If there is something I have learnt from my early twenties, it is that you can never be fully prepared for any scenario.
You can imagine and re-imagine living life without a particular person in a bid to prepare yourself for their death. And then the inevitable happens, and you still find yourself lost.
Routines are disrupted as people are forced out of their beds at 2 in the morning when the hospital calls and gently recommends that family members come visit. Several hours later, everybody goes into a flurried frenzy applying for leave and making calls for funeral arrangements.
The more experienced ones move like clockwork as they go through various procedures with almost surgical precision. Others, like myself, fumble through each ritual.
Each practice has a symbolic meaning, but I was not brought up to understand its cultural significance. Ultimately, I understand that the main gist of it is to reaffirm the significance of the deceased in the family, offer final respects, and prepare them for a blissful afterlife.
It has only been a day but everyone is already pale with exhaustion – There is so much to do, so much to account for. I wear what I am given, I bow when I am told, I kneel when I am told. I refrain from saying “goodbye” and “death”. My hands are stained from rolling kimzua ingots.
Each bag of kimzua, folded and ready, is almost cathartic. It is easy to be lured in by the assurances that rituals bring. But to me, funerals are for the living, and not the dead.
The doctors define life as brain activity, or pulse. But in my opinion, breath is not truly life. With months of travelling to and fro the hospice, weekend after tireless weekend for months on end, we have witnessed the slow but sure deterioration of the physical body. Life is not about being constrained to a bed and being fed liquids periodically, unable to interact with others.
At the wake, Mama said that we did not need to bring his walking stick, among other belongings. “不需要了。现在让他好好走。” (No need for that, he can walk properly now.) In his last gasping breaths, death was more of a release.
Death of a family member really forces you to put your life into perspective. What does it mean to live, what does it mean to lose?
I’ve accepted that death is an eventuality, but the loss creeps in during pockets of time when I am no longer occupied by the demands of the funeral.
As a rational individual, I understand more than anything that life is always in transition. Birth, sickness, old age, decay and death. My father said: “If daddy is like this next time, don’t feel sad. It is part of the stages of life.”
So why the slow weight that settles upon my chest?
When I am alone, I look at photographs on my phone and it does not hit me like a wave of bricks. The memory reel plays – It is a series of flashing images and sound in my head.
I struggle to even post a photo caption. I take to wordpress, but it is no better. I have no clear narrative of what I am trying to say and end up waxing lyrical about vague concepts of death and how the living cope with it.
Have I always been this creature of sentiment? Possibly. But something that I am certain of is impermanence and transience. The yellow dye on my hands will fade, the funeral garb will eventually be stowed away and forgotten, and we will get used to living without him.