Conversations with Death :
Contemplating and Confronting Death
/ Ng Yi He : Grief Care & Ritual and Culture Management Intern
Death is an inevitable path for all of us. However, the fact is we are not as afraid of it as we think. We can still go through our daily life, thinking about what to eat for dinner and why the roads are jammed up. Thus, death seems distant to us, yet not as distant as a meal or the road in front of us. We are so accustomed to living our lives to the fullest, but how long has it been since we sat down to contemplate and confront death and talk about it?
Is it necessary to cry in the face of death?
I have experienced the deaths of several loved ones in my life, all during my primary school years. My grandmother passed away when I was in standard six, less than a month before UPSR and my brother was just a month old. Due to this, I was compelled to stay back in Melaka and did not have to return to my grandmother’s home for the wake. Maybe I did not comprehend the meaning of life and death at that time, and my only regret at not being able to return to my grandmother’s home was having to go to school and attend boring classes. Attending the wake would have been a good opportunity to skip school; at least I didn’t have to continue studying.
When I think back to my grandmother’s funeral, I realised the grief of life’s passing depends on the closeness of the relationship before death. My grandmother had always been with my eldest uncle’s family, so naturally she had more interaction with my cousins. I don’t speak much Hokkien, so my communication with her was even more limited. I didn’t cry during the funeral, not even during the cremation ceremony; but at that time there was a weird understanding that those who didn’t cry were considered unfilial. Hence, I hid in a corner because I was afraid of being discovered that I did not cry.
Faced with the passing of relatives and friends, can we only express the importance of the relationship through tears? Since there are many ways to get along during their lifetime, there should be different ways to express our sentiments after their passing; instead of forcing people to cry aloud to show filial piety, which is an exaggeration.
Contemplating your own funeral
Have you ever taken a moment to quietly and mindfully contemplate your own death and your own funeral? Whenever I sit down to contemplate my own demise, I wonder in which manner will I leave the world. When I think about it, it is indeed most blessed to be able to “live to a ripe old age”; to die peacefully in my sleep, and without suffering from illness is the most agreeable way for me.
At my funeral, I don’t want my family and close friends to cry. I want them to sit around laugh about the embarrassing things we did in life and that’s what really gets me going. If I could, I would want the music played at the funeral service to be songs that I usually like instead of something unfamiliar, melodramatic and sentimental. We can take our time to imagine the flow of the funeral rites to the details of the music played, and carefully plan the complete ceremony that we would like best in our hearts.
I think contemplating one’s death is a very interesting experience; anyone can try to imagine and through it you will find out what you really want and not want.
Death is a form of regret
If I were to die at this moment, would I be able to accept it in peace? This is the second question that arises when I contemplate about death. Many people’s fear of death arise from the regrets of an unfulfilled life and unsettled relationships. That is why I have always wondered why today’s enlightened society would advocate that we face death calmly, which is something I do not agree. I think death is a form of regret, both for the living and for the dead. At every stage of life, everyone has regrets and relationships. Due to these circumstances, it is not unusual for people to be somewhat sad about death; and it is difficult to hide grief and it’s understandable to express it hysterically if you are unable to hide your grief.
Facing death, there isn’t a standard approach to what is right because it varies from person to person, and any way can be used to express our feelings. Contemplating and confronting death is something we need to practice all the time throughout our lives. It is a rare opportunity to really know ourselves. In one or five years. or even tend years, we will have different goals and ideals, and we want may be different and what we once regretted may have been fulfilled.
When contemplating and confronting death, we may look at the end of life and cherish the radiance of life, the joy in every moment and the love around us.
We can respect death but we shouldn’t fear it; instead, choose to understand it more because it is the final graduation ceremony of our life.
NV Care Grief Care & Ritual and Culture Management Department
NV Care Grief Care & Ritual and Culture Management Department: conducts studies into the influence and development of Chinese culture on Malaysia society, focusing on the origins of social funeral culture, borrowing and adapting from ancient cultures; thus nurturing the evolution, cultivation in-depth penetration and expansion of Nirvana’s bereavement care services.
Ng Yi He is an intern at NV Care’s Grief Care & Ritual and Culture Management Department and is studying at the Department of Chinese Language & Literature of New Era University College. He is passionate about planning extracurricular activities and enjoys exploring interesting topics in his spare time and is full of imaginative ideas.
In some cultures, death is a taboo topic.
What’s more, to talk about death and money in the same conversation would raise suspicion of greed and distrust.
This is a common question heard in the counseling room.
“I’ve never done anything bad in my life, why did such an unfortunate thing happen to me?”
“He was a good man – always doing good things – why did God take him away so quickly and take away the bad people?”
“Do we have to be bad people to live longer and get better rewards?”
I believe that many caregivers, and not just those in my family, share the same experience and feelings. The truth cannot be spoken freely, lest you will be accused of being unfilial if you are not careful.
As soon as she finished speaking, she handed the microphone to me. I didn’t have time to respond at that time and everyone started to prepare for the casket sealing ceremony.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is coming, are you going home too? How are you spending your Mid-Autumn Festival?
Malaysia is a multi-racial country, with the main ethnic groups being Malay, Chinese and Indian. For the ethnic Chinese, there are various religious funeral rites such as Buddhist, Taoist and Christian, and Islamic and Hindu rites for the other ethnic groups. Different ethnic groups and religions have different cultural practices, religious ideologies, beliefs and values, making Malaysia’s funeral culture appear diverse in many ways.
“Grief is like sticky molasses; it may stick to us for the rest of our lives or it may stick to a certain portion of our lives – simply refusing to leave” is another insight I’ve recently had about grief. Just when we start to think that life is getting better, an event, person or object will remind us, “Ah, so you’re still here!”
At present, I have sent off more than 3,000 friends, although I cannot remember their names. However, I occasionally think about it in a frivolous way; when I’m dead, there are more friends in that so-called afterlife than the ones I have known in my lifetime!
The ancestral tablet is also called “soul tablet”, “spirit tablet”, “soul seat” and others. In Buddhism, it is called “lotus dais” or “lotus seat”. It is generally used as a temporary seat for the soul of the departed to reside, and convenience for the family members, relatives and friends to pay their respects.