In Memory Of

Day 10, 500 words, 31 days.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend’s father had passed away. His dad had been ill for several years but his death was still sudden for the family.

Today was his memorial service. There was no wake, and his casket remained closed. My friend, a pastor, told us all that this was how his dad would’ve wanted it to be – that we remembered him not as a shell of himself, but when he was still alive and well.

There are some stories I don’t believe I have the right to tell. It is not for me to disclose the personal challenges my friend’s family had to face in caring for his father. Neither am I fit to share how great a man he was, or describe what sort of legacy he had left behind for many.

The truth is, I hardly knew this man. I barely even know my friend – I just met him several months ago after moving here to Penang. I’ve since attended his church service whenever I can and when I do, I would see his father, mother, and sister, seated on the same seats, on the same row, every Sunday.

Many spoke of how full of faith my friend’s father was. It looks as though he remained steadfast in this way, well until the end.

It wasn’t very long ago when I, too, had to give some final words at a memorial service. It was for my grandmother. She passed in November of last year.

Her death felt very sudden for me, though, my family had more time to prepare – however one prepares for such things. For me, it was the shock from having just spoken to her hours before she had gone. She wasn’t able to reply to anything I had said – I only trusted that she knew that I meant every word of it.

Really, part of the pain was in the distance – the removal from all that was good, and hard, in the final years of her life. I had been away several years, seeing my grandmother only ever so often, updating her on whatever was new in my life, without ever being sure how much she actually cared to know. Knowing her, she must have just been glad to see me. She loved me, anyway, and regardless of anything.

In the same way that my friend’s family wanted to honor his father’s memory by urging that we remember him when he was still strong, I too, wanted to hold on to the image of my grandmother as she was before age, and death, finally caught up to her.

The woman I knew lived her entire life, religiously. Yes, she was truly devout in her faith, but it was her dedication to all that she deemed valuable and worthy of time and care that struck me most deeply. She nurtured her garden with the same sort of undivided attention and love as she did her grandchildren. She devoted herself entirely, and unconditionally, to her family as a humble, modest, wife and mother. These were my true memories of her – not those of her bound to a wheelchair, or witnessing her memory fail her, or seeing her have no energy to eat, let alone speak.

To me, she sealed her legacy on this world a long time ago. Her faithfulness just never seemed to waver, long after all the hurt.

I did not know my friend’s father. All I have are a few stories, testimonies of his grace and faithfulness until the end. Someone said it today that we were all there to grieve him because he was so great.

It is true. I know this when I remember having such difficulty getting through my own eulogy for my grandmother. I grieved her wholeheartedly, because I believed we were losing someone whose kindness was unlike any other. Yes, there are other kind people in this world – especially the sort that history loves to revere as its timeless giants. But it matters little unless you felt any of their kindness firsthand. Hers was one that touched me through and through – and this was what felt so hard to lose.

I’ve written this before, and today only reminds me of how true this has since become for me: the gift of grief is in its reminder, that in spite of insufferable loss, we are still, in fact, capable of loving.

Services like today often lead me to reflect upon the kind of legacy I’d like to leave behind, and often leaves me admiring those who have died, having left their mark in unforgettable ways. But at some point today, I realized something else – we celebrate a great life, in vain, if we cannot be compelled to lead the lives we have remaining, better than we had before. If we cannot love better, then the love given to us is lost inside of ourselves, only to be held like a private memory, and not like the selfless gift it is meant to be.

Those who have lived long, and loved well, and finally, lost this battle with the life we’re so intimately, maybe desperately, acquainted with, have given us a final gift – that is, to let our love carry us on.

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