The first time I encountered Death, I was a tender age of 4, and Death had stealthily lugged my maternal grandfather away. I never knew my grandfather well; I was too young, bound by childlike naivety, and the only memories I had of the man was probably only a shadow of what he had really been, the part I never shared memories with. All that remained etched in my mind was his visage – a frail and sunken figure, cheeks hollowed, sunspots sprinkled over his copper skin, a physique of downward spiral migrating from his walking stick, to the bed he never left till he passed. I never got the chance to be a spectator in the viewing gallery of the crematorium, cushioned by my child privileges – to be shielded from the harsh realities of the world and kept safely cocooned in a delusional bubble of joy where pain and death don’t exist.
The second time I encountered Death, I had matured into a young lady, yet nonetheless older and wiser than the child I had been last. I still remember lulling in bed, shifting under covers and praying time would come to a standstill before I had to drag myself out of bed to school. Ironically, the alarm never did wake me. My father did. I still recall his tone of calm as he told me “Get changed, Grandpa has passed away” and I knew the oxymoron concealed beneath the mask of calm was nothing but calm.
My father, the eldest of four, had been closest to my paternal grandfather and I myself had nothing but fond memories of the man who used to send me and pick me up from my abacus classes, envelop my hand in his while crossing the road, buy me ice-lollies to suck on the way home and fill his fridge with yakult cultured drinks and soft drinks in anticipation of our weekly visits.
My grandfather is testament to one of those who have “gone through a lot in life”. He overcame juvenile delinquency, lost half a leg to his smoking vice, and at the last part of his life, was plagued with yet another tough battle in the form of cancer. He fought — fought hard, to say the least — but a war against cancer is always a gamble, a disproportionate unfair gamble where the stakes are always not in man’s favor, and unfortunately, my grandfather got the short end of the stick.
In his final days, the man who always embraced me with a jovial smile on his babyface made even more pleasant with thick stripes of white bushy eyebrows dissipated, bit by bit. Death doesn’t just strip you down physically, even the strongest of characters start to fracture and crack, paving the way for a deep darkness that resides within to surface. I will not go on about the descending spiral my grandfather took since then, because I know that’s not who he truly is, but it’s what Death distorted him out to be, and in my memories, I only want to remember the good, kind and humble man he really was.
When we first found out that my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer we were initially full of hope, hope that modern day state-of-the-art technology would be able to reverse those cancerous cells and eradicate the tumors that threatened to sow discord between my grandfather and us, but as days passed, our hope diminished like the setting sun, and the last rays of hope we saw was the fact that our grandfather was still alive, and still mentally capable of hearing us, our words and our prayers. But deep down we knew it was a ticking time bomb, and that paradoxically, nothing would release and free my grandfather from the chains of Death other than Death itself.
See, that’s the thing about Death. No matter how much you anticipate its coming, it never fails to surprise by showing up as an unwelcomed stranger on your doorstep, casting a dark shadow of foreboding around everyone trapped in its shadow. Death taunts you, slowly tormenting you in guises of sickness and disease, yet at the same time, it is salvation, presenting redemption in the form of second chances in whatever time is left before it takes you away for good. Death makes you forget who you are, who you used to be; it brings out the worst in you, wrenches and exposes your vulnerabilities out in the open, but at the same time, tests the people around you to bring out the good (or worst) in them, triumphing over Death in their own right. Death is the Achilles heel of even the strongest of bodies, hearts, minds and souls.
At the end of the day, Death doesn’t discriminate or ostracize, and in the face of Death, we are all Losers.