A green door is propped open on King Street in the Chinatown International District (CID). Inside, a turntable playing Filipino love songs drifts gently into the street as sunlight filters through the window plant terraces onto warm wood furniture inside. In contrast to a neighborhood of closed doors — indicating privacy, safety, vigilance — this door invites passersby inside.
“A lot of people come in here, unassumed,” said Derek Dizon, founder of A Resting Place, a new grief and loss cultural center now open in the CID. Dizon is a local bereavement clinician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and community organizing program manager at API Chaya.
“They don’t realize this place is a grief and loss support center. When people do [realize], it’s a mixed bag. Some people walk in because they’re immediately attracted to the plants. Some people will say, ‘Oh, this is not for me.’ And I’ve seen people take people away.”
Dizon recalls another moment which occurred when a curious visitor walked in after getting dim sum at Jade Garden. After introducing her to the space, she started to tear up, sharing how she just met with friends of her mother, who had recently died of cancer.
Grief is a part of everyday life in the neighborhood, said Dizon.
“It’s not just when you go to your counselor; it’s not just when you experience the death of a person. It’s not just at the memorial or at the funeral. We can experience grief at any moment of our day. I want this space to be representative of the everydayness of the way in which we continue to move through loss.”
A legacy of grief as transformation
Inside A Resting Place, there is a framed poem by Gwen Flowers called “Grief.”
.“Grief is not something you complete / But rather, you endure / Grief is not a task to finish / And move on / But an element of yourself — / An alteration of your being / A new way of seeing / A new definition of self,” it reads.
This poem is a testament to Dizon’s belief that grief is transformational. Just like the poem, Dizon rejects the notion that grief is something one supasses to get to the other side. There is no other side, Dizon said, just a version of you that is transformed by grief.
“My mother was murdered when I was four,” Dizon said. “Ever since then, I have thought to myself: What is this about? Where am I finding my life story, in the mix of my mother’s legacy and my mother’s story? For a long time, I’ve been just looking for meaning in this experience of mine. And the thing about surviving death or grief, is that oftentimes, there really is no explanation as to why we experienced things. Or why people in our life die.”
Dizon’s mother, Phoebe Dizon, 46, and Veronica Laureta Johnson, 42, were attending the divorce trial of their friend Susana Remerata Blackwell, 25, at the King County Courthouse on March 2, 1995 when all three women, including Blackwell’s unborn daughter, were killed by Blackwell’s estranged and abusive husband.
Phoebe Dizon was a community organizer, although her son said she never called herself one. Her friendship with Remereta taught Derek Dizon about the unique power of relationships.
When Remereta Blackwell first came to the U.S., she didn’t know anyone outside of her abusive marriage. Through mutual community from Masbate Island in the Philippines, she became connected to Phoebe Dizon, who advocated and connected her to local domestic violence resources, and even opened her home as a refuge of support and safety. Phoebe Dizon created spaces for connection. She loved to bring people together through food and celebration, her son recalled.
Everything his mother was, Dizon hopes A Resting Place can be.
“So much of my grief obviously stems from her death, but as you can see, it has transformed.” Dizon said. “Everything you see in this space is really grounded and rooted in my memory of my mother. I do so much work because, and for her. And about the transformational aspect of grief — this place is living proof that it can be transformed.”
Step inside A Resting Place
A Resting Place is located at 670 South King Street, in the center of the CID neighborhood.
Near the entrance is a community altar, hosted inside two wooden Chinese curio cabinets. Situated among the cabinet shelves, between twinkling flameless tea light candles, are handwritten names accompanied by photos of deceased loved ones.
Adjacent to the front desk sits a grief library: a bookshelf filled with novels, short stories, poems, and children’s books about loss, as well as local and national therapeutic grief resources. In the back corner is an art table supplied with blank postcards, watercolor materials, and tissues, framed by a canopy of indoor plants and greenery.
The activities and materials throughout the center help facilitate introspection, primarily through emotional engagement and creative expression. Despite the variety, Dizon emphasized that there are no rules here.
Visitors can come into the space to participate in all of them, or none of them. In any case, they are encouraged to focus on their grief and self-reflection, whatever that may look like for them. Alternatively, visitors can also come in if they’re looking for someone to talk to.
There are few local places that actively welcome grief, said Dizon. A Resting Place represents an effort to change that.
Since A Resting Place’s grand opening this summer on June 10, Dizon has hosted multiple events and collaborations, growing the center’s presence and listening to community on how they’d like to utilize the space. He was even asked to host a memorial service, a surprising request which he was honored to host earlier this fall.
Another A Resting Place initiative is called BARANGAY, a series of events that explore grief through cultural work. Programming includes a Griever’s Market, which spotlights local artists and organizers sharing how their expressions of grief present through their crafts. The series also featured an evening of Philippine love songs performed live by band The Barriotix.
Roger Rigor, vocalist and harmonist of The Barriotix, is a Filipino elder who was in attendance at the courthouse trial on the day that Remerata Blackwell, the elder Dizon, and Johnson were killed. Since that tragedy, Rigor has developed a special connection with the younger Dizon. The elder is currently providing Dizon with Tagalog language lessons.
“I have known Derek since he was a kid. We go a long way back,” Rigor said. “I am seeing how he has become. Wow, such a person. So, this is a story within the story. He’s continuing his journey of giving back in the way of someone who has a deep understanding, deep appreciation, and deep love for the community.”
