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Nice to meet you, Death

17 Jan 2017

Aunt Sharon said as I graduate from high school, I will be entering into the age when friends are getting married left and right. She said she was entering into the age when friends’ parents are dying left and right. This was mostly true. I had several older friends who already were in serious relationships and engagement photos popped up every other month on Facebook. The death part seemed far away. I still had another solid thirty-ish years to go. I thought death as an idea far far away in this land of abstraction or something that only happened to my favorite characters on Game of Thrones.

Little did I understand that life and death happened all at once. I hear about suicides a lot. I live in a city of suicidal people. I attend one of the highest ranking universities in the city. “Oh, not anyone I know of,” I’d say and move on.

It was T-5 days until graduation production week in the theatre department. Everyone was bustling about finishing last minute touch-ups here are there. Someone happened to check their phone and saw a news of a girl who hung herself in her dorm room. It was a theatre student. She was a senior. She painted this set. Her creativity was poured out on this production. I used to see her running around in her messy short ponytail with a paint brush and a impromptu cardboard palette. I saw her and I thought she’s cute–her hair even matches the set’s color scheme. The only time I talked to her was when I needed to move a furniture prop out of the way. She did not have the face of depression. She looked like anything else but death.

Fast forward to the end of the production. Show must go on, everyone said. It did. She was remembered and everyone wailed out her name at the final curtain call. It was dramatic.

Fast forward a few more days. My dad gets a phone call from Korea. I can hear the choking voice of my uncle uttering that grandpa is now in heaven. Dad chokes out a word saying he’ll fly in tomorrow first thing in the morning.

I’m tired. It’s Christmas. It’s midterms. I just finished a show. I have another show to run. I want to sleep. I can’t feel. Information overload. I am numb.

I have told people around me that I wouldn’t bother crying if any of my extended family died. This was a feeling that I had to process through and I have stopped condemning myself for not being able to feel. I came to terms with the fact that mourning would come if I lost something that was dear to my heart. My extended family wasn’t, and that was OK.

So to say that I cried for my dead grandfather a few hours after my parents left is a total nonsense. The recipe for my meltdown consisted of exhaustion, fear of more exhaustion to come, and sleep deprivation.

After a burst of insanity, I whispered to God: “Just let me see snow, please? You will let me get a little taste of snowy hope when I’m there for the funeral. Promise me.”

With the promise of snow and a heart so ready for culture shock (that I stopped calling them culture shock because there are no such things anymore), I stuffed my largest backpack with my thickest winter coat and my cashmere scarf. I flew to Korea by myself more expectant of snow than a funeral.

Fast forward to the week right before finals, a couple weeks after Christmas. Fanny sends me news saying that a junior from our department jumped off one of the taller buildings on campus. We only know of her but not well enough. I run to tell my mum, she said we should pray for the family and my school environment. I go to bed with my heartstrings in knots.

I thought the slushy snow in freezing -3 degrees Celsius was a promise of a happiness for all. My sign of hope was supposed to be applicable to everyone around me. People just needed to stop dying.

“Stop dying!” I complained. “Enough is enough. Not all things have to come in threes. Stop being a work of literature, you’re no fun to read.”

Before I flew out, Patty told me that God was going to show me the mysteries of life. The crazy complicated yet sweetly simple thing called life happens as death intervenes from time to time. I’ve learned with these threes that we just keep moving forward. It did not matter if it was the most wonderfully festive time of the year, three people around me stopped to breathe forever.

Someone once said you can’t have just happiness and numb sadness, if you numb the bad, you also numb the good–both happens. I’m beginning to grasp that idea of everything taking place at the same time. I’m allowing myself to feel. I’ve learned that taking a smiley reunion photo with our extended family at the funeral home is acceptable. I’ve seen that cracking a joke during the trip to the cemetery is permissible. I’ve found out that feeling ecstatic for the snowy weather is forgivable. I’ve learned that paying a respect to someone doesn’t require love but patience and an open heart. I’ve discovered that show must go on even if everyone is mourning for a dead person. I’ve realized that we still had to take the final exam even though she died–lucky bastard. I’ve allowed myself to be a little bit irrationally jealous over people who were dead because of the exams they don’t have to take. I’ve also let myself live a little more, breathe a little more often, to smile a little more often, and cry a little more often.