Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Rethinking death

As men, we are all equal in the presence of death – Publilius Syrus

The meaning of life is that it ends - Kafka

Recently, a very intimate friend of mine is troubled with the future. The thought of a sudden death and his inability to control it sent the chill down his spine. I know he must have agonised over the matter for days before he decided to speak to me. For someone who is not fond of small talk, coming from him means he is serious and he want to know my opinion. He laughed over my reply, probably thinking that like most people, death is a taboo topic to me and best avoided.

There is no doubt that to look at mortality straight is not an easy feat. I used to avoid it, preferring a don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy, hoping that everyone will live to ripe old age. However, all that changed when the sudden departure of daddy dearest two years ago hit me hard. Anger, guilt, grieve and whatever that is associated with sudden death that you can name reverberated in me for months. In its wake, I no longer think that to discuss, acknowledge and plan for one’s death is not an easy feat. As the family gathered to mark the Chinese anniversary of daddy’s death yesterday, I made a mental note that I am going to share what I think about mortality.

I am not joking or trying to avoid the discussion of mortality when I told my friend that I view death as a certain thing that each of us will face one day. The only uncertainty of it is when and we have no control over it. We have all seen an equal share of people who desperately wanted to end their life by committing suicide, people who cling on to life the mechanical way for years and people who leave so sudden without even saying a proper goodbye. As they said, it is all fated. So, who are we, mere mortals to challenge fate? The Malays call it takdir, Chinese say 生死有命。

As a Buddhist, I believe in life after death. I believe in reincarnation. I believe that from where we come from, that is where we return. In the face of the certainty of death, instead spending zillions of brain cells to worry about how the world will be after my departure, I would rather use it to plan for my funeral arrangements, to plan for the people that will remain after me and to plan for a meaningful life on earth. I will also ponder how should I be remembered after I am gone and what are my little contributions to this planet during my tenure here. 

I am not a big fan of the German writer, Franz Kafka and the Kafkaesque world but I agree very much with him that the meaning of life is that it ends. Rather than fear of death, let us find the meaning of life.


  1. 致爱的家人骤然离世,固然会痛。但那毕竟是每个人都得走的一条路,的确没有什么可怕的。我庆幸母亲在世时,我问过了她和父亲,对自己离世后如何安排。我庆幸连她的车头照片,都是我亲自替她拍摄的。唯一的缺憾,是她走得太匆忙,没能留下一句话,心疼她临终前没能吃饱。但是我选择相信,病痛远离她了,她在西方极乐世界了。

    1. Miew Luan,

      Every death is a lesson for us to think further about mortality and how we must appreciate everything while we can. I am saddened by your mom's sudden departure but at the same time, let us be happy that she is now in the Western Paradise.