epitaphs and eulogies…

A church elder’s passing on recently got me thinking.

He used to serve with my dad, as a lay worker in the Peranakan Assembly. They would, after office hours and on weekends, visit and pray for the sick, bring the bread and wine for Holy Communion to those who were unable to come to church and visit those who had been absent from church. Over and above ministering and administering the needs of the assembly.

Theirs was a small and warm and caring assembly, where absence is noticed. Very comforting in a world where we are nothing but digits.

I was just writing to a friend that these are extraordinary ordinary lives. They serve others not for any personal gain but out of love for a fellow human being and this becomes their legacy. They didn’t set out with any intent to leave such a legacy but how they lived ensured they will be remembered such.

But death sets me thinking (more than new life actually, is that morbid? I don’t know). Are people, at death, more dear than when they were alive? Do their virtues gleam brighter at death? Would we say the same of the person while he or she is living?

In an East Asian country, there is a trend catching on. People hold their memorial services before they leave this world. This helps to bring them closure, especially for those terminally ill. Eulogies are given to the living dead, literally. And they say their goodbyes and thank yous before they go.

So do we love better only in death? Fulfilling last wishes is not difficult. You know the age-old belief about fulfilling a person’s last wish if you do not want to be “visited” on er… later 😀 In fact, to the world, it paints a picture of filial piety.

My grandpa left his last wishes with me. Among the “To Do” list was to throw his ashes in the sea. His contention was if love and filial piety are to be expressed or demonstrated, then it’s better upon the living than the dead. “I can’t rise from my ashes,” he said, “to see who’s visiting me.” That’s my grandpa. 🙂

But he has a point. Looking after the aged sick is more difficult than keeping his or her ashes in a niche or at home.

Visiting and providing for another person’s well being instead of only focusing on ours and simply appreciating them is better done while they are alive than dead.

All good things take time and effort. Even if just sitting to spend time with someone. We glean a lot about a person. My grandpa had a wealth of stories, anecdotes that I loved to hear… Of his childhood, walking miles to and from school everyday (did I mention my great grandpa had a car and driver at home? 😮 ) and sqautting by the roadside pumps to drink water when he got tired and thirsty, getting rides from a kind bullock cart man sometimes, until a rich aunt decided to be his patron and took him in to live with her, how he grew up during the pre-war days, going through two world wars and surviving!, his early dalliances with love, how he was matchmade to grandma etc… etc..

They were folks of humble background (they lost everything during the Japanese occupation). They do not leave a legacy in wealth or any written word (although I would have liked to have paid more attention to the whats and hows when I helped my grandma, at six years old, to make her special herbs and ointments for wellness, bloatedness and sprains) but if anyone had cared to spend time with them, the treasure is them.

Don’t get me wrong. I know him warts and all. Heck, we even know of a skeleton in grandpa’s closet. 😉 He was also a reformed alcoholic and chain smoker (I have proof – the ash from his cigarette burned me above my belly button while he was carrying me as a child (the folds of fats now, might have erased the mark but not the memory of it) 😀 It was only later in life that he gave these up after converting to Christianity but he hid nothing about his life. He taught me the good and the bad and how to choose well. He is not on any pedestal but his life touched mine in a very precious way.

So too others who have left this unpredictable world. They are not perfect, but I remember them because in some way, their lives resonated with mine.

I ask myself what epitaph I might want (although there will be nothing to engrave it on as I don’t intend to be buried or my ashes kept in a niche. I want my ashes to be thrown in the sea) ….

I think how we live is how we will be remembered. It will not be a perfect life but hopefully, we won’t have been too busy to stop to say a kind word to someone during a time of need, extend help in kind or time, be there for someone even if sitting in silence to listen, to cry with them … be it to stranger or friend. To have strength of character and the moral courage of our convictions to stand when others sway … to treat human beings with dignity no matter their station…. The acid test? – extending this same charity to loved ones at home as well (that’s the hardest, cos we hurt those we love the most).

I wouldn’t hold a memorial service before I go. These are for the living to cope with the loss. But I would want at least one eulogy from my family. What they say will be the acid test of how well I’ve lived and loved. Or not….

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