Death, The Pain It Brings and Their Lessons



Perch_Nick Coombs(Source : Nick Coombs from Free Digital Photos)

This week, two people I know wrote about one same topic : death.  The first is “Mourning My Mother” in The Straits Times by Dr Lee Wei Ling (daughter of Singapore’s Minister Mentor Mr Lee Kuan Yew and hence well-known to all Singaporeans) who remembers her mother who passed away a few weeks back.  The other: a post by my close friend Sam from Work and Wok, who reflected upon the death of her husband’s (whom I also know very well) grandmother, how we often take for granted people that are closest to us.

Dr Lee brought tears to my eyes; Sam stirred up old emotions in me.  Both stories are familiar to me, because they were once mine too. 

Compared to most of my peers, I experience the pain of death and losing a loved one much much  earlier.  My mother died of lung cancer some 6 years ago.  It was a sudden loss.  She was never a smoker and had always advocate a low-fat and low-salt diet.  Except for the occasional coughs and colds, she had never had any major illnesses.  Hence, when the doctor told us that she was suffering from late stage lung cancer and had at most 6 months to go, we were struck dumb.  Mummy had gone to visit him only because of a persistent cough!  Although she did “felt that something was not right”, but late stage cancer? 

All along, we (including my mother) have believed that my father who drank, smoked and went through a few operations in his younger days would leave us first.  But fate so decides the reverse.

Mrs Lee Kuan Yew was bed-ridden for two years after her stroke, leaving Dr Lee and her family 24 months to come to terms with what is inevitable.  Yet, as Dr Lee put it:

“I had thought I could face any misfortune or tragedy, but I was wrong. The mother- daughter bond is too strong and it goes beyond logic.”

I had only 6 months.  Before I could come to terms that I am going to lose my Mummy, she was gone.  I was hit hard.  Guilt overwhelmed me.  I accused myself for getting her to babysit my first-born without providing her with a helper, and hence tiring her out.  I saw her almost everyday then, to fetch my girl, and should have noticed her persistent cough and plunging weight… if only I had sent her to the doctor earlier…

I didn’t share these thoughts though.  No one (not even my hubby I think) could guess how much I was affected by Mummy’s death.  For a good two years after Mummy’s death, on my solo drive from work back home along the highway, I would suddenly break out into tears.  In the middle of the night, I would think of her and tears would flow.

Then one night, I had my first dream of Mummy.  She was smiling a big bright smile at me, and I remember telling myself in the dream then that Mummy is happy and well.  The instant I woke up, I knew that I have let go.  Let go of my mourning for her, let go of my guiltiness, let go of her death and my loss.  On hindsight, I wish that I had the courage to speak to someone about my depressed feelings then.  I also wish that I had understood Buddha’s teaching that impermanence is the universal truth.  I could have gotten myself out of mourning sooner. 

So now with my princesses, I will often encourage them to be vocal about their feelings.  Be it through blogging, keeping a dairy or just verbalising.  And I make it a point to spend time to talk to them each day.  It is my wish that after I depart, they will not be in mourning for too long and move on with their lives. 

In a way, losing my mother has allowed me to treasure whatever I have in life at a much younger age as compared to many of peers (no offense, my friends).  I have since then knew the importance of family and not taking anyone or anything for granted.  This was what prompted me to quit my full-time job three years ago.  I want to treasure every moment I have in life and with my family because no one knows when the happy days will be gone forever.  And it will be too late then.