WHEN my friend Pia passed away in early 2013, I kicked myself for weeks because I was meant to catch up with her just a couple of months before that, but fell ill. I asked her if we could postpone, but I never followed up on it, and soon it was too late.
I was in my early 30s then, so over the years I had experienced a number of deaths – mostly relatives, including two grandparents. While I was sad to lose them, and some affected me more than others, I generally never thought about it much other than occasionally missing them.
I am not sure if it was because of how important she was to me, despite us not having met in person for years, or that I was at an age where I was thinking more and more about my mortality, but Pia’s passing hit me hard.
After that, I made a pledge to myself that I would not simply say “Let’s catch up soon” if I didn’t mean it, and that I would always follow through – to the best of my ability – on the occasions I did utter those words.
Then, all I needed to deal with was the feeling that “life is too short” so I needed to make the best of it.
That is, until the passing of my father very early last year. While all deaths are permanent, dad’s struck me completely differently. Not only was he always around – unlike with relatives and friends – he was a core part of who I was as a person.
Over the past year, I have been slowly making sense of mortality in ways that I never imagined I would. One of the reasons is of course the proximity factor with dad. But it was also because I have lost almost 10 other relatives, my childhood babysitter and friends.
Each death chipped at me before I could even make sense or come to terms with the one before. Being away from Malaysia has made it all the more difficult.
But late last year, I made another pledge to myself. I decided that in 2017, I would identify traits I loved most about each person I had lost, or think about the lessons they had taught me by simply allowing me to be part of their lives.
In my father, for example, I learned kindness. In my babysitter, I learned that you can love another person’s child like he was your own. In my Aunt Patsy, I learned that some of the best choices in life are the ones that may be difficult. I learned many other things from my friends that have left us – to never let my age be a factor and that distance is no barrier to friendships.
When I think of all these facets put together, it really is about learning how to live your own life. So this year, I have tried my best not to mope about life, grab this great opportunity to study by the horns, and keep myself busy doing things I love – taking up hockey, starting my running again and making more time for friends. I remind myself each day that I am lucky to have all these opportunities, and the privileges that come with it.
I do all of this not just because it makes me feel good, and gives my life more purpose than before, but I also do it so that I will keep all of the many people who have been part of my life close to my heart. It is the way in which I keep my spirits up, and the way in which I want to remember them all.
The past week has not been an easy one for me. First of all, it would have been my father’s 75th birthday last Thursday and I miss him terribly. Then on Saturday, I woke up to the shocking news that another friend of mine, Fay, had swiftly succumbed to cancer.
Many of the deaths over the past 18 months were unexpected; some of my friends were relatively young. But I also imagine that as I get older, I will lose more and more of the people I love.
I will cry, of course, and mourn these losses as I have numerous times over the past couple of years. But I am also determined to honour their memories by living the best life.
It will not always be easy, I know, but it’s the best way I know to deal with these things. That is, besides being able to address our feelings and talk about it with people who are willing to listen. Thank you for your “ears” today.
Niki is a PhD researcher at The University of Nottingham, UK. Connect with him online at www.nikicheong.com/fb.