25 February 2015

We live, we die

Remember that scene from the 1994 romantic comedy-drama "Forrest Gump" where Forrest returns home to Greenbow, Alabama in the autumn of 1975 to visit his mother who was dying of cancer and where this exchange between mother and son took place?

Forrest Gump:  What's the matter, mama?
Mrs Gump:  I'm dying, Forrest.  C'mon in, sit down over here.
Forrest Gump:  Why are you dying, mama?
Mrs Gump:  It's my time.  It's just my time.  Oh, now, don't be afraid, sweetheart.  Death is just a part of life; something we're all destined to do.  I didn't know it, but I was destined to be your mama.  I did the best I could.
Forrest Gump:  You did good.

How brave Mrs Gump was in the face of impending death.  Thinking aloud, I haven't the slightest idea how I'd carry myself if I were in her position because, until recently, I've never really given any thought to the subject of my own death.  Which is wrong.  More and more frequently I'm finding that I recognise the faces that appear in the daily obituaries - acquaintances, friends, family.  Fact is, death is something many of us choose not to think about until such a time it is thrust upon us.  A friend or relative dies; and it suddenly becomes a subject which cannot be ignored - at least not until we get over the loss.

During the reflective period while mourning, we start to think about our own mortality and the logistical implications in the event we too shed our mortal coil.  Are my insurance premium payments up-to-date?  Have I drawn up a will?  How much have I saved in the kids' college fund?  Will there be enough money to pay for my funeral?  You know, the practical stuff.

Yet invariably after the grieving, we conveniently put all these "unpleasant" questions (and the subject of death) back in their place - out of sight, on the farthest metaphorical shelf in the back of our minds; left there to fester until Death rears its ugly head again - never anticipating (or accepting) that the next time it does so, it could be staring at us in the face.

Which makes me wonder; why are we so unwilling to contemplate or even give a moment's thought about death other than in terms of the practical issues associated with dying?  Why is it that only after we encounter a health scare, a close shave with death or an accident do we change the way we live our lives?  Or worry whether our time is near?  Or whether we've done or seen enough?  Or if we've spent enough time with our family?

More often than not, it takes such an event to befall us for us to realise our priorities and start - or at least attempt to start - living the life we feel we ought to be living; which is kinda sad because putting off thinking about death until we encounter one of those close shaves is a little bit ridiculous in my opinion.  After all, hadn't we known all along that our time on earth isn't infinite?  Personally
, I think the reason we don’t like to think about death is FEAR; fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of not existing anymore, fear of leaving our loved ones, fear of tempting fate - take your pick, but fear is the underlying reason for burying our heads in the sand and (foolishly) pretending that death only happens to old people.

Many people hope - even plan - to live to a ripe old age and die silently and painlessly in their bed surrounded by family members, having already achieved everything they'd wanted to in life.  Well, for most of us, the harsh reality couldn't be further from the truth.  Death can - and does - come at any time regardless of age.  So if we can meticulously plan for our holidays and birthdays, why can't we do likewise for our death - be it natural or sudden?  If we did so, no doubt a huge degree of our fears about dying would be alleviated.  Here I'm not only talking about preparing ourselves for death; you know, the practical stuff.  What I'm saying is that what we do or do not in life is of equal importance in how we view death.

Now think about this for a second; if you were to kick the bucket tomorrow, would you be contented with all that you've accomplished in life?  Have you been spending more time at work than you have with your family?  Have you visited all the places you promised yourself you would visit?  Have you told all the people you care about in life that you love them?  Have you.…[fill in the blanks]?

If after thinking about it you suddenly realise you haven’t yet achieved all the things you had hoped you would - or spent enough time doing the important things that really matter to you - then what are you waiting for?  THIS is your opportunity to do so because sure as hell, we ain't gonna get no second chance, brother!  Look, death is a reality and you - along with everyone else on the planet - will at some point in the near or distant future succumb to its call.  So what’s stopping you from achieving all those things you've always wanted to do?  I say NOW is the time!

Don't waste time fearing death because it is as much a part of life as life itself, and consequently holding on to the fear of dying will only have a negative impact on our emotional state.  Death is only a word we have given to what we perceive as life's end.  No one knows with certainty what happens after death - so it’s an unknown; and one cannot fear the unknown.  In my opinion, what most of us fear is the image our minds have developed around the word.  You know, tales of Hell, or tales of untimely or violent deaths and how painful death can be.  All these have led to a "developed fear" of death.

We'll all experience death only once.  ONCE.  That is a certainty.  So creating - or worse, nurturing - an unhealthy fear about death is needless.  That transition from being alive to being dead is but a momentary instant in time.  We go from one to the other in the blink of an eye.  Or less.  So ask yourself this; is it worth spending weeks, months or even years of our precious life worrying about that one fleeting instance?  Wouldn't all that time be more productively spent on at least trying to achieve our goals and experience life’s many wonders than on worrying or being fearful about that split-second event which we have little or no insight of (and even less control over)?

I mean, of course it’s very sad to lose a loved one.  But the loved ones we leave behind are as much a part of life and its cycles; and consequently are subject to (and in need of) experiencing life’s emotional tribulations - including grief.  It’s all part of living and if they’re never exposed to grief and loss, how can they mature emotionally and discover their own mortality?  We should let this fear go, trust and allow nature's cycle of life and death.  Death is as natural as life.  Releasing this fear will serve us well - both in life and in death.

It's rather silly really; fearing death achieves nothing and causes us to struggle in the here and now.  Instead, I think we ought to take some time to think about how we personally feel about death - death as a whole and also our own death.  Once we're aware of where our specific fears lie, I think we'd be in a much better position to finding a solution to each and acting on them.  We live, we die; accept the fact, do whatever need to be done now and I've no doubt we'll be less fearful of dying.

In his first inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”.  I think this sums up quite nicely what we're dealing with here.  Oftentimes our fear is supremely more burdensome than what we think we’re fearful of.  So what's the point?  I'm not saying I'm not guilty of being fearful of death; but at least I've accepted the certainty of not living forever and probably even not waking up tomorrow.  And it has helped - both mentally and spiritually.  I fear death less; so much so that what I fear most about dying these days is to come back reincarnated because, honestly, having weathered life once is enough.  We live, we die.  Chill.

P/S  I didn't know him very well - hardly so - and used to address him simply as Mr Liew.  He was one of my customers; a fine, fine young man who lost his battle with the Big C at the tender age of 30.  His untimely demise raised many questions in my head and changed my outlook on life as a whole.  I hope you're reading this, Mr Liew, because I'm dedicating this  blog post to you.  Rest in peace.


  1. Very thought provoking. Again, great writing V, x

    1. Thank you, Sara. One of my more "serious" posts. Love hearing from you.

  2. Yes well done Vincent. I think dying at an old age is easier to accept than at an age when life should be peaking. The older you get the more you do dwell on it, but it's really a waste of time. Enjoy it until the last breath.