Accepting death as part of life

I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.

— Woody Allen, American director

Last Thursday, while having an early lunch at the food court in my housing estate, I was shocked to learn of the death of someone I knew. He was the husband of a woman who operated a kolo mee (dry noodles) stall there.

A young woman, who operated a food stall there, told me the sad news. She said, “Do you know the uncle of that kolo mee stall? He passed away this morning,. Probably because of a heart attack.”

I was speechless for a while. Immediately, I said myself, “Didn’t I see him yesterday morning when I ordered kolo mee for mother?”

Then I asked the young bearer of the sad news, “But he was so thin? How could it be heart attack?”

On Wednesday morning, when I saw the man, who was thin and had lost quite a lot of weight in recent years and looked quite frail, I did not know that was the last time I would see him alive.

It is tiring to operate a kolo mee stall. The holder has to wake up early to get ready the ingredients and open the stall. In business, early bird catches the worm. This is very true in the case of the coffee shops in Sibu.

When I was growing up in Sibu, most of the coffee shops there, especially at Central Road, and in front of the wharf there, opened before the crack of dawn.

This allowed long distance travellers to have their breakfasts before they boarded the buses or express boats.

When I first moved to Kuching, I was surprised to find many food stalls in the coffee shops had not opened by 7am.

Now back to the story of the kolo mee uncle who passed away. It just highlights the importance of valuing everyday as it comes. Life is short for us, human beings. We are here today and gone tomorrow. Now, I have to get used to not seeing that uncle at the kolo mee stall every day.

That uncle was the second person among those I knew to die this year. I was shocked earlier this year by the sudden demise of former New Sarawak Tribune deputy executive editor Jimmy Adit. I walked around in a daze for days after the latter’s death.

The last time I talked to him was when he led the night shift. He told me he was looking forward to taking a break from the office. He had applied for a few days’ leave. None of us knew the break he took would be forever!

We know no one lives forever, that we will all age and die one day. The only things we do not know is when we will die and how.

We expect most people to live to a ripe old age and then die. Just like fruits on the trees. When they are ripe enough, they will drop down to the ground and from the seeds they bear, young trees will spring forth. Most of us are shocked when a person we talk to suddenly dies.

In life, I have experienced the untimely and shocking deaths of close family members, relatives, colleagues and friends.

All have left lasting impressions and impacts on me. When I was a young reporter with Sarawak Tribune, a photographer showed me how to move around Kuching, which was just a city then. We went for assignments; I did the interviews while he took the pictures. I was, I guess, a mutual admiration society.

Then one day, he went on an assignment to Singkawang, a city in West Kalimatan, and never came back. He had asthma and died of breathing difficulties while covering a military story there.

The sudden demise of a close colleague and relatively new friend, who was like a caring brother, was a traumatic experience for me then. Deaths are hard to accept when you are young. I remember writing about my traumatic experience in a column while including a Japanese proverb of “a tiger dies and leaves its skin and a man dies and leaves his name.”

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. My poor heart has taken many more knocks since then. Besides the deaths, particularly of close family members, colleagues and friends, this heart has also been shattered into a million pieces by disappointments and failures in life.

But alas, that is life. Along the way, you learn to pick yourself up, accept the good things with the bad things and move on. Knowing that nothing on earth is permanent, you learn not to be too attached to material things or to people.

Knowing that people around you are not here to stay, you learn to value them and treasure each day you spend with them. You learn to live one day at a time.

This week, my friends, I’d like to leave you with the following quote by Pope Paul VI:

“Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.

— Pope Paul VI