Yet another essay for English Proficiency.
I see death everywhere. Death in books, death in the movies, death in the news. Of course I cried when O-lan died from the ‘pain in her vitals’ in The Good Earth. Of course I blubbered when I watch Jack freeze to death in Titanic. Perhaps I sympathised when I see people my age suffered brutal, accidental deaths in the news. But despite my tears, I know that I am only experiencing a feeble form of that intense, unadulterated feeling of grief and anguish that succumbs a person when someone she cares for has died. Like Franklin from Fair Stood the Wind for France, I simply see death as a form of absence.
I lead a very sheltered life. It’s a blessing I seldom appreciate that Death has so far evaded me and the people I care for. It’s amazing really that in my whole 21 years of living, I have only been to one funeral, which is my maternal grandfather’s. My other grandparents have died either before I came into existence or when I was a baby. It’s even more amazing if you know I have two paternal granduncles that I am fairly close to aged 80 and 88 years old.
That does not mean nobody in my life had made the trip to see his Maker. There are the occasional deaths of distant relatives but my father was always the sole representative of my family at the funerals. My mother would sporadically attend a funeral of one of her acquaintances from the jogging or mahjong posse. This year alone, an ex-schoolmate and his mother has died, as well as another ex-schoolmate’s father.
Yes, the fact that these deaths do not affect me personally does not elude me. It’s no surprise that funerals should intrigue me, then, because I barely experienced it. Seeing a hearse driving slowly past the street is a source of fascination, not just because I am nosily wondering who has died, but also for the reason that I am craning my neck at the window to see the car plate number for my father to buy a lottery number.
Naturally, the lack of deaths – or shall I say, meaningful deaths – in my life has provided me with a sense of false security that Death is far away from me and my loved ones; more mundane and trivial issues definitely take precedence over this when I devote my mind to brooding before slumber. But one fine day in May, a phone call from my father asking for my mother in an unusually quiet voice (for he is unceasingly loud on the phone no matter what the situation is) was an ominous sign. Of course, my false belief has rendered me pretty much oblivious to the signs. Then my mother worriedly told me that he was hit by a van while trying to cross the road. The impact of speeding van has caused him to be flung ten feet away from that little spot of gravel he was standing on in Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Incredibly, he managed to drive himself to the hospital for treatment, before driving home. To see my father, who despite his 59 years was perpetually in the pink of health, limping excruciatingly like an arthritis-plagued 90-year-old man without his walker, petrified me. I instinctively did what I always do when I could not face reality: I avoided him all evening. I only dared sneak a peek at him when he retired to bed. The simple activity of climbing up the staircase which had taken him only seconds to do the night before now took several agonising minutes as he struggled one painful step by one more painful step.
It really hit me then that I could have lost him. This man who is so healthy, so dependable, whose mere presence comforts me, suddenly looks so vulnerable, so frail, so mortal. Lying in bed that night, I cried as I asked myself, “What if? What if?”