Let’s talk about death, shall we?
You know, death, the concept of human expiration we are taught as early as three years old when watching Mufasa’s tragic end in the stampede in The Lion King or witnessing a relative’s passing.
The very concept that we know is inevitable but spend our lives avoiding it to happen, in a variety of ways: eating healthy, spending hours at the gym, doing everything necessary, holistically, all in the name of longevity.
The concept that we know will happen anytime to anyone doing anything. It can be slow and painful, or quick and painless. It can shatter a community, a nation, or may not have any effect to anyone.
You know, death.
The word that becomes some kind of a word that should not be mentioned or in an easier term: ’Voldemort’ to Indonesians in general. We almost never say, “Put on your seatbelt, it’s to avoid you being dead in a traffic accident.” Instead, we say shit like, “Put on your seatbelt, so if anything happens, you’re safe.”
If anything happens.
For all we know, this ‘if anything happens’ term is intended to be broad, although there’s a silent convention that it does mean ‘death’ in most cases. And for some reasons, we are gullible enough to think that if we don’t say the actual word, it will never happen to us or those close to us.
I have been thinking about death since the first time I really saw someone close to me died, my grandfather from my mom’s side. Sure I was two years old at the time and did not realize what was going on, but being half Manadonese, whose entire family think it’s normal to document death in the form of photos, I grew up accustomed to sometimes flip through a blue photo album consisting photos of my grandpa’s open casket. I remember thinking, yeah death happens. Ok.
And then pause, for quite a long time, as I didn’t have to think about it much as no death of close relatives happened much.
My next encounter with eternal farewell was with my grandpa from my dad’s side. I was older then, almost in junior high, when he was hospitalized and sick for quite a while. When he died, I saw my dad cry for the first time in my life, and it was not a sight I liked. There I learned that death is not a happy event, no matter what the Bible says; that the one who departs will be in God’s kingdom and will live a happy eternal life. I learned that death releases the suffering of the deceased, but causes sadness to those left behind.
My grandma from my dad’s side died a few years after, when I was already in my teenage years. It was sad, but again I learned a valuable thing which plays a huge part in my future: that I have to take care of my parents until their old age as my parents took really good care of their parents as such. I learned that the phrase “no regrets” is very important and that as a child, I need to be able to say so when my parents die someday, as it will give me peace of mind.
Just a little while after Mbah Putri died, Oma, my grandmother from mom’s side passed away. I was a bit older, ready for university. We were close in her last days, so it was kind of a big blow when it happened. But soon, I was in Bandung, leading a new life as a university student so as much as I don’t want to admit it, Oma’s passing saddened me, but I was distracted. Looking back, I now feel really guilty as my mom must have suffered, not having me around for support.
Death happened very recently in my family, and it took my father away from me for good.
And when it happens to you, to a person so dear and so close, it feels so different. It feels like a claw reached into the innermost part of your entire being and took out half of your soul. It feels like a part of you died with them, a part you try everyday to revive but just couldn’t. The same way the doctor and nurses tried to revive my dad but the line on the monitor stays flat in front of my very eyes. He wasn’t coming back while only hours earlier we were still talking and laughing together.
Unlike the previous deaths in my family, this one affects me the most. Although I think I’m learning something from it, I know I’m still picking up the pieces. I don’t know what lesson to learn from this because all I feel is pain. Pain. And more pain.
Yes, I can say now, that I know what raw pain feels like. All the heartbreaks in the past does not matter. All the failures in class, in my career that I cried myself to sleep about does not matter. This is all the pain in the world known to man, combined. This is why my parents stay up late waiting for me whenever I go clubbing. This is why they call me twice a day when I was studying in a different city. They wanted to avoid feeling what I feel now if something happened to me and I die.
This is why we all worry about things we should not worry about. Because we know, at the back of our minds, that being separated forever will produce nothing but sadness.
But we’re either too proud to admit it, or too scared for it to happen that we deny it by saying “It’s gonna be ok, don’t be so paranoid.” Or maybe in a more religious way, people would say, “Why are you thinking like you don’t have faith in God? Don’t think about death, God will watch over you.”
