What They Don’t Tell You About Death

“He passed peacefully in his sleep,” is what we tell our relatives when we inform them of Grandpa’s passing. It’s not not-true. Grandpa did pass away peacefully. But what was left out was the harrowing process of witnessing his life slowly diminish in front of our eyes. No one really talks about that aspect of death: the laboured breathing, the lips and extremities turning purple, the body cleansing itself of all its bowel contents, the vitals so weak that they cannot be measured by machines and therefore the families having to frequently hold a mirror underneath the nose of our loved one to detect their faint breath—or the lack thereof.

People also don’t talk about the intricate procedures that ensued immediately after the person passes. Who do you call to issue a death certificate? Where does the body go before it gets buried or cremated? What if you want a funeral with open-casket? Where do you find a respectful embalmer? Who will be writing the eulogies? What about religious rituals, if there were any?

How do grief-stricken families navigate all this?

And just when you finally made it through all the ceremonies, grief sets in—prodigiously and mercilessly. You start to notice the stark void that the people whom you loved had left behind.

She understood loss and how it leaves a hole in the soul that can never be filled.

Santa Montefiore

I wrote Grandpa’s eulogy on Saturday. As I recounted all the memories we shared, my brain was stuck in a loop. How can I effectively and succinctly encapsulate such love? How can anyone?

During the process of writing, I also reflected again on my own eulogy; as in, how do I want to be remembered? In teaching, we commonly employ Backward Design when we plan our units. (We take a look at all the curricular goals we want to achieve by the end of the year, and backward engineer our lessons to ensure we cover all necessary grounds.) So perhaps because it is already deeply steeped into my thinking process, I live my life by how I want to be remembered at the end of my life.

I want to be remembered as having love well.

What about you? What governs your behaviour and how you best live your life?

We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.

– Chuck Palahniuk

Life Update

Hi, I am alive! Sorry about the sparse posting, life has been a lot as of late. A lot of laughing until my face hurt, and a lot of balling my eyes out.

Sad news first:

Earlier this morning, Grandpa made his way to heaven.

Before I could finish grieving the loss of my Grandma in June, I am faced with the loss of Grandpa. Just like Grandma, Grandpa, too, was thousands of kilometers away; this meant I didn’t get to say goodbye in person. Is this a common destiny for immigrant families? Every night over FaceTime I watched him slip away, evaporating into a fraction of the person he once was. Next to him lied my mother, drenched in tears, also visibly withering away. How I wished I could put my arms around him, around her.

Nora McInerny, author and podcast host of The Hot Young Widows Club, wrote and spoke about the notion of “moving forward” from one’s grief, versus “moving on”. She elaborated on how the love we have for the people who lost, stays with us.

She said:
When you fall in love—finally, really, fall in love—with someone who gets you, someone who sees you. So much so that you finally see it, too. That, love is not a reality show. Love is actually so quiet. It is the invisible thread of calm that connects the two of you even when everything else is in chaos and falling apart. That bond stays with you, even when the person is gone; it is weaved into the fibre of who we are.

So instead of moving on, I am learning to move forward. Neurologically rewiring my brain to adapt to my new reality. One without two people I love.

Now, Good News:

I am surrounded by people who generously love me, love on me. On days that were absolutely tear-filled, there were people who took me out on walks, bore witness to my pain, and held space for my grief.

As life slowly inches forward, I am trying to focus on the beauty life has been. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to learn how to wakeboard; I saw dinoflagellates (bioluminescent algae) for the very first time, and camped in the woods. I also spent an luxurious amount of time with two little ones that filled my heart with joy and wonder.

So, soon, I’ll be posting more again. Thank you for staying with me through it all💙

But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Surrender Your Stagnant Belief

June 25, 2022

This morning at 5am, I woke up with an epiphany so abrupt and so intensely powerful that awoken and opened my eyes to this world through a new lens. A perspective so different, so liberating, that it felt like a rebirth. I know. It sounds absolutely exaggerated, except it is not.

We said goodbye to Grandma on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

I have also been at a junction in my life, where I am faced with more than the goodbye to my grandma but also a few other, albeit some less permanent.

Life unfolds in proportion to your courage.

Sometime in my adolescent life, I’ve decided that I was absolutely no good at Goodbye’s. I never quite understood why that was the narrative I vehemently committed myself to. Perhaps it was because it gave me complete and total permission to dwell in my sorrow. Perhaps it was because it absolved me of the responsibility of processing my loss.

Whatever my flawed reasons were, I’ve finally come to let them go—this morning at 5am.

Until you change your narrative, you will always be confined to it.

It’s strange. I did know the power I had to change my perception and narrative, yet I wasn’t ready to fully embrace it. I’d like to think that not all awakening are “rude”; rather, some take longer to grow roots before they blossom.

