Of death and dying
In the space of one month, five people I know have passed away — a close friend, a good friend’s brother, a former student, a distant relative and a friend’s father. Four died from accidents, one from natural causes.
Death seems to surround me of late. The cruellest parting was when one of my dearest friends was killed in a biking accident. He and his wife have been my closest friends for more than a decade. Roughly eight years older than I am, they’ve been more like parents to me, seeing me through tough personal, professional, emotional and even financial times. This isn’t the first time I’ve lost someone dear to my heart from a sudden accident, but it was still almost too hard to swallow. His strong wife, who has been with him for almost 20 years and has known him since grade 10, and her willpower are admirable beyond words.
The death of people in your life, whatever the cause, is always shocking. There’s no point in harping on about my heartbreak, the severe depression and psychosomatic reactions that, I assume, contributed to my need for an endoscopy.
Over eight days I attended the funeral, cremation and ash-scattering rites, as I wanted to be around the dearly departed’s wife and my circle of close friends. There, I noticed, learned and scoffed at the surprising reactions of people who thought they were helping the grieving wife.
I thought it would be beneficial to share a few thoughts on what I believed to be common sense, but clearly isn’t. Inappropriate consolations such as awkward, pointless phrases like “he must have been so tired that he decided to part this world” or “he must have been suffering with this life to have left so abruptly” should be forever banned. I saw with my own eyes how it crumbled my friend’s last few shreds of spirit, as she and her deceased husband were possibly the happiest, the most compatible couple I’ve ever met. They led a blissful business partnership and well-travelled life surrounded by great friends and family. No, he wasn’t tired of life, nor was he suffering.
Furthermore, shovelling religious beliefs and superstitious hearsay onto the grief-stricken should be the last thing on your mind, especially if they are non-believers. It might ease your mind, but it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, so you’re best advised to actually get to know the grieving a bit before turning yourself into the saviour nobody has asked you to be. Faith is a private matter, one which can’t be taught — and most certainly shouldn’t be thrown in someone’s face. One must appreciate faith on one’s own terms, not through poorly worded messages or by listening to constant, disturbing talk about the dead’s spirit. Keep your gods with you, and we’ll be all fine.
Send a wreath if you can afford it. I used to think flowers were useless, but attending one funeral after another, I’ve discovered that they help enliven the atmosphere.
Most importantly, those in pain from such losses need the greatest amount of compassion and empathy. It’s possibly one of the most inhumane things to not understand that deaths, especially sudden ones, are most painful to those left behind. You might not know the departed personally, or might think, “Oh, they were just friends". But people have different priorities in life, and for many, myself included, friends are as important as family. What has kept me going during this difficult time is kindness from friends who didn’t even know the deceased. The rare heartlessness I’ve encountered shall be forgiven, but never forgotten.
I’ve learned that many clichés are true. Life really is short, and you have to make the most out of it — you never know when you’ll be gone. Tell the people you love that you love them as much as you can, because you don’t know when the last time will be. I’ve always known these things, but to put them into practise is another story entirely.
I’ve also come to believe that if you love someone enough, he or she will always be a part of you, even if they’re no longer contained in their physical bodies. There’s a piece of your soul that holds on to them, no matter where they are — or where they choose to be — forever and always.
Onsiri Pravattiyagul writes about music and contemporary culture for Life.