What is death to me?
It is that your time, has stopped.
Like how an abandoned house will always be in its glory (or ruins), even when new buildings and houses are built.
Like how he would always be 23 years old, even as we grow older each year.
Like a watch that has stopped.
Except that when people (or pets) die, they continue to live in our hearts and minds, as whoever they were.
Like my grandfather.
Let’s call him GP.
My GP had dementia. Having lived with my GP my whole life, he was part of my “family”, my nuclear and direct family. As much as I remember, he was around for all our dinners or lunches, unless he had other plans.
Then slowly, I was losing him. Losing him to dementia. One day, I knew I had lost him. He was not himself anymore. GP started speaking to me in Hokkien. He was not that man who was proud of himself being 80+ year old and being able to speak Mandarin fluently. He called me by my mother’s name. He did not know who I was anymore. The only thing that remained was him asking if I wanted lunch. Around 10pm at night. He was getting his whole life upside down. He was losing the memory of us. He was losing us as much as we were losing him.
I guess GP also knew he was losing himself. He had requested to go to China to visit our relatives there. Then he flew over with my auntie. My auntie had to come back first as she had other commitments. Shortly after, he requested – no, demanded to come back to Singapore. It was the Beijing Olympics 2008 and buying air tickets to and fro China was not the most straight forward. We could not get a flight. He was deteriorating.
At his death bed, he told my cousins and niece and nephew in China that there is a man coming to get him. He was dressed in white and there were two more people with him. He then passed away peacefully in China while my father, uncles and aunties scurried to get air tickets to fly over to settle the last rites. They came back with his ashes. And a photo. Nothing else.
As a 16 year old child (yes I am choosing to call myself a child), I did not understand all of these. I did not understand that I was going to lose him, and that he will leave me one day. I did not get to see him die. All I knew was that he was ageing, and he had dementia. He was just going to China to visit our relatives. And he never came back. I think some part of me always felt that he was still in China.
I did not cry. We had a simple memorial service.
I don’t remember crying about his passing at all, until very much later.
During the day of my poly graduation – 3 years after GP passed – I went home feeling extremely upset that GP did not get to see my do my poly education and see my graduate. I cried. I wailed, to be exact.
There was another few incidents following this – I had seen a child hold her grandfather’s hand, saying “ye ye”, and I couldn’t control my tears. I cried.
I learnt that this is what we call – a complicated grief.
Everyone griefs differently. Everyone sees death and dying differently.
Death, to me, is having your time stopped. Whatever continues is another lease of life, whatever faith or religion you subscribe to.
What is death then to you?