God’s neatest trick

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2016 – 12:00am

I have attended four wakes since last Sunday.

As one ages, the rate of deaths within one’s circle increases — slowly at first, and then it accelerates as one gets older. But even at age 65, four wakes in one week is pretty much. And as I write, I am told there is still another wake I have to go to tonight. A classmate died of dengue.

The first wake was of a good friend’s mom. She had been sick for some eight years, most of which she spent on life support. Several times in the past, when she was on the brink, the family decided to resuscitate her. For years, she had not spoken and could not even recognize her relatives anymore. Cared for by nurses, she had hardly any engagement with anyone else.

Surprisingly, when she passed away, my friend’s family still went into shock. Even if, at the back of their minds, they expected her to die any moment, the actual moment and the reality of death still caught them off-guard. My friend felt helpless and did not know what to do. It took two days for him to grasp and accept the reality that he had lost his mother.

The second wake was that of comedienne Joy Viado who was in the same mortuary as my friend’s mother. I met Joy more than two decades ago when she auditioned for and got a slot in a performance scholarship program put up by OPM (Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit) for unknown artists. I remember how even when she was new and raw, she was quite funny. She had already honed her performance instincts. Joy suffered from complications due to diabetes, which led to a stroke.

I thought about how relatively young she was. There is no rhyme or reason that explains when someone’s time is up.

On my way out, I saw that another friend’s sister was also interred in a room on the second floor. The circumstances leading to the death of this woman were tragic, macabre even. She died of gunshot wounds in what looks like an execution, an extrajudicial killing. She was left for dead complete with a cardboard sign that claimed she was a pusher.

I entered the room and immediately saw my friend whom I have worked with on acting jobs in teleseryes. I hugged her, expressing my condolences. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to lose a sister under such painful and demeaning circumstances. When she narrated how it happened, I could sense that she was trying to be objective but her rage and sadness shook her composure. It was with great effort that she succeeded in finishing her story. I did not stay long. I hugged her again, whispered comforting words and left.

On another day, I went to visit the wake of the father of a close friend in another mortuary. The scene was more pleasant. The room was big and the chairs and sofas were spread out to look more like a big comfortable living room. There were clusters of chairs surrounding low tables, perfect for entertaining the different groups of people who visited.

My friend’s dad died after heart surgery. He actually struggled hard to keep alive and at times the doctors felt that he would actually make it. But suddenly, like a thief in the night, death came and snuffed out his life.

The love of family was everywhere. Happy pictures and video clips of him singing and playing with his children and grandchildren were shown. The conversation was light, even cheerful, as family members talked with their guests about their dad. Even as my friend said that losing her dad was devastating, she could smile and even giggle as she reminisced over fond memories of her father.

Death is probably the biggest event in anyone’s life. Even while it is inevitable, it almost always comes as a shock to loved ones. And where one goes is an uninsured mystery.

I have always thought of death as the neatest trick God has ever done. For the living, it is one of the greatest mysteries. The questions we ask about death are among what the Buddhists call the “imponderables.”

Billions of people have died yet no one has come back to say what is out there after the great passing. For the one who dies, it is the final, much-awaited unraveling of that mystery.

Philosophies and religions have their takes on what comes after death. But no empirical, scientific evidence has been found to tell us what to expect.

It is only faith that can convince one that there is an afterlife, even if many do not need persuading. As for me, the lack of proof notwithstanding, I believe that in death, we graduate to a different plane, sphere or level of being. I am not sure how to describe it but I know that the before and after of the short life we live is book-shelved by eternity. We have existed from the beginning of time and will continue to do so after death.

Life is that brief moment in our specific time and space where we can accomplish our mission.

Death ends time and space on earth. But I believe that we were already in timelessness before birth and will continue to be there after life as we know it has ended.

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