“Has anyone in your family died?” a nine-year-old girl I knew asked me.
“Was it your grandmother or your grandfather?’ she asked again even as I was thinking of how to reply to her first question.
After I had gathered my thoughts and composed the answers properly in my mind, I replied, “Yes. Besides my grandparents, two of my younger brothers have also died.”
“How did your younger brothers die?” asked the curious young girl.
“One was killed while another died of cancer,” I replied.
I had long put aside memories of my brothers’ deaths but that afternoon I went into the details.
Is a nine-year-old girl too young to be told details of a person’s death? I don’t think so. Nowadays, I find some children are far more mature than their age. Perhaps, it has something to do with their diets or what they see on the Internet or hear around them.
When I was nine years old, I lived proverbially under a coconut shell and had a cloistered upbringing. I seldom talked, too. There was no internet to update me on what was happening around the world.
The nine-year-old girl carried an iPad with her. If she was unsure about the meaning of a word, she would search for it on the tablet. At that age, she already dreamed of becoming a well-known YouTuber!
She continued to ask me, “Are you afraid of death?”
“No,” I replied. “We will die someday. That is why we must live our lives well.”
Actually, what I did not tell her was that when I was young, I was terrified of death or anything to do with dead people.
If a funeral procession passed by, my mother would ask my siblings and I to close our eyes or to look down.
The first funeral I attended in my life was that of my maternal grandfather. There was a lot of wailing and crying and the body lay in state for three days.
Since it was the first time, I saw a dead body, I tried not to sit too close to my grandfather’s body. In life, he was a jolly fellow who loved to tease us. In death, he looked different and was so still.
Years went by and the next funeral I attended was that of my own father. He was accorded a traditional Buddhist funeral. He died at Sibu Hospital at the age of 72 after a short sickness. The funeral rites were strange, at least to me, a Christian. Again, in life, my father was a jovial fellow. In death, he looked different and unlike his old self.
In the following years, I attended more funerals – those of my friends’ relatives or my mother’s relatives. With the passage of time, my fear of death slowly dissipated.
The funerals of my two younger brothers were the saddest I have ever experienced in my life. One of the reasons for the sadness is that both died at a young age.
One passed away at the age of 40 when he was still single; he left for work one afternoon and never came home. One month later, we found his skeletal remains in a drain in Kuching. The trauma my family and I experienced after this brother’s demise remained with us for a long time. Perhaps, it is still there after all these years.
Another brother, the father of one, passed away at the age of 30. A strong healthy man, he was suddenly diagnosed with nose cancer and after two years of much suffering, was reduced to skin and bones before he died. It was heart-breaking to see him suffer and undergo over 30 chemotherapy sessions in the belief he would recover.
Sometimes, we say a person is too young to die. But who are we to say that? All human lives are in the hands of God. He has the power to decide when we should pass on.
Once in a while, we read about the suicide of a young person. He or she is said to have taken his or her life because of depression. But if such a person has ever visited a hospital ward where nurses and doctors are rushing around trying to save a patient’s life, would he or she think twice about taking his or her life, I wonder.
I had an operation once at the Sarawak General Hospital. After the surgery, as I laid in the intensive care unit, I was kept awake the whole night by noises made by nurses and doctors who were rushing around to save some patients’ lives. It made me realise the fragility of human lives.
Some atheists may think that death is the solution to all problems and hence, suicide will end all problems. But for Christians, for whom suicide is forbidden and considered a mortal sin, killing oneself is not the solution to all problems.
No matter how hard life gets, we should all try to make the best of it.
I fully agree with American actress and television personality, Valerie Bertinelli, who once said, “Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy. There’s going to be stress in life, but it’s your choice whether you let it affect you or not.”
So, my friends, I will say to you as I’ve told the little girl, “Do not be afraid of death. Live life well. Value your life each and every day.”
As pointed out by Mae West, former American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian and sex symbol, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”