, the most important thing I learned is about myself, I never thought I can laugh, go on with my life and be genuinely happy again without the people whom I draw strength from. Sometimes, we are always caught up on doing everything according to our own plans and if it doesn’t work out, we tend to be frustrated and disappointed on ourselves. When something bad happens we worry too much or we let our anger get the best of us, we do not realize that some of the things that appear to be negative actually show us how to realize our Personal Legends. It prepares our spirit and our will for us to take on our mission here on earth.

When I talk about what transpired on November 8, 2013, at the end of every conversation, I can't help but hold back tears of overwhelming joy. Yes, overwhelming joy. I can't help but feel very grateful for everything. I am thankful that there is no inkling of bitterness in my heart despite the great loss. I may have lost my Nanay, Tatay, Kuya, Ate and my nephew, but in the end, I have gained so much more. I am happy to say that it changed me, for the better. I have gained maturity, wisdom, strength beyond my years and love for myself. I am happy that before they passed away they were able to realize their Personal Legends and our family bond grew stronger. Our days spent with each other were filled with joy and contentment and I will hold on to those memories forever. Indeed, nothing in life can call upon us to be more courageous than facing the fact that it ends. But on the other side of heartbreak is wisdom.

There is always a silver lining to everything and the life that I am living and will be living is the silver lining. When I thought that Haiyan crushed my dreams, in reality, Haiyan has opened so many doors for me; it has been a learning experience. I would like to share with you a quote that has made a big impact in my life after Haiyan and I believe we should all live by this saying: “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Now, I refuse to remember November 8, 2013 as the day my family was taken away from me. I choose to remember it as the last day, I served Tatay with a cup of coffee and bananas, the last day I embraced and kissed Nanay, the last day Kuya Tata helped me secure my room by making sure the windows were all shut, the last day Ate Geo said I love you to all of us and the last day I played, tickled and smothered Tarin with tons of kisses. 

Lastly, I will remember it as the day I proved to myself that I AM STRONGER THAN TYPHOON HAIYAN.

This is a story of Joanna Sustento.

# haiyansurvivor
# storyofacceptance
# strongerthanhaiyan
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