‘We know deep down that life is short, and that death will happen to all of us eventually, and yet we are infinitely surprised when it happens to someone we know. It’s like walking up a flight of stairs with a distracted mind, and misjudging the final step. You expected there to be one more stair than there is, and so you find yourself off-balance for a moment, before your mind shifts back to the present moment and how the world really is.’ Quoted from http://themindunleashed.org/2014/07/10-painfully-obvious-truths-everyone-forgets-soon.html.
It’s a coincidence, or just biased reading, that I came across this quote, a week after a friend passed away from cancer.
I learned about her death on Facebook and had to re-read the post from her Aunt in USA, RIP, it said. I called her sister, one of my closest friends, and she confirmed the news by bursting into tears. I was lost for word. How do I express my sorrow and heartache to my friend? I lost a friend, but she lost a sister and a best friend. It was heartbreaking listening to her sob.
It was expected, yet unexpectedly quick.
Two years ago when she announced that she had cervical cancer, we were all optimistic. Her treatment to eliminate the cancer was successful and we were relieved. Then a year back, during a routine check, they found something in her lungs. She was still cheerful and optimistic. After all, she had a wonderful life to live – a loving husband and son, a supportive extended family, a loyal boss, and a large group of friends comprising old secondary schoolmates.
When we met again in May for a concert, except for her short crop of hair, she was otherwise her old self. I asked how she was, and she replied in a nonchalant tone that she had stop all treatment. ‘Then how?” I could only utter helplessly. She said she would try other holistic treatments like Chinese herbs. It was only after her death that her sister told me that she had been in pain that night and they were worried that she might not last through the concert, but she did.
Her will to live had been strong. But then, I had always knew her to be courageous. She taught her elder sister to drive again after more than ten years hiatus by accompanying her on her maiden drive. It was a slow and long drive and when her sister first related the tale to me, I laughed so hard and admitted I could never have done it. Till today, I still could not sit next to my novice driver sons.
Her wake was a noisy affair, with Buddhists chanting on one night and Taoist prayers the next. She had opted for a while casket and requested that it remained closed throughout. It was a wise choice, for my last memory of her was a that of a smiling woman. Her mother saw me and started sobbing. There was nothing I could say to comfort her except to give her a hug. I couldn’t offer any words to her husband when I shook his hand, nor to her son when we met alone at the crematorium, he holding a box of offerings to his mother. I hope my presence was enough.
It’s moment like this that you start taking stock of life. The Buddhist teaching of suffering, attachment and impermanence come flooding to me. We have to accept the reality of life – death and separation, and live as best as we can. I think of the people around me who complained about their meaningless existence and wished they knew this woman who could have taught them a thing or two.
‘Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside you while you’re still alive.’
Thanks for being in my life, friend.