Tuesday, March 31, 2009


At my aunt's wake
Several events this month have prompted me to write this post. A dear aunt passed away on March 10. She was 92. At both the wake and the funeral service, a choir sang her favourite hymns. The ceremonies were solemn and sombre. In contrast, I read in The Star of how Loh Fun Eng, 80, had requested for his passing to be a happy one. His son, Richard, honoured that request with a musical celebration of his father’s favourite tunes at the wake.

At Loh Fun Eng's wake

There are those who are stricken with terminal illness but chose to spend their remaining time raising awareness of a cause or raising funds for medical research. Names like Terry Fox, Jane Tomlinson and Randy Pausch immediately come to mind.

Terry Fox was only 18 when diagnosed with bone cancer. He had his right leg amputated but this did not stop him from running his trans-Canada Marathon of Hope in 1980 to raise funds for cancer research. With his prosthetic leg, he ran a total of 5,373 km over 143 days, the equivalent of a marathon every day before he succumbed to the cancer at the age of 22. To date, the Terry Fox Foundation has raised more than US$400 million for cancer research. Terry Fox runs are held every year all over the world, including Malaysia. I've participated in four of the runs, the first in the late 1980s, and the most recent one in 2007.

Before she passed away in 2007 at 43 seven years after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, Jane Tomlinson raised £1.75 m for various charities through competing in a series of gruelling sporting events. She wrote her memoirs in two books "The Luxury of Time" (2005) and "You Can't Take It With You" (2006).

Randy Pausch, 47, Professor at Carnegie-Mellon University, gave "The Last Lecture" in September 2007 after his doctors told him he had end-stage pancreatic cancer. His presentation was actually intended to be his legacy for his three young children. He also wrote a best-selling book of the same title. It was his way of ensuring that his family would be taken care of from the proceeds of the book. He said his final farewell to his family in July 2008.

With all these deaths and with Cheng Meng (All Souls' Day) just around the corner, my thoughts of late have dwelled much on the topic. Death can knock on our door at anytime and anywhere. It can strike down the young and the old, the healthy and the infirmed, the rich and the poor. Death is the ultimate leveller. It comes to the best among us, and to the worst among us. Yet we know precious little about how best to prepare for death.

Visiting the dearly departed 

Countless books have been written about how to live a happy life, but none about how to die happy. Is there such a thing as the art of dying? And can it be taught or learned? Has anyone been through the death experience and shared it with a loved one in a dream? How does one deal with one's approaching death? Why is death nearly always associated with pain, fear, grief, loss and visions of the Grim Reaper? Isn't it possible to meet our Maker with joy, celebration and visions of beautiful Angels of Love waiting to embrace us? Lots of questions but hardly any answers. Death remains a taboo topic and few are comfortable talking about it.

CHECKLIST of what you need to plan for 

God willing, if I am blessed with good health and long life (dare I say 100?), I would want to spend my twilight years on community service, doing voluntary work that I am passionate about. And when the time comes, I want to go in my sleep, surrounded by all my loved ones. I will leave instructions for them to celebrate the occasion with a toast to me for having lived a full life. No public viewing of me at my wake party, please. I would appreciate some privacy, thank you. I will have written my obituary to be read by my daughter. I will have taken my last portrait, of my own choosing. I will have my favourite songs from 1960s played at my farewell party. No one should wear black. Only rainbow colours. I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in a mountain stream. No need for anyone to make that obligatory visit to the columbarium every All Souls' Day.

"Death smiles at us all; all a man (or woman) can do is smile back." Amen

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