The Barriotix is a six-part acoustic and traditional folk group whose songs honor the historic 19th and 20th century genre of Philipinne Kundiman. Kundiman originates from a time period when Filipinos could not openly protest under Spanish colonization and occupation. Though these outwardly were love songs to people and the land, they also disguised undercurrents of protest.
For Rigor, his performance with The Barriotix is tinted with nostalgia for his homeland.
“The thing that struck me was the intimacy of the moment,” Rigor said about his performance at A Resting Place on November 3.
“The way the place exuded a lot of nostalgia. Lush with a lot of green vegetation. It reminds me of back home, where there’s a lot of trees. When you get into that kind of state, you also wonder about the current status of the environment when there’s not that many of those trees anymore.”
A Resting Place’s emphasis on cultural work stems from Dizon’s longing to connect with his ancestors and heritage. For Dizon, his mother represented his culture. Engaging with cultural work helped create meaning in his personal grief, and even activated his sense of purpose.
“I would say my art has brought me closer to my people, which then in turn has brought me closer to my mother. Connecting with my people also meant understanding our history,” he said. “Understanding our Filipino history meant understanding histories of colonialism and imperialism, and how that impacts the land, the people, and the ecosystems of the Philippines.”
Tracing the footsteps of our CID ancestors
A Resting Place is nestled alongside the boba shops, restaurants, and corner stores of the CID, as Dizon intended. This neighborhood — multicultural, intergenerational, and historic — was the perfect location to open A Resting Place because of its strong diasporic network.
For Dizon, it goes both ways. A Resting Place was created for the CID, as much as the CID is why A Resting Place exists.
“To me, it’s really important to have an offering like A Resting Place, specifically in this neighborhood that has and continues to witness a lot of grief,” Dizon said. “Whether that’s grief in relation to displacement, whether it’s grief related to actual community members in this neighborhood that have passed on, it was really important for me to have a support center that addresses specifically the ways in which we experience loss.”
Dizon continued: “This neighborhood experiences loss all the time; this neighborhood was created because of loss.” He named its history of displacement, racism, and neglect as examples of grief, as well as the timeless loss and separation of the immigrant experience.
Today, these individuals are the ancestors and elders of the CID. Dizon’s great-grandfather, Teodoro Degracia, was one of them. He was an Ilocano laborer, who came to the U.S. during its occupation of the Philippines in search of economic stability.
“What I’ve noticed is that many of our elders aren’t able to take the time to reflect and think about how trauma shaped their life.” Dizon said. “And that’s not necessarily a judgment. But more to bring it in context of when people are experiencing oppression on a daily basis. It’s hard to pause and reflect on who you are, or how your life has impacted you.”
Dizon sees introspection as a responsibility for future generations, who he said have the privilege to heal from historical trauma that our ancestors previously experienced, even if they may not be alive. The focus of our elders was not healing, it was survival, he said.
In the 1930s, Degracia lived above Tai Tung, just across the street from A Resting Place. Dizon is walking in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, a connection he finds symbolic and meaningful.
“I think about my great-grandfather. What was happening in his grief?” Dizon asked.
“Did he feel mourning or loss having to leave his homeland? Did he experience mourning or loss when he had to leave his children and his wife behind? I don’t know. But to have me as his descendant here, and open up a space that directly talks about making the connection around the loss related to migration, and the loss related to personal death, my hope is that maybe somewhere in the cosmos, somewhere in this spirit, maybe that reaches him. I hope so.”
Navigating a future of uncertainty
Despite growing community momentum, the future for A Resting Place next year is uncertain.
Dizon volunteers his time to run the center and funds its operation costs out of his own pocket. A Resting Place is free to enter and its resources are available to everyone. A sign is placed at the front encouraging donations. His baybayin calligraphy prints, displayed throughout the space, generate a small amount of revenue, but not enough to run the center.
Next year, A Resting Place’s rent will rise significantly.
Dizon is hoping to establish a more sustainable business model by obtaining local fiscal sponsorships, partnerships, and individual donors. He’ll soon launch a 2024 giving campaign to raise funds toward the center’s operating costs, allowing it to remain in the CID for a long time.
“My goal is to raise at least $12,000 to $20,000 for next year’s programming because then I can maybe even pay myself,” he said. “I’d love to pay an intern. I’d love to fly in people from across the country to host workshops. I want to make the space available for people to do more memorials.”
Dizon named this space after the Tagalog word himlayan, meaning “a resting place for the dead.” However, the English translation functions as a double entendre: a resting place for the mind and spirit. A Resting Place allows the community to find this meaning for themselves.
“Grief calls us to find meaning in every aspect of our life, even the things that maybe don’t seem really important,” said Dizon. “I think that’s what grief has taught me. To find meaning in different aspects of my living life.”
A Resting Place is located at 670 South King Street, operating out of Biōm, and open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Friday and from 12 p.m. to -2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to -7 p.m. every Saturday. Follow them on Instagram @arestingplace.sea. To support A Resting Place, Dizon accepts donations to A Resting Place via Venmo @arestingplace
This story was produced in partnership with our media sponsor Communities of Opportunity, a growing movement of partners who believe every community can be a healthy, thriving community.