What nobody tells you about death
We celebrate the birth of life so fervently — from birth, every milestone seems worthy of celebration — we have the 1 month, 3 months baby showers, followed by big birthday parties. We celebrate life so loudly that in contrast, death seems like the hush hush topic that you hold your breath (not too long or you become the topic too hah) and tiptoe around the topic. Both the person dying and the people surrounding the dying, they avoid the topic of death like it’s never going to happen.
So I want to talk loudly about it, because we need to face death head on. Because people need to know that death will happen, and losing people you love is painful, and people deserve to be more prepared than they are right now. I lost my beloved dad 60 days ago. And here are 3 things I learnt about death:
- The best intentions pave the way to Hell — I have seen this play out so many times. First, from the dying: out of good intentions, my dad kept his condition from us for years till he was at his final stage because he thought he could handle it on his own, and that he didn’t want us to worry. Please don’t ever do that to your loved ones, if you love them, tell them the minute you know, so they can problem solve with you, and discuss & decide how they want to spend their time in the next few months/years with you. Second, from the people around the dying: all well-meaning friends and relatives will start dishing out advice, everyone is entitled to their thoughts and beliefs, but please also believe in science and doctors. Because if there’s anything more dangerous than cancer, it’s the spread of false optimism. False optimism is dangerous because it makes a person illogical, my dad started having internal bleeding on Sunday, he puked, but was convinced he was purging toxins and was getting better. We believed too and didn’t send him to the hospital. On Monday, we sent him to emergency unit, and it was too late. Somedays I do wonder, why did he think he was purging toxins, and why did we believe? and if we had called him out earlier, would we have had more time with him?
- Plan for death — to the dying: yes I know that death is a difficult topic to bring up, especially to your loved ones, your kids, whom you feel are not strong enough to face your death. Trust me, they will have to face it anyway, and it will give them more closure if you talked about it. If you are dying, (A) tell them how would you like to pass on, would you optimise for comfort care (ie. no more intrusive tubes etc in your body) or would you optimise to preserve your life at whichever cost, because when you are dying and unconscious and the burden of decision falls on your loved ones, the pressure to guess your intent when they are already in so much distress can be unbearable. Also (B), tell them what you want your funeral to be like, interestingly, after someone passes, everyone seems to start off the sentence with “ i know him / her the best, he would want XX”. It’s no problem if most views align, but I can imagine loads of conflict if the views actually differ. Last (C), but most importantly, tell them all your regrets and gratefulness for life. Tell them, because they would love to know how much you loved them. The last time I spoke to my dad, we asked him “Hey Dad, how do you feel? Do you have anything you want to tell us?” He responded “No, I’m fine! why do you all look like you are in a worst shape than me?” and he went unconscious almost right after. I can only guess, but I guess what he meant to say was — please don’t worry for me my daughters, i love you both. To the people around the dying: if possible, try to chat through the above questions (A-C) with the person, this will help you plan for their death, and let you feel like they have passed on based on how they have intended to, and that you have done everything you can to live up to their intent.
- You think you are ok, but really, you’re not. To the dying: surge is real. One day, you will wake up feeling better than you did yesterday, you will walk further, talk louder, laugh louder, and you think you are miraculously on the road to recovery. Not to dash your hopes, but no my dear, it’s likely not. If you do experience this, treasure this, talk more to your loved ones, use this surge to create good memories, eat your favourite food, but don’t mistake this for a miracle, because, when you start to feel unwell again, you should seek for help at the first instance. To the people around the dying: this mostly applies when your loved one has passed on. 1 week, 2 weeks have gone by, you go through the funeral, you share the death with many people and you stop bawling, and you thought you have normalised the death and you are recovering well, but when week 3, week 4 comes, everything quietens down, and that’s when you realise that hey the person you love is really gone. You get waves of anger and frustration because all you want to do is have another conversation with him/ her, but you realised all that you are doing, is shouting into a void. And, that realisation hurts, so much. Take your time to heal, cry as much as you want, lean on the community you have, see a counsellor so you feel no guild bawling your eyes and sad story out. Prioritise yourself above anything else.
There are many more things I have learnt from this journey, I will write more about them in time to come. But I think, honestly, my biggest takeaway here is — whether you are dying, or am facing a person’s impending death, please communicate, please tell them how you truly feel, and want, and live no regrets. Because you never know when death will strike exactly. It’s not like planning for a c-sect when you can choose a nice date, death always hit you in the most unexpected moments, in days that start of like any other day. So, please just be honest with yourself, and with the people you love. ❤