“Howards End” and the idea of death

“Death destroys a man; the idea of death saves him.” — E.M. Forster, Howards End

I read Howards End last week, and I made several notes on it on my Kindle, but for now I want to write about this line spoken by Helen Schlegel as she was talking with Leonard.

Death does destroy a human being, literally — our bodies decay with death. But the idea of death is what drives most of us to live our lives the best we can. Knowing that there is an end or becoming aware that the end is near, people tend to try to become their better selves — asking forgiveness, fixing broken relationships, showing kindness, completing tasks, etc.

Though I am afraid of a painful death, death itself, to me, is not something to be feared, but something that is merely necessary. It can be a hassle when you have responsibilities that you cannot simply entrust to somebody else, but you know it is a fact of life.

In the novel, Helen says: “I love Death — not morbidly, but because He explains.” And she goes on to explain how with Death, one can see the emptiness of Money.

Death does explain this and much more to us, but the idea of death leads us to ask the questions that really matter:

Why am I here if I’m only going to die? How can I make good use of my borrowed time in this life?

There’s not much use asking where you’re going after you die. It’s enough to answer the two questions above and live your life with purpose and passion.

May you find purpose for and passion in living your life. 🙏🏽

T.

On Death and Promises

My husband and I have the weirdest conversations between a married couple simply because I am weird. One of the things we talked about a couple of years ago was what would happen WHEN I die (because I have to die first, and I would never forgive him if he dies before me! To which he agrees. He says he would like to be able to give me a proper funeral. This I truly appreciate.)

I told him that at my funeral, he can look around and see who among my friends he can marry. Well, this was too weird for him. (But perhaps he was just thinking my friends would be too old for him!)

When I told my friends and sisters about this they thought I was crazy.

Maybe. But my point is, I would like my husband to be happy when I leave. My only condition is that whoever that woman who can make him happy is, should accept my son like he is her son, because I want my son to be happy too.

Unlike the characters in the Disney movie, “Coco” who feel the need to be remembered — I don’t feel the need to be remembered. It would be nice to be remembered, but I am not sentimental about it. What matters most to me is number 1: my autistic son is taken care of until such time he can look after himself; and number 2: that the people I love will go on to live happy, healthy lives after I’m gone.

The day before my mother died, I saw the look on her face change when my then 13-year-old nephew who is my mom’s first grandchild, entered the room. Her eyes lit up, and there was a fondness for my nephew that was so visible that I, her youngest child, felt a little jealous even though I was already 44! We all knew she had not wanted to leave yet because she was worried about him. We gave her the assurance that we all would take care of each other.

I have tried to keep that promise.

I hope that when it’s my turn to go, I would get the same promise that my son will be taken care of. And that they will keep it.

🙏🏽

T.

———

Sonnet 71 by William Shakespeare

No longer mourn for me when I am dead

Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell

Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:

Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it, for I love you so,

That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,

If thinking on me then should make you woe.

O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,

When I perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;

But let your love even with my life decay;

   Lest the wise world should look into your moan,

   And mock you with me after I am gone.

“Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

Three years ago this month, I lost my mother. And every year this month, I buy flowers (pictured below) that I put next to her photograph. Every year in March, as I look at both flowers and my mom’s photograph, I am reminded of the uncertainty of life, of its ephemerality and the sadness that comes with being left behind by those who go before us.

This month my musing on the transiency of life is made even sadder by the thought of 2 of my best friends facing serious illnesses. My 3 best friends, unlike me who wanted to die at 20, have always wanted to live long, happy, healthy lives.

For the lovers of life, I hope you never lose that WILL to live even when doctors give you that diagnosis that sounds like a death sentence. I hope in your heart will burn that desire to prove the doctors wrong and that you “RAGE against the dying of the light.” ♥️

T.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Because there’s no such thing as forever…

I saw a picture of a huge graffiti on a wall in my city that read: WALANG FOREVER (There’s no forever) and shared it with my family, joking that whoever wrote it must have been really hurting. But my ever-serious 16-year-old nephew replied: “There really is no forever.” To which I said: “But that’s not what Kenny Loggins said!”

When I checked on Google, there is actually a good number of people asking why “forever” is promised by people in love when everyone knows this is a mere impossibility. I did not bother reading the answers because I think we all know what the answer to that is.

And I am not going to dwell on the reason people say it, but rather on the benefit of there being no forever.

I learned this years ago when I was young and naive and stupidly in love with the most unromantic man I have ever met. We were walking in a quiet, wooded area, dead leaves crackling under our shoes as we walked. I looked up when I heard the sound of the leaves as a gentle breeze blew. It was such a beautiful moment, walking with the man who meant the world to me then. So I told him. And he said casually, “You know why this is so beautiful now? It’s because you know it’s not going to last.” At that time, it made me feel so sad, but now whenever I think of it, I am grateful that at that moment, I learned to appreciate things that have a short life span.

Now when my husband leaves for work in the morning and says goodbye to me, no matter how busy I am, I stop whatever I’m doing and give him my full attention.

As I travel every month, I say a proper goodbye to my family and friends because who knows, we may never see each other again (that plane could … you know?)

This is not to dismiss the anguish of those who are suffering, but I sometimes think those who are told they only have this or that much time to live have the benefit of preparing not only themselves but also their loved ones of the former’s impending departure.

A few months before my mother’s demise, I was telling bestfriend no.2 what a terrible time it was watching my mother suffer. And as usual, he was his brutally honest self and said to me, “This time in your mother’s suffering is God’s gift to you, her children. You will become so tired from not having enough sleep and in pain watching her suffer, you will eventually be ready to let her go.” He was speaking from experience, of course. He gave up his own dreams to take care of his father for two years until his father’s death from pancreatic cancer.

