Learn How to Die to Learn How to Live

Early this year, I lost my grandma. I was not meant to be taken aback when she had to go because she had a full struggle and I saw her progressively get worse.

Just two years before, she was the most active 80plus lady I knew. She was alert enough to hear all my stories, to figure out how we can see each other via the computer screen while I was abroad. She knew to ask all the right questions – whether I was eating well, whether I was keeping warm.

When I came back, she kept interested in my pictures. She gave me much more freedom than she used to. But she was still a force to be reckoned with. She was the life of every party. And she was a disciplinarian. She would discipline us behind the scenes, but rave about us to all relatives, neighbours and strangers – true Asian style and more.

One day she had a bad fall, and everything just got worse thereon. She wasn’t as mobile, she wasn’t as strong. She couldn’t find the strength to move around on her own anymore. She couldn’t go to the market or to make us delicious meals. Her memory got worse.

Then she had the second fall, and she started talking about death like she knew it was knocking at her door. We refused to listen, we forced physiotherapy on her, we made her eat more than she could (which was nothing at all).

And so when she couldn’t get out of bed, and she was constantly ill and eventually hospitalized for a long time, we knew her time was coming. We were warned to be mentally prepared. But when she left at a ripe 90 years old, I was shocked anyway. My heart dropped anyway. My tears ran anyway.

Despite that, despite all her suffering, she tried to impart words of wisdom whenever she was alert enough to. She told me that I have to be careful when selecting a partner. She told me to be good to my parents. She told me to work hard. And she seemed like she knew she was leaving, and had come to terms with it.

I think somewhere along the way while I was grappling with her passing, I was recommended to read Tuesdays with Morrie. I took four months to start. And it’s an amazing book.

While it wasn’t really about how to deal with the passing of a loved one, it makes one reflect on whether we’re living life the way we want to. It really strikes a chord.

Below is my favourite excerpt, from when Mitch was asking Morrie (who was diagnosed with ALS) about the idea of dying:

Did you think much about death before you got sick, I asked.

“No.” Morrie smiled. “I was like everyone else. I once told a friend of mine, in a moment of exuberance, ‘I’m gonna be the healthiest old man you ever met!’ ”

How old were you?

“In my sixties.”

So you were optimistic.

“Why not? Like I said, no one really believes they’re going to die.”

But everyone knows someone who has died, I said. Why is it so hard to think about dying?

“Because,” Morrie continued, “most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

And facing death changes all that?

“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff that and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.

He sighed, “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

the weekend read
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