"They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more."
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
It's strange to think about, but I have been to more funerals than I have weddings. I was born into a peculiar situation where I was the youngest not only of my siblings but amongst my cousins. My parents had me late in their lives. Before my friends were of age to marry, family members and family friends were already passing on to the other side.
People get old, and sometimes people die before they get old. Having a large extended family, it's happened to us. My father had lost siblings. My mother had lost five of her siblings. Little ones she helped to raise, older ones who raised her. I had two older sisters I never got to know, passing before I was born. This was a different time, Korea before and after a war. A time of great poverty and famine. The age gap between my oldest sister and I is over thirty years.
My father's first wife died while giving birth. It happened at home, as my oldest sister watched — helpless. The baby didn't make it. My mother lost her first daughter to illness. She was only five. (Around the same age I was when I moved with my mother to the United States.) My mother conceived again with my father . . . but one night, a burglar broke into the home, startling my mother. The burglar ran away but my mother suffered a miscarriage. The doctors told her she would never have a child again. And by some stroke of chance, if she were to get pregnant again, it would not only risk the child's life, but her own. With our family's history, it seemed for the best.
Yet years later, much to everyone's surprise, I came along...
I never had a good relationship with my middle sister. We were like the bumbling arms of a shared body, at odds and out of sync. I was so young compared to her, I think that was a big part of it. Her life was not an easy one. She had her ups and downs. How she truly felt about her life, I won't ever know. That day has passed.
I knew her in broad strokes, but never got a chance to appreciate the details.
Just as with my father, my sister and I reached a point of silent respect and love. We didn't need to hash things out; that was not our way. (I, long ago, abandoned American television standards of what a family should be; it's a terrible way to compare.) I flew home to be with her when her cancer worsened, and I stayed until her funeral. I don't know how to describe how I felt; you never expect a sibling to pass before your parents. My father never recovered from her death, he died a few years later. My mother fell ill shortly thereafter.
At the airport, I picked up Yann Martel's Life of Pi. I didn't know much about it except it had to do with a boy and a tiger, and I happened to love anything with tigers. (Coincidentally, both my father and wife were both born in the Year of the Tiger. Perhaps this was synchronicity...)
In the story, the protagonist, Pi Patel, loses his whole family while immigrating to North America. It felt like my story. I was struck by this particular passage:
I felt like a tree quickly losing its branches. Trying to hold on, with nothing to hold on to.
Unable to comprehend his loss, Pi projects his feelings onto a Bengal tiger. I had a Siberian Husky named Storm, an emotional companion while my father was sick. She became my tiger. Storm died and not too long after, so did my mother. And more have since departed.
With so many goodbyes, you appreciate next mornings as spiritual blessings.
I made it
There's the sun
What seemed so far away
I made it to tomorrow
The day after yesterday
As bad as you feel, you feel better when tomorrow comes. Knowing that there will come a day when this is the past, a memory. The day after you have healed.
You don't feel like going on, so the world goes on for you. Holding a place for you. Waiting for you to return.
Tomorrow. It's what parents tell kids. It's cliché and overused. Fortunately, whether we believe it or not, it will come. The day after yesterday. The sunrise is encouraging.
My family has suffered much loss and pain. In my younger years, I used to wonder why, now I don't wonder. It's not important to me to understand something that is not understandable. Each day is what's important. We all live. We all die. Death is in my fingernails. Life is in my breath.
Samuel Beckett writes:
These events, the realities of my life and my happiness are independent. I am aware of this. I quietly accept. I don't ask for anything better, and I am not unhappy.
Happiness is not something I feel, it's something I do. So is love.
I have freed myself of many of society's expectations, only holding a few simple rules. (And no one ever dying is not one of them.)
On this side or the other, I am always surrounded by family.
The past is a memory, the future, an abstract concept. When a moment passes, I am not in the future. I think about the past, but I am doing it now, at this moment. It is physically impossible to live in any other time than now. This is not existential, this is fact. I have suffered but right now, in this moment, I am happy.
Perhaps it is easier to be happy if I don't feel any pressure to do so. If I am sad, that's okay, that's the wholeness of being. And I wouldn't trade it. I can't trade it. It's the only thing I've got.
I miss my sister.
She loved her family, she loved her children. She put them first, even at the end. She lived for them.
She was beautiful and I think of her fondly.
I don't know how other people think about death, but know you aren't alone. Others felt what you felt . . . and we lived.