On death, and life

I have recently acquired a new habit. Reading the obituary pages in the newspapers.

I have not reached that age where my friends begin to check out one by one. Maybe not yet, but close enough. I already have a will in case I expire prematurely.

I didn’t think I would have to deal with death so soon. Yes, I’ve had elder relatives pass on, but the Grim Reaper seems to be visiting more and more of the younger ones these days.

Nine years ago, an acquaintance was killed when his car caught fire in front of his house. He left behind a wife and two kids. He was in his 40s.

Some years later I returned from a holiday to find out a business associate had collapsed and died. He was 30.

Then two or three years ago, a friend’s brother-in-law died less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was in his 40s.

A colleague shared about his former business partner who died of blood poisoning. It happened so fast that he did not even have time to say goodbye to his girlfriend in person. He was either in his late 20s or early 30s.

More recently, a friend’s cousin died from lung infection. It started out with a month of on and off fever and coughing. She just turned 40.

Death can happen at any time, when we least expect it. With the increase in crime, irresponsible driving, depression, stress, rage and lifestyle diseases, the probability of untimely death is now higher than ever.

The realisation that life could be snuffed out anytime even led me to write a 5-page ‘I forgive you’ letter to my ex. I was leaving for a holiday after half a year of depression and had to do spill my guts out once and for all just in case I didn’t make it back alive. Or just in case he could sink no lower and decided to call it quits.

Not long ago, my friend Wee wrote to me:

A friend of mine passed away. Dumbstruck.

I thought it was cancer because she had lost a few friends to the disease.

Heart failure. I didn’t even know she was in a coma for weeks. I know this is random – but if you really want to go to Cuba… and you feel like you want to explore freelancing, do it.

An opportunity to visit Cuba and Mexico had come up. I had another trip to a different continent lined up before that but could cancel it and go for Cuba instead. The problem is Cuba is a much longer trip and I would need to take unpaid leave. I’m fine with the unpaid part but we’re shorthanded in the office.

While waiting for my boss’ decision on my leave, I toyed with the idea of quitting my job if he could not release me – then I could go for BOTH trips.

Maybe the stars are aligning. Cuba is at the top of my bucket list and a chance comment on a Facebook post brought me that opportunity.

Perhaps this is the universe’s way of telling me to yank myself out of my comfort zone and pushing me into trying a new place or even freelancing.

While I mulled on that, I asked Wee if she could be a guest writer on my blog and put her positive spin on death.

Six days later, she shared some good news. Her sister had just delivered and she had an angle for her story – death and life.

Wee’s story

Here is the truth: At the age of 33, my life isn’t where I imagined it would be. Once upon a time, most twenty-somethings had a common dream. To grow older into a life filled with cocktails (Cosmopolitans, to be precise), designer shoes (Manolo Blahniks, again, to be precise) and endless nights of bed-breaking nocturnal activities.

Alas, the alcohol-drenched glamorous thirty-something life plugged by the ‘deceitful’ Sex and the City was not meant to be for some. And by some, I mean me. While I am still nursing the damages inflicted by the delusions of my younger days – I find myself thinking about death.

I was in the midst of throwing myself a pity party, when I heard the news: A friend I have not seen in ages has departed from this world. The first emotion I felt was shock. I couldn’t believe it. She can’t be gone, she’s my age!

Grief was the second. (She left too soon…) The third was guilt.

There I was, about to moan and whinge about the unfairness of life when the truth is – we are all dangling from a thread that could break anytime, on a whim.

It felt all too familiar. I had lost another friend, someone close, years ago, and I was fraught with guilt then – I was supposed to mourn her, to focus on grieving for her, not trying to find a goddamn silver lining from the void she had left behind. But the clichéd lesson – “Life is short, make the most of it” – managed to lodge itself onto my thoughts before the next bout of mid-life crises appeared to drive it away.

So here I am thinking about death – why must it take the passing of a friend to make one feel that no matter how unfulfilled one’s 33-year old life is – one must be grateful for every second, every minute she is given to live?

But I believe that the final, parting gift from our beloved departed is that clichéd lesson – the realisation that life is indeed short and we must, we need to make the most of it.

As the cycle of life goes, when there is death, there also is the birth of new life. My nephew arrived in the world, a week earlier than the expected due date. He announces his presence by giving the loudest of cries – and whenever I hear the strength of his voice box, I am filled with optimism – something that often plays peek-a-boo with me.

The cries of a newborn. The memories of the ones who have left me too soon. My clarion call. It is time for me to face this other truth: At the age of 33, it is truly time for me to try to live life the best I can.

Wee is a writer by profession and a fangirl by admission. Check out her illustrated humour book Fangirls Inc. and her insightful and funny ha-ha blog, Conan, Neil and Me.

Fangirls Inc,

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