Do you know that whenever we say this, we dismiss the fact that God has the power to not only watch over us, but also to take our lives whenever He pleases? Do you even realize that by promoting positive thinking a.k.a not talking about the possibility of death, you automatically dismiss the fact that He’s our maker and has the very power to give as well as take lives?
So yes, let’s talk about death openly. We cannot treat death as the huge pink elephant in the room. That it exists but let’s just not talk about it until it finally happens. Because it will happen one way or another, and as much as we avoid the subject, it’s there.
In my religion, death is described as the thief in the night time who would come and take those nearest and dearest to you when you least suspect it. And I stand by this bible verse, because death stole my dad in front of my very eyes, in broad daylight. He was taken when I thought his illness was not serious, as he went through worse phases before. He was taken away from me when I was not as worried as previous incidents.
Indeed, a thief, death is.
From all the heartbreaks in the world, this one takes the cake. Those who are close to me know I bounce back from sadness very quickly, as I am a cheerful person. However this is the one I don’t think I can bounce back from. Ever. This is rock bottom. For the first time in my life, a couple of weeks ago, I uttered the words, “This is fucking hard,” referring to my current life state and actually freaking meant it.
My cousin said to me just now at dinner, “Nights must be hard, huh?”
Nope. It’s the mornings. For the first time in my life, the morning sun only envelopes me with more grief because every single time I wake up, I only realized everything is real and this whole shit is not just a bad dream. I have a hard time falling asleep because I hate the fact that when I wake up, I’d be blue again. It’s a vicious circle, it hurts and I cannot have any medication for it because it’s not physical.
Time will heal, people say. I want to believe it, but I just couldn’t.
Being a normally positive person, I say to myself often: You have two options, to drown yourself in misery or to hold your head high and move on. It worked when I got a C on that project I worked very hard on all semester. It worked when I heard my ex-boyfriend was getting married and I was still single. It worked when I got out of a loveless relationship. It worked when I didn’t get accepted into that company I want to join so much.
But it does not work now. It just doesn’t because it’s my dad. How can I move on from losing him?
People say I should send prayers. I do pray, but will it work effectively if I find myself constantly talking to him in my head, “Oh look Pap, Ahok is losing popularity. Eh Pap, I think Donald Trump is a creep. You know, Pap, I’m gonna try to sleep. Got an early meeting tomorrow.” And I still talk to his photo, “Morning Pap,” every morning before I leave for work, and “Nite, Pap,” every night before I go up to my bedroom to… well, keep myself busy until I finally can fall asleep.
You have to learn how to let go. Ikhlasin aja. These are the most common phrases I hear these days.
Easier said than done.
How can I let go of the memories? I have let the person go physically, and memories of him are all I have. Is it so wrong to hold on to that? Please don’t deprive me of them because they’re all I’ve got now.
I am thankful for technology as now I don’t have to be afraid to forget how he looked like. I can just take a look at his picture and let my chest swell inside, making me breathless because I miss him so much and now have to just be happy with this two-dimensional form of his headshot.
I also curse technology for Facebook, every morning, comes up with ‘Memories’ from years ago. Old photos surface without my consent, and what normally would make me laugh and re-share them, now only puncture my open wound on a daily basis. Yet at times, I feel comforted. It’s a mixed-feeling thing.
So yes, let’s just try to replace ‘if anything happens’ with the word that actually represent the real situation. Maybe if we say it out loud and not treat it like ‘Voldemort’, we’d be more prepared when death approaches those near and dear to us, and maybe ourselves.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense, but it is something to ponder about. I’m asking you to think with me.
It’s entering week 5 without you, Pap. Today is one of the better days, but I still have that lump in my throat, and blurry vision at every mention of your name, whenever I pass places I used to go with you, food we used to share, even TV channels we used to watch and every single silent moment whenever I’m alone.
But it’s ok, I’ll be fine. Eventually.