Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Death and passing

Death is for the old, the wrinkled and the gnarly.

When you've lived past 75, I think one has lived enough.

Or perhaps its past the milestones where one has lived to be married, to have had children, to have seen them grow, to have watched them as they drift away and then come back; to complete the cycle with grandchildren and then to lay down and gasp your last breath.

Death is my great grandmother as she lay in a coffin. As a child no more than 5, I felt guilty thinking I had shortened her life when I made her angry. I know better now. Still, there are times I missed the little thumps my tiny fist made when I pounded her back whenever she asked me to massage her. And giggling with my cousin at her gross burps. By some obscure and unexplainable child's intuition, I knew she loved me deeply.

Death is my grandfather as he lay wasted from stroke and infection from a gangrenous infection. When he became half the man he was, literally as his left side lay limp and figuratively as he seem to give up the fight then. He loved me dearly because I could carry his name and I shunned him when he gave up the fight. A part of me grew frightened by what had become of him and another grew revolted that he gave up. I didn't visit him nor see him for over 3 years. I didn't want to see what disease could do to a man in health and in spirit. It all but squashed the tiny voice who so often asked that I empathised and tried to understand the suffering he went through. If I had gone as my father did in those 3 years to see him, would I have brought him more light? My father did his duty and I didn't. It will haunt me for this lifetime. Because when it finally mattered, I was at McDonalds when I could have gone to his bedside earlier. It is my reminder that death does not keep time.

Death is my granduncle as I held his hand and watch the last of his wheezing gasps...waiting for the inevitable. From the hale and the hearty to the skeletal being on a thin mattress. Counting the breaths now...how many more can he draw? Dignity restored as he lay in his home and not in some cold hospital bed. Thanks for the memories; of you sweeping the tables clean in CNY Blackjack or working tirelessly at your goreng pisang stall deftly slicing the bananas and sweet potatoes, dipping them in flour and drying them to their crisp golden hues.

Death is not the 16 yr old girl who collapsed suddenly on the track in VJC because of a brain aneurysm.

Death is not the bright, cheerful dude who rode my bicycle and then flew over the drunk driver's maroon honda civic.

Nor is death the ex-VS TAF club soccer mate who rode his African Twin round the corner for the last time.

Death is not the friend who plunge into darkness and over the parapet of her HDB flat.

Death is not she with the radiant smile and the newlywed glow whose light was so cruelly snuffed by a most disturbing twist of events.

Death is not me. Not yet. Not when the taxi moved suddenly at the traffic junction and into the path of my oncoming car. Surreal...I could see and feel the impact even before it happened. Heart pounding as I pushed the brakes as far as I could. Faint throbbing as the ABS kicked in...allowing my car to turn at the last minute without skidding. Inches apart from the white merc cab in front. Heart pounding. Guilty for turning the car to the right and placing her in harm's way but that seemed the best course because to the left was a kerb and an embankment. Or was it a reflex to move myself away from danger? Guilt-torn. Heart pounding. It sounds like wardrums in my ears. I know my blood is racing. I want to get down and beat the driver and lash out at him. But I am frozen. The drums beat on in my ears. Still frozen. I am very scared. She is surprisingly calm. Never ceases to amaze me how calm she can be sometimes. We drive on. Shaken but alive. Thank you.

By my own admission, I have led the charmed life. I was bubbly and happy, good-natured and cheerful, crazy and loving life. I lived in a bubble that only the old passed away and the young lived to be old. I have had healthy relatives and friends. Death never came to the young around me. Death's gentle scarring only begin when I was 17 and in JC.

In JC, I learnt that some of my friends don't have two living parents like me. It humiliated and humbled me, that I had been to proud and arrogant to look closely at others around me.

Still in JC, death lashed out and stung me when a younger school mate was taken so swiftly. It made me question my mortality. Death felt very cold then.

In the 2nd year of NS I lost my grandfather. He lived past 75. Death felt like a release for him, for us, for me.

In university, an ex-VS soccer buddy didn't survive riding around a bend when a taxi came. Then a new found cycling friend, by a strange but compelling sequence of events, never did cycle back to the BBQ we planned that day. And most incomprehensible of all, the sweet-gentle project mate, months from graduation who felt the means to an end meant going over. What darkness ravaged her mind, we never knew.

Of late, just 2 weeks prior - the surreal and shocking passing of an ex-schoolmate in a brutal and senseless wave of terror. To have seen and spoken to her just a month ago, knowing she is happily married and successful in her career, only makes everything seem so crazy, unjust, cruel and jars every fibre of my being.

Of late, I spend some minutes perusing the orbituaries. I don't know what I am looking for actually. I only catch myself after I have started perusing. It's one of those activities you used to look at your parents do and wonder why they do such a morbid thing as to stare at dead people's photographs. I chuckle when I do it...but I also face a certain dread. Hoping it is not a face I will recognise.

With each passing death I encounter, I feel more scarred. Each one seems to weigh my heart down a little longer. And as I look back and what could have happened just tonight, when the merc cab suddenly came into my path. It makes me wonder...

"What would it be like at my passing?"

Here goes...

1. My organs - take them ALL. Save for the faulty heart. keke...it murmurs. Dun leave the corneas especially...I dun need them anymore. Just dress me in a nice suit or tux. (much as I love my tees and berms...I wanna go in style)

2. Mahjong - there better be 3 tables and more!

3. Food - its gotta have the best curry chicken served with prata. best cheng tng. roast pork and suckling pig if budget permits. jus get all the damn good food. Everybody should eat well.

4. Most importantly CELEBRATE!

- remember me for my life...and not for my passing. Make noise! Drink and be merry!

(Yes...beer and alcohol should be served...if budget permits. Please dun drink and drive though.)

- Don't come in black. Come dressed to party, to revel.

- Must play music. No slow slow stuff. Rock and upbeat Jazz.

5. And when they finally cremate...must have some indie rock song or slow rock song playing. U2, Coldplay, Travis, Train, Killers, Jets, Maroon 5, Radiohead, REM...etc etc. (Please avoid bubblegum pop like Britney or boybands) Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance...tolerable.

6. Scatter the ashes to sea.

Somewhere where there is only blue water and clear horizons. It is too claustrophoic in an urn. I want to feel the vastness of space at sea, the warm glow of the setting sun or the majestic nature of its early rise...the kind of feeling you get when you spend idyllic days staring out to sea. I want to be under rolling clouds that change hues and let the waves carry me to places I've never seen.

My experience with death is obviously not complete and the last page should be quite an interesting read. A friend recently told me about his friend who was in a coma after a traffic accident. As he lay comatose in bed, he remembered seeing a black figure who asked him,"Do you want to come with me?" and he replied,"NO". I wonder if such a moment will ever come to me and if I would have the guts and the audacity to stave death.

"Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

- Dylan Thomas