Which isn't the reason for my not writing on this blog, of course. The truth is I've been at the theatre of the dead. After my aunt Patricia - one of my parents when I was a child - became terminally ill last year and died this January...I found it pointless to write about the days. What were the things that happened or could happen? I moved to a new home/attended a literary event/dated a man and here's what I felt about it? Some things happened; they moved along and I didn't sink. Sometimes it even looked like I had landed on a nicer shore than before. But nothing spectacular happened - I hadn't crawled up some cliff and made it to safety - I was still dangling in sadness and the wind had let up for a while. I devoted what spare time I had to writing prose poetry and wrote some good pieces. Ones that were born out of grief and loss. They were the best things I could have done and, in that sense, I was happy with the state of things.
Then my favourite uncle died in July. My aunt Carmen - my father's eldest sister - was his second wife and they had a huge age gap. Since I had any recognition of death in my childhood, I feared his dying. He was fair-haired, an old man already when I was a child! What if he died at age 60, or 65, or 70, or...just too soon for my aunt? I was a small girl drinking tea or dozing off on the sofa before I was put to bed when his friends were playing mahjong in the lounge. My uncle wore suspenders, smoked a pipe and built model ships; he joked a lot about people taking their lives too serious. I spent many weekends at their place in my early years, probably because my parents were fighting too much at home and someone thought it'd be a good idea to send me elsewhere some weekends. My aunt and uncle welcomed me with lots of fun times and affection; his presence was one of the highlights of my days.
Over the years we spent less time together, but I adored him, and Carmen and I stayed close. The past six years my uncle had certain health conditions, though he always bounced back - he could walk, talk, think, take care of himself and enjoy life just fine. Out of fear of losing him, I took it upon myself to talk him through his life story and record it on the camera. There was a period when I visited him often, at least twice a month, at the old folks' home, and I made probably close to 20 videos. As for my aunt, she loved him - she had always been, and truly, in love with him - and joked about him living until 100, or after she had dropped dead. Her words made me hurt and fear. The past three years I'd lived some rather rocky times and become rather elusive - I hadn't gone to see my uncle often at all. Once I gave him a hug - still a rare thing in a regular Chinese family - and told him it was because I'd been unhappy. He probably understood but gave me a little speech just the same.
I had seen him earlier this year. When my uncle died in late July, I did not see my aunt - or my uncle's grandchildren, who are older than me - until the funeral in August. I went fairly early and the moment I saw my uncle's body, clad in a nice blue outfit and covered by a red Buddhist blanket, I thought maybe he could hear me - that I regretted not having spent more time with him and I hoped he'd understand my affection for him.
What I learnt in the past two months, then, is that death hits me way harder than I expected. In my teens and early 20s, a number of friends committed suicided or passed away in accidents, which was enough to make me think life was filled with terror. When Patricia was dying early this year, I couldn't wait for her to die - could someone please take her and us out of this misery when it was time to say goodbye? My uncle had a long and pretty fabulous life, so no one whines about his passing...But that doesn't make anything brighter for me. I feel paranoid/suffocated about time passing - if half an hour passes and I'm not doing something "productive", like working or reading or writing, or at least watching a good enough movie, I think I'm wasting my life. If I walk around for an hour between tango lesson and dinner plan, I worry. I know very well that's me not coping with death - I'm racing against it in my mind.
It doesn't help that my grandfather is at the hospital and he's never going home. I won't go into details but let's say he's old and frail and it's almost a bit curious that he's still hanging on. My granddad was one of my caretakers when I was a child...so, when I saw him at the hospital a while ago - when I thought I might be dealing with a third death this year - I was devastated. Even now that he might be hanging on for some time...I'm still grief-striken, anxious and depressed over everything that's on my mind. People like my uncle and grandfather have family who care for them in their final days. What will happen to me one day? What do I do about anything at all when I'm just bobbing up and down through everyday life, often scrambling for safety? Why does anyone live a life?