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A group embrace to cope with tragedy


Jimson Ong, HUGS founding member, lights a candle in front of the photo of his son, Lander, who died of dengue in 2009. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Jun Uy felt his world falling apart when his son Zach died from dengue fever in 2008. He could not move on and he needed to talk to other parents who also lost a child to the disease.

When a friend finally referred him to Senior Supt. Anthony Obenza and his wife Bella, whose youngest daughter, Duchess Jahara, 9, died in 2007, they decided to form a group with seven other couples to help people cope with the tragedy.

Thus, HUGS was born in 2009, and its members believe that they would be able to hug their children again in the next life.

“I know I will see my daughter. See you soon, my princess,” said Obenza, chief of the Philippine National Police Aviation Group in Iloilo.

“I miss my baby so much,” Uy, 51, administrator of Treasure Island Corp. Reclamation Office, said as he recalled his “devastating” loss.

Like Uy, Obenza was looking for parents who could help him recover. “Slowly, my wife and I tried to contact mutual friends for help in finding parents [in a similar situation],” the HUGS president said.

Uy, who was chosen as vice president for external affairs, said the support group wanted other parents to realize that death is not the end of everything. “Our main goal is to help other parents overcome grief by comforting them, talking to them and making them realize that there is more to life than grief,” he said.


The group now has 14 couples as members, coming from different walks of life. It meets regularly with psychologist Joanne Antiquina, who conducts free lectures and counseling.

According to Antiquina, grieving is a highly personal experience that takes time, depending on one’s personality, coping skills, nature of loss, life experience and faith.

“For some, it may take less than a year or two or three years, but for others, it may take much longer. During special occasions, emotions are so intense that [it’s] enough to knock them off,” she said.

“HUGS as a support group plays a very important role, especially during those times when the emotions are so overwhelming and debilitating,” she explained.

Uy said that sharing his heartaches to other people and hearing their stories had made him realize that he is not alone.

“It’s really hard to let go and move on. But I’m very glad how listening to other people handle their problems made me realize that life does not end with death,” Uy said.

God’s miracles

A year after Zach died, Uy’s wife, Norie Ann, gave birth of a healthy boy they named Zigg. “God really does miracles,” Uy said.

The Obenzas also continue to bond with their three other children—Earl, Lord and Lady.

The fact that they are helping other parents go through what they have experienced is a miracle in itself, Obenza said.

On Dec. 9, HUGS joined the 16th Worldwide Candle Lighting, which is held every second Sunday of December and participated in by over 50 countries.

Over 30 families joined the candle-lighting activity at Plaza Independencia in Cebu City. One of the parents was Renante Pique, 42, whose daughter, Ellah Joy, was kidnapped and killed in February 2011.

“I joined HUGS because I know they will understand me and help me accept the death of my daughter. Let’s pray that they (the children) are happy,” Pique said.

“This is a way to let our departed children know that we have not forgotten them,” Obenza said.


Those interested in getting in touch with the group may contact Jun Uy at 0916-211112 or (032) 4129103.

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