How I want to go

Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 6, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Last June was the saddest month I have experienced in a long while. Too many people I knew passed on. I attended four wakes. That was too much for me. I was not even able to attend all the wakes of all those I knew who died.

The ages of the deceased were varied. They represented the young, the middle-aged, the aging and the very elderly. It seemed like people I knew were dying at a faster rate than usual the past month. It was brutal.

My wife balked at attending all the wakes. She attended just one. Some of the wakes I went to seemed sadder than usual because some of the deaths occurred under sudden tragic circumstances.

Death is always a shock even when we kind of expect it to happen. The biggest shocks are those that happen almost without warning. One day a person is alive and seemingly in the pink of health. The next day, he or she are gone from the earthly plane.

While I was at the wakes, I tried to acutely observe everything that went on. I paid attention to a lot of things. I wanted to understand what death meant to all the people inside the chapels. For the departed’s immediate family, loved ones and close friends, the death is clearly a huge loss, an overwhelmingly sad affair. They bear emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and financial pain. A loved one is gone. There are regrets and could-have-beens that are expressed, or sometimes not. The pain cuts deep and personal. The time for any rectification is passed.

To other visitors, there is the sadness of seeing those left behind dealing with death with such great difficulty. There is also that awkwardness and inadequacy (no matter how sincere we are) of trying to express condolence and grief to comfort the feelings of those left behind, knowing that nothing we say can really replace the loss. And yet, we still express them. Well, because we have to. We also feel some loss. No one can restore what has been taken away. We can only sympathize and pray and hope it helps somehow.

When Jacqui Magno died, it affected me quite deeply even if I was already expecting it. I knew she was terminally ill. Knowing I would never speak to her or hear her sing live again was quite devastating. At the wake, I watched a collage of pics on the screen showing her at different times in her life. She was so alive, beautiful and filled with zest. I remembered all the different times when our paths crossed. I knew her as the best friend of an ex-girlfriend in college, a recording artist I produced, a fellow performer on stage, a friend whom I got quite close to on different occasions.

All that is passed and gone will never come back again. We all just have to move on as best we can. There is nothing else to do.

At every single moment, we are moving closer to death. That is a fact. Death is inescapable. There is nothing morbid about this. While we will never know when it will happen, one way I prepare for it is to be less attached to things that I can’t take with me in the afterlife. I must learn detachment. Another is to have a sense of urgency.

Coming home last night from a wake of a friend who suddenly fell ill and died of sepsis in less than 24 hours, it dawned on me how much time I was wasting doing nothing and not acting fast enough on important callings and dreams. I told Lydia that I still had so much music I wanted to write and record. I still want to help people in ways that would make them evolve into something better than what they know about themselves. I want to spend more time with my family, my friends and classmates, meet new people, travel to places that I have not visited, write essays, books, do a lot of photography. I also want to keep taking long walks and enjoy my body while I am still healthy. I want to touch lives in the ways that I can. I also want to continue my efforts at fighting for democracy and human rights in our country.

Years ago, I told Lydia that when I die, I would want my body to be thrown into the sea to be fed to the fishes. At least then, even in death, my carcass would sustain ocean life forms. I was very much into diving then. It was a less selfish option than being buried in a cemetery which deprives land from the living.

But after studying how difficult it would be to carry this out, especially for my family who found it too grotesque, I changed my mind. I now wish to be cremated. I do not want to be in a coffin with people gawking at me. But before I am disposed of, I wish to donate any healthy organs I may still have to help the living who may need them.

I also would not like the usual big flower arrangements at my funeral. They smell of death and evoke sadness. Instead, I would like people to use the money they would have spent for the flowers to help pay for scholarships for poor students. Instead of flowers, I want photos everywhere of friends, loved ones and memorabilia hanging on the walls. I would like my music to be played in the room, and fellow performers to sing songs for everyone. I want a celebration, laughter, but also moments of thoughtful reminiscing and remembrances. I would like some quiet time, too, where people can sit and meditate if they wish.

If it were my choice, I would still want to live longer. Much longer. I still have many things I would like to do. I do not want to die with too much unfinished business. There are things to settle, people to forgive and to ask for forgiveness from. Hopefully, I will use the time I have left wisely and purposely. I am aware it is not our choice as to when we will die. Our only choice is how to live the rest of our days before we expire.

At our age, the choice is to either slow down, do nothing and simply fade away when the time comes; or, we could use our remaining lives staying creative till the end, as we build up to that moment when we pass on like stars exploding in the night, leaving beautiful trails that light up the sky.

What a way to say goodbye!

That’s how I want to go!

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