And he was right. Although it was a stressful, exhausting time, we — my mother, my sisters and I — were given enough time to prepare ourselves for what was going to happen, so the last few days were filled with kind words, sweet smiles, lots of tears, of course, but they were tears of love.

The beauty of there being no forever is that we then see beauty in everything, and we appreciate everything, and are thankful for everything.

We become better people when we remember there’s no such thing as forever. Or at least we should.

May we always try to become better people. 💕

T.

The Indignity of Old Age and Dying

“..Death tears away the veil from all our secrets, our shifty dodges and intrigues.” – Dostoevsky, Mr. Prohartchin

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Taiwushan Cemetery, Kinmen, Taiwan

Death can’t reveal all of our secrets, because some of them we carry to our graves. But death can literally reveal what we keep hidden underneath our clothes; when we die (if our bodies are intact) then our bodies become mere objects seen quite objectively by doctors, nurses and embalmers, all strangers to our bodies. But of course one can rationalize this and say, “Who cares? The dead don’t.”

Perhaps people will say I overthink things when I say this, but I feel nothing but compassion for sick people in hospitals and how their bodies become merely like an object that the healthy can just point to or talk about as if it is lifeless. I felt this the first time I saw my mother being given a sponge bath by my sister. I felt this as I stood next to my mother’s bed as she lay there in pain, while the nurses were changing her clothes. I witnessed the indignity of aging, and it made me feel so so sorry for us, human beings.

Hopefully one day we won’t have to deal with incontinence, hip fractures, loss of mobility, etc. and just go quietly with dignity intact.

Meaning and Purpose in Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”

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In general, there are two kinds of people according to how they view their life: those who continually search for meaning and purpose in life, and those who don’t. These two kinds of people come to the same end, however. They die. We die. But that time just before death is where the dying differ. Those who believe (even without any real proof) that they have found meaning and fulfilled their purpose in life, pass confidently though sadly, and those who feel they have unfulfilled promises or dreams or tasks left undone, leave bitterly.

In my lifetime, I have seen enough number of dying people to see this. It is always sad as I know it is the fate of each and every one of us.

Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” reminds me of that sadness I feel when pondering on the fate of human beings. At first I found this novel disturbing and then extremely sad; and only today, two days after I finished reading the novel, did I finally realize what I found so sad about it.

It is not that the “students” unquestioningly accept their fate of dying young because they are mere clones, created to become organ donors.
It is not that despite their being more humane than the humans who created and raised them, the latter are repulsed by them.

Rather it is that human beings despite their being “superior” to the clones, are ignorant of the real meaning and purpose of their existence, while the clones aren’t. Hence, the former can face death which they aptly call “completing” without fear or regret, albeit with a little sadness. Ishiguro found the perfect word to call death in this novel. When the clones die from having donated their organs, it is because they have accomplished or “completed” the purpose of their existence.

There are people who are convinced that they know their purpose for being in this world – they have faith or they make up their own purpose, but is it really the real purpose for our existence? How will we know for sure?

This is why I envy the clones in the novel, at least there is no doubt in their heads why they exist. For somebody outside looking in, it is a very sad existence, but the “students” in Hailsham had a happy childhood, lots of fun memories, and there was no question in their head as to what was going to happen to them, how their lives would end. As for us, humans, though we know our time is limited, and we attach all kinds of meaning or purpose for our lives, in the end we are all Jon Snow.

We know nothing.

Noli Timere

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A few weeks ago, I read an article by a writer reminiscing about his friendship with the late Seamus Heaney, and of course his famous last words, a text message to his wife — Noli timere (“Don’t be afraid”).  Unfortunately I can’t find that article anymore as I don’t remember the title nor the author’s name, so I can’t give you the link.

That article led me to read about Heaney’s last words as recalled by his son in his eulogy. And this in turn led me to remember what my mother said to me a week before she passed as I cried in front of her, exhausted from all the seemingly insurmountable problems that had befallen me — her worsening health condition, my son’s autism, not being able to get a visa for my son, among other things. She reached for my hand, as she lay in bed, and said to me in a voice full of confidence, “Don’t worry. Everything will be all right. E. is going to be fine.”

I wonder if it is just the dying’s way of comforting the living, so as not to make them worry about what life would be like for the living without them, or if somehow they have some kind of vision of what the future will be like, or if their faith is strengthened as they near that end.

But my mother’s words really comforted me, and I believed her. And I believed her words even more as indeed, after she passed, we were able to find a special needs school for my son, and the same embassy that made it difficult for us to get a visa for him, gave him a travel document instead.

Even now whenever I have a problem, apart from praying, I would think of my mother and how she would have stormed the gates of heaven to pray for me.

As a mother myself, I keep praying for my son. Some nights I lie awake wondering, fearing, what the future would be like for my son. I read articles like this one about a parent describing what life is like for someone with a 13-year old son with ASD , and I fear dying before my son can learn to live independently.

For now I can protect my son and comfort him when he is hurt or scared, but no parent can or should do this for the rest of our lives. Our children grow, and we pass on. But hopefully, our comforting words will live in their hearts and give them courage to live their lives.

************

BE NOT AFRAID
(For E.)

The sky may darken
And let fall the rain
That doesn’t seem to end

The winds may howl
Like a crazed person
Banging on the window

The lightning may strike
And give you a glimpse
Of the dark clouds outside

The thunder may roar
And cow you into hiding
Under your soft blanket

But don’t be afraid,
Mommy’s here to keep you safe
And warm as you sleep and dream
Of a beautiful sunrise when you wake.