Mar 31, 2015

On Death

I've watched and read every eulogy of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew that has been recorded over the past couple of days - albeit with varying degrees of attentiveness. PM Lee Hsien Loong's eulogies (at the funeral service, especially the meditation bit, and at the private cremation ceremony) were extremely poignant, but I think the most touching eulogies were by Lee Hsien Yang (particularly at the private cremation ceremony, followed by the one at the funeral service.)

I have dreamt about my death twice before. The first was when I was young; I had died in the lift of my HDB apartment, my soul floated away from my body and I watched from above as my mother cried over my lifeless body. The second time was a year back? - I dreamt that I only had two days to live, and I spent the time not rushing to meet people, but simply writing many letters. Mum came to me and said "You know what's going to happen, right?" and I simply nodded, at peace.

The annoying fact about death is that it's never just about you. I often say I don't mind dying now if I had to, but I'm often more afraid of others leaving my life. I'm not particularly close to my parents or brother, and I don't even live at home now, but I cannot imagine losing them. I'd probably be in denial for a long time, with bouts of eternally dark pits hitting my heart every now and then, throwing me into inner chaos, before I pull myself back out into denial. Not denial as in believing they're still alive, but it'd take a long time to register that I will never see them again in this lifetime, and possibly forever.

Imagine tying your soul to another's. Your lives join; you vow to live as one. He is your most intimate refuge, your pillar, the hope that covers you, heart of your heart. One day he leaves to get the week's groceries, or goes to meet an old friend. Hours tick by. The sky is dark. Then you get a call, but not from him, and never from him again, ever.

How would you react to seeing a close friend, or your partner, or your family member, lying lifeless in an emergency hospital bed? Maybe I would scream, or shut my eyes and shout angrily. I use sound to drown out reality - when the terrifying fire alarm rings, I scream and cry as loud as I can to drown out the alarm. When I'm walking somewhere dark and quiet, or when I'm haunted by a scary thought, I sing to myself. I probably would hug them and not let go. Letting go means letting go forever. As long as I can still touch their skin, hold their hand, they are still with me.

Then again, I've never been particularly sad at goodbyes, because I've never had to say goodbye forever to something close to me. My friends cried the day we stepped down from the Students' Council, the place where I found home; but I was like "hello, tomorrow we're still all going to sit by the bleachers in the morning. Goodbye is goodbye only when we let it be so." And we have photos and videos and vivid memories. More often, we let people die in our hearts before they actually die. There are just too many people to keep up with, and life goes on.

I often treat breakups like death, and they are in a way. He will never again be the him you knew. You will never again get to hold his hand, or sit with him in the same way. Those memories will always only remain memories. Soon you both become different people.

Perhaps I trivialise it. I've never known the death of a close one. A friend recently almost committed suicide, and I was one of her closest friends, and I had all the power to stop it. I hadn't paid attention to the signs - if only I had bothered to ask how she was doing, paid her a visit, and not be so caught up in my own selfish to-dos. If she had committed suicide in the end, I wouldn't know how to deal with that guilt.

Singapore's founding father, the man who turned the country from a dismal third-world state to one of the world's most prosperous nations in fifty years, died last week. I've never seen him in real life, and I'm not particularly sad about his death, and I don't agree with all he's done, but I am immensely appreciative of where he got us, and of his strength of character. A role model not just for us, but for other, bigger, more powerful nations. A few friends and I attempted to visit the Parliament House on Thursday at 4a.m., but it seemed that the whole of Singapore had that same idea, and the queue's waiting time was 10 hours - we would have to miss a few classes, and Lee Kuan Yew wouldn't have wanted that, would he? I was amused at our national, collective kiasuness. He had built that in us, too. At the same time, we didn't really need to see him - all one had to do was to wake up in their bedrooms, take the train, go to school, appreciate the safety of our streets, to pay tribute.

A friend shared this poem on her Facebook status that I thought was incredibly apt for Mr. Lee's death and Singapore:

Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there; I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow, 
I am the diamond glints on snow, 
I am the sun on ripened grain, 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning's hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die. 

- Mary Elizabeth Frye

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