Death matters

What does death mean to you?

Growing up, I was terrified of death. I hated the thought of lying still in a box while the world went on without me. I feared losing someone and wondered what it meant to be dead. As a practicing Catholic, you wonder, do you go straight to heaven or hell? Is there no after life at all? As you grow up you simply…wonder.

Life and death
Death and life matters

At 15, I lost my dad unexpectedly to a heart attack. I was more lost than shocked to say the least. I had seen death before but this wasn’t comparable. I couldn’t believe losing the man I saw the previous day, healthy and living his life in the truest sense. I couldn’t believe losing the man so close to me. And yet, death creeped in and took over our family. Processing everything at that age wasn’t just hard, it wasn’t something I saw coming. One minute you’re happy and leading a perfectly normal life, and in the next you’re lost and grieving. You don’t know if you should cry or be strong. You barely have a moment to mourn because you’re busy making the calls and funeral arrangements.

I still remember, when I first got the call, my heart was racing and I stood there staring blankly at the person that struggled to let me know about what had happened. They were shaking, I was shaking. I couldn’t cry; I didn’t cry for the longest time. I was in denial, wouldn’t you be? How does someone with so much life and love crumble under the blanket of death just like that? God has his plans, they said. What plans? Was it to tear families apart and leave this darkness looming over?

In that moment, I hated God. I hated myself. I questioned my faith and whether God even existed. And if He did, what were his plans after all? Like a robot, I picked up the phone and dialled my family and close friends to let them know what happened. It was all mechanical with a few words and sobs at the other end. The world seeming to care so much about someone you just lost. At one point, it even seemed like they grieved a lot more than you did. For a minute, I wasn’t sure if I was even grieving right.

Time heals they say. But if there’s some thing I’ve learnt in all of my 23 years, it is that change is constant and time is a lie. 20 years or 20 minutes since your loss, your pain always stays with you. It probably buries itself deep down under your thoughts and memories but it’s like this little fire in the dark, always burning. You will learn to be more okay with it than you would have imagined. Maybe even embrace it. Some may find that weird but that’s okay as long as you’re okay.

To date, I don’t know how to console someone because I know there is no way. “I’m sorry for your loss” – the standard line always said at funerals. Are we truly sorry? Most times, it angers you more than it comforts you. Your insides scream that they’ll never understand but we’re wordly beings and we conform to what society expects of us.

Eight years later, every detail is still so fresh in my mind because time is a lie and we haven’t moved forward since. I’m still living 22 June 2008, and reliving it. Today, he would’ve been 60. No, he could’ve been 60. But I’ve learned to cope and I’ve grown so much since.

You try so hard to remember the last thing you said to the person who lies still in the morgue. In that moment, you learn that death comes with no warning. It sweeps in out of nowhere and leaves you out cold. It’s heartbreaking to experience the death of a loved one but in time you simply move on. You learn to laugh again. You learn to live without them. In the light of this one experience you learn that death will happen to you no matter what and you won’t be able to control it. You realise that fairytales are only made for the screen and there’s no secret portion to change the inevitable. You learn to embrace the unexpected – because death is better than suffering and hurting, and is in some sense your own path to freedom and peace.

I also learned that each person has their own coping mechanisms and we as society ought to respect that. Some may cry while some may laugh. Some may mourn for weeks while some may resume work the next day. Isn’t it after all personal? It’s sad how even in times of grieving, we as humans, fail to respect the death and loss that one’s dealing with. We assume the right to judge families and friends as we sit by the church pews pretentiously crying our hearts out. Is that what death is about? Isn’t life then a lot more painful and pretentious?

So again, what does death mean to you?

Today, I’m okay with death. Not because it’s normal but because it’s inevitable and is just as much a part of life as is your heart beating. Death takes you to a place beyond human imperfections and misery. It’s hard but necessary, and we can’t and shouldn’t wish to escape that.

We needn’t go as far as the increasing terror attacks or climate change to assume the worst; life is painful with our petty mindsets and attitudes as is. Our very being often contradicts the way we were meant to live – healthy, spreading love and living in peace and harmony.

Today I’m okay with death in a way to celebrate the life that once was. Yes, it hurts and yes there will be this void until I’ll be no more myself. But what’s the last thing you remember about your loved ones: your parents, friends, partners, siblings or children? You miss the good memories and fear not having them anymore. This is why you grieve. It is the void that you fear. It is the love and laughter that you will miss. And if that’s true, what would they want for you? To miss them sure but more importantly, to be happy for them and with them (through your countless fond memories).

Life too, like death, is complex. Eight years later, I’m not so scared of death anymore. For me now, death is an occasion you celebrate. Not as good riddance or a relief, no. It is an occasion to remember the life that once was. It is an occasion to celebrate the memories and person. Death to me is your moment of truth. It is when you’re remembered for who you were during your lifetime – the good and the bad. So in the end, everything you do leads up to this big day.

Death is good because it reminds you to be good and that you should always be at peace with your conscience. Death is good because it reminds you to be prepared. Prepared not for the after life but for the life and legacy you leave behind. Be prepared because in the end you want to be satisfied with what you leave behind – chaos or comfort.

What does death mean to me?

At 23, still a practicing Catholic, I’ve come to believe that our heaven and hell is right here right now. It is what we create for ourselves. I’m not as terrified of death anymore. I’m simply…prepared. I will grieve, I will sob, I will hate but I will be okay because I will be prepared.

What does death mean to me?

Death is telling those that matter to you how much you love them. Often if not everyday. Death reminds me I need to love and respect myself. Death is about knowing myself. Death is about being at peace with myself and those that matter, through the chaos and confusion of life. Death is my entire life flashing before me in a second – death to me…matters.