Preparing for death


BEFRIEND death as it is a natural part of our life cycle. Don’t be afraid of it. Death is the beginning of a new and better life. So prepare yourself, not for death, but for life with the Almighty.

This is an anonymous quote that can be found on the Internet.

At the mere mention of the word “death”, my late mother would quickly advise me never to use the word for it is deemed “sway” or a cursed word. She was very particular and “pantang” or superstitious as she believed what one says, may come true, where we indirectly invite death. My mother was part of a generation where old school beliefs and philosophies were deeply entrenched in daily lives.

Being mortals, like it or not, we are all going to leave this world one day. The ageing process will take place, with or without anti-ageing creams or surgeries. There are no exceptions to the rule.

Life is indeed unpredictable. Death can be sudden or gradual. That is why the learned ones tell us to make amends and do good while we are fit and still around. They advise us to contribute and share our wealth and time with our family, friends and those in need. These deeds would eventually help us make a difference in this world. We never know if we will have a proper platform to say goodbye to our family, loved ones and friends. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

I have a different perspective of death. Especially for those who have led a complete life. Complete here can take many paradigms. It could be living their lives fully, raising great kids or simply making a difference to their family, society or the world at large.

It’s never about the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away, as that famous quote by Shing Xiong goes. However, having said that, it is safe to assume that senior citizens would generally fall within this category, having clocked a reasonable amount of quality time here.

I believe it is absolutely all right to have some thoughts on how you’d like your final farewell to be; the people you’d like to be present; the songs you’d like to be played at the wake; the type of flowers, pictures and memories that you’d like to be shared – those treasured memories that characterise you as a person. This aspiration can be shared with a trusted and reliable family member or a close friend who would help execute the plan.

From a financial perspective, for a start, we need to set aside some funds for the relevant memorial expenses. The families or next of kin of EPF (Employees Provident Fund) contributors can claim RM2,500 from the organisation for this purpose, to help ease the financial burden.

I asked my friends how they’d like their funeral to be and their answers were interestingly varied. When my dear friend – 99-year-old Nadarajah died, his family didn’t want his wake service to be a mourning process, but a celebration of his life. After all, he had led a complete and meaningful life to a ripe age and had the opportunity to see his grandchildren. The funeral was a joyous occasion. For the first time, I saw a joyful event instead of the usually sombre one, and it dawned on me that a funeral need not always be a sad affair.

The majority of friends I talked to would leave it to their respective families to do the needful. They are not particular about how the funeral rites should be performed or how elaborate the ceremony should be. They don’t think it is necessary to communicate their send-off aspirations or wishes.

I have had some thoughts on my eventual send off. The ceremonial and religious rites would take place according to the Sikh way. I have sought assistance from my sister to get my relevant send-off clothes ready. I would make a short video to be played during the final prayers. In the video, I would thank those present who had made time to attend my funeral. In addition I would thank them for their love, friendship and support in making my life so meaningful. I would tell them how grateful I was for having our paths cross. I would make special mention of my wife, Rina, children (Cheryl and Dillon), nine siblings, two grandchildren and friends who changed my life in ways they could not imagine!

I would seek forgiveness from those I had caused hurt to through my actions and words.

I would say goodbye to my loved ones and friends; dear friends who became part and parcel of my life journey, from my school days in Malacca High School to my university days in Universiti Malaya to my career life in the Economic Planning Unit, INTAN, MIMA and Transparency International Malaysia. I would thank friends who shared my running and hiking passion in the Royal Selangor Club, Hash Harriette and Hikers Group. I would tell them how much I would miss them.

Meanwhile, my favourite uplifting music would be played in the background.

And when my soul was ready, I would slowly and gracefully take leave, having seen and thanked all the people who mattered in my life.

While I sometimes harbour sadness about the people I would leave behind; on the other side, I would look forward to meeting my grandparents, dad, mum and friends who had left earlier. We would be reunited again.

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