Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Speaking of Death

Death is a sensitive/funny/threatening/universal/common subject and yet each individual deals with it in different ways. Songs have been written to portray death's tragic residue, whilst films have been made to celebrate the life that was once in its place.

Don't Save These Conversations for a Rainy Day

I remember being ten or so and sitting at the end of my great grandmother's coffin. There were two candles on either side, each decorated with its own stream of melting wax. For what felt like a long time, I sat in the foldable chair, wicking off the wax from one of the candles. Peacefulness showered over me as different people pass by. Somehow my behavior shielded me from any social interaction, therefore sparing me from any comments or "sorry"s from those who came. I listened to the chatter around me, zoning in and out of particular conversations. Although I visited her quite often, I never really knew my great grandmother that well, and yet there I sat, waiting for her to pass, even though she was clearly dead. Like a cat at the foot of the bed, I stayed, feeling the warmth of the wax between my fingers, and seeing the candle flickering under the sunlight.

A few years back, her husband, my great grandfather had passed. My parents said that I screamed and yelled not to be brought any closer to the room where he laid. I must have been four or five years old. All I could remember was the darkness of the parking lot and a strobe of green light coming from a point in the distance. Oddly, I have maintained an image of the man sleeping in his casket. An air of mysticism surrounded his death as older relatives recalled specific memories and experienced several dreams following my great grandfather's departure.

As a teen I experienced another death in the family. My other great grandmother passed. Instead of sitting in a corner or kicking and screaming, I mingled. The entire thing was more of a comedy than a tragedy. It seemed that no one really had any fond memories of the woman. I wasn't even sure that she knew and remembered my name. Her funeral was filled with nostalgia, as different family members finally got to reunite. Judging by the food, the laughter, and the amount of gossiping that took place, her death felt more of a celebration than a calamity.

Rose Petal Emotions
Two years ago, I lost my grandfather. After being born to the world with three great grandparents and four grandparents, I finally began to see my world crumbling. I received the news in the Fall, just as I began my first year in college. The man had been sick and crippled by fear. He no longer remembered who I was. Many thought that he suffered from dementia or alzheimer's disease. There was nothing I could do. I had no choice but to stay put and handle all of my classes and assignments as if nothing had happened. Of course, I did make an urgent call to my don and broke down in his office. But I didn't really confide in any of my friends or family members, except for one. The baggage felt fleetingly heavier and heavier, until it was suddenly taken off me. The entire ordeal was far from ceremonious. It lacked a beginning, middle and end, unlike previous deaths in my life.

All of these deaths occurred on my mother's side of the family, where death is accepted as a fact of life. Unlike the other side of the family, my maternal grandmother, mother and uncles talk about death in a matter-of-fact fashion. The conversation lacked sentimentality that was so evident amongst my father's relatives, where death is not to be talked about. Somehow, I think, talking about death made it much easier to experience it. I was prepared with a plan of action that somehow distracted me from the actual passing of a loved one. Consciously acknowledging its presence also made it more real and inevitable, and therefore easier to accept. Even so, one's perspective on death, as I have experienced, is fluid. How we feel about one person's passing will most likely differ from how we remember another person's death. In some ways, different elements coexist and culminate into an authentic experience that demands different treatment and emotions.

As hard and ridiculous as it is to say, deaths can bring families together. Yes, we are supposed to mourn but we are also supposed to celebrate. There is nothing that we, as human beings can do, once someone has passed. Sometimes all we can do, really, is to sit around with a hot cup of tea or plastic glassed water and tell stories, both funny and sad. Somehow, for me, the act of recollecting and sharing with other loved ones, who have yet to die, and even those awkward silences in between stories, heals the wound.

Death is inevitable, yet it provides us with a deck of cards that waits to be shuffled.

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