So if there is anything that you’d want to take away from this post are these seeds — to hopefully one day colour and perfume your world through a new, empowering perception:

Surrender.

Get out of your own way. Create a new possibility for yourself.

Trust.

Trust that you already have what you need to reach the unfolding beauty that is this life.

Some freedoms are just a thought away

To Love or Be Loved

Sometimes, in utter frustration and heartbreak, my ego shouts: WHY WOULDN’T HE JUST CHOOSE ME, CHOOSE US? WHICH FOOL DOESN’T WANT TO BE EMPHATICALLY LOVED AND UNCONDITIONALLY CHERISHED???

But that’s just my ego talking. I understand that the heart wants what it wants. It’s not always corroborated by logic. Besides, who says they’d want to be emphatically loved anyways? That is only my naive, simplistic assumption.

Most hypocritical of all: I, too, am guilty of letting the people who had emphatically loved me and cherished me go.

I am one of those said fools.

That is all. Just trying to hold the grief of my grandma, and ‘I Am Enough,’ in the same thought.

What would YOU choose? To love or be loved?

The sky became a screen, shot through with pinpricked stars. Beneath it, I felt small and lost.

—A House in the Sky

Rubicon, Point of No Return

Rubicon, also known as Point of No Return (PNR) was a reference dating way back to Julius Caesar, at River Rubicon, where he had reached a point from which he could only move forward and continue on with his current course.

Rubicon is a notion that is ubiquitous in our daily lives: from aviation, to investment strategies, to the biological markup of who we are (called R points, beyond which “cells are committed to DNA synthesis and they no longer require the extracellular growth factors during the remainder of the cell cycle”). Perhaps the only place where Rubicon does not concretely exist, is in our brain, due to the brain’s neuroplastic nature. However, in order to safeguard our sanity, it is not uncommon for people to set up arbitrary mental Rubicons. For instance, to avoid losing all of myself in a romantic relationship, I would implement Rubicons as a signal to my obstinate self to GIVE UP when things are too far gone, and my heart too far broken. Once I’ve arrived at my designated Rubicon, where I fully accepted and embraced a future without my partner in it, then the relationship would start its imminent countdown to the expiration date.

Oh and, let’s not forget, there is also:
Death—the ultimate Rubicon, the most irrevocable commitment to action.

alea iacta est (“the die is cast”)

Caesar

Safe Haven

Healing is not linear.

Perhaps what is not commonly talked about during grieving is: the intense, razor-sharp reminders of the trauma associated with the person you are grieving. Because, relationships are not black and white. You could deeply love someone that has deeply hurt you.

Healing is not linear.

Some days are harder than others. They require much more self-regulating strategies beyond a meditation or even a walk. On days as such, like today, I go to my imaginary safe haven until I have convalesced enough to soldier on again.

On a meadow of luscious green grass, overlooking the ocean and the city, I hide.
Eyes closed, warmed by the gentle morning sun, my heart slows to the cadence of waves ebbing and flowing.
I take some deep breathes, inviting the crisp, dewy smell of early summer to fill my lungs, to displace the anxiety that parks stiffly there.

Her sadness was ceaseless, but she kept it quarantined in a governable little quarter of her heart. It was the best she could do.

The Signature of All Things
Memories are also a good place to hide


5 Stages of Grief

Sometimes I forget, for whom I am writing. I catch myself thinking about what people would like to read, about the voice that reads familiar in other blogs, then remember that the purpose of this blog, is to find my voice. I am not writing to please, not writing to be mainstream. I am just writing. Writing for the sake of writing. So here I am.

Tuesday, June

Sitting on my bed alone, I turned my phone on Do Not Disturb, so as to be alone with my thoughts. Silence befell the world. If only I could quiet my mind, too.

I am anxious and have been anxious for over a week now. I know why. It’s circumstantial. This is how my brain processes and reconciles with the imminent passing of my grandma. Except I have ugly old habits associated with anxiety: When anxiety comes flooding, raging, and all-consuming, all I want to do is run. Escape. As far away as possible. Every fibre of my being aches for a new reality, a new beginning. Too bad that’s not how life works. Too bad that’s not how we get over our anxiety, either.

So instead, I sit.
In abject misery, I sit.
Staring into the abyss, I sit.
Amid palpitating heart beat, I sit.
Enveloped in fear and angst, I sit.
I sit. I sit. I sit.
And wait.
Trusting that eventually I will move onto the next stage of Grief, finally arriving at Acceptance.

But until then I can only sit. Sit and wait. Sometimes with eyes wide open, mouth agape. Sometimes overtaken by tears, heart wrenched in a fist.

No body ever said grieving was pretty.

Time moves in one direction, memory in another.

William Gibson
No place to hide