0010 – cancer grief spirituality preparing for death

Word Vomit: 1000 words 15 minutes no editing don’t read lah

Been a few days since I did my last word vomit and I actually feel a little odd about it. So I figured I’d start today with one, even before my usual cold shower + squats/pushups habit. I am drinking a tall glass of water, though.

A very close friend of mine just found out that his father has stage 4 lung cancer. And you know, words are never helpful in these situations. There’s really nothing you can say. Asking “Are you okay?” is stupid, because who would be okay in such a situation? And you think about the 20 kids who were shot in Newport, and the 1,000 people who died in the typhoon in the Philippines, and the tens of thousands of people who must die from cancer and car accidents every single day, people whose deaths don’t stop the world in its tracks, don’t make the news, and you realize that… you know. You can’t even really say it, there’s no “it” at all. Our parents will die, and we will die, and the world will move on despite of our overwhelming grief and ennui. As a friend, you wish you could stop the world for a minute and let everybody know. Sigh. I wish pain and joy were literally transferable, and we could spread both around so that nobody has to suffer so much, nobody has to feel so much pain, nobody has to be so sad.

And then I can’t help but start to think about other things, because my mind is just kind of wired that way, and immediately you wonder if you’re an asshole just because you aren’t sticking to the matter at hand. How long should one sit in sombre silence? How long is right, how long is just? How soon is too soon? How do you tell? The more you ask these questions, the more of dust you kick up, the longer it takes. Everybody is different. Everybody has different coping mechanisms. Some want to be left alone in the quiet. Others want to be distracted with mindless activities. Another friend told me that emotions only last about 12 minutes “on their own” before they persist because of our own self-perpetuation. I wondered how funny it would be if, upon hearing terrible news, we set 12 minute alarms- and once the alarms go off, we shake ourselves off and stop being sad altogether.

Might there be some sort of biological advantage to sadness and grief, that we linger in it as long as we do? Jason Silva argues that awe has helped us survive- what about sadness? Misery? Anxiety? Are they unwanetd side-effects, or a part of the palette?

There’s always something bittersweet in the way grieving, while terribly lonely, brings people together. Me and my friends were sitting at the void deck “having a moment”, everybody drinking alcohol, everybody smoking cigarettes and everybody knowing what everybody else is thinking about- at least to a greater degree than we normally do. Everybody a little more naked, a little more vulnerable, a little more sensitive. And you almost want to say- hey, I’m thankful we’re sharing this experience, I just wish somebody didn’t have to be diagnosed with cancer for us to have this sort of communion, I wish somebody didn’t have to take the fall for everyone else to come together.

I think back to Wayne Thunder, the drummer of The Suns and all-around cool, fun guy who passed away mysteriously a few years ago, at a troublingly young age. I remember the cries of his father at the funeral- no parent should ever have to bury his or her child- but above all I remember how everybody sort of came together after the incident, and there was a sense of unity, a sense of oneness… where did that go? It naturally diffuses away. Mourning is like a sort of spiritual chiropractice, but it’s no replacement for good posture.

Well that’s a thought, isn’t it? I’m way behind time on this particular word vomit-about 2.5 minutes left and 300 words to go. This might be the first time I actually fail to meet my time limit, but I guess that’s okay- the word count and time limit are both there merely to function as guidelines, so I don’t have to think too much and I can just focus on writing. I wonder if I can actually catch up in time. So exciting, it’s like a game. A simplistic, superficial game. Let’s do it! And now I’m thinking about how I just got myself away from thinking about something relatively “important” like spiritual chiropractice and good spiritual posture (I’m guessing Stoicism) and obsessing about something completely non-consequential, like typing fast enough for a bar to keep moving. I’m not going to make it, 200 words in 50 seconds… I should just give up. Heh. I shall.

Okay, back to spiritual posture… I think that we should prepare for the worst every single day. Seneca was big on this, I believe- he talked about preparing for death, thinking about how to commit suicide in a calm and stoic manner- which he was eventually forced to do. He was a rich guy but he kept practicing the loss of everything. Imagine that you have nothing. You got paralysed. You lose everybody you love in the most gruesome of ways. I make an effort to imagine these things.

Sometimes I almost morbidly wish that I would go through some disturbing twist of fate just so I can see for myself if all this preparation and philosophizing has any value whatsoever. But you can’t express that, because that’s petty, and downright insulting to anybody going through any real pain. It’s like hoping for a car accident so you can practice your EMT skills, or hoping to get into a street fight so that you can use your martial arts skills… the gurus always say, you train to fight so that you don’t have to fight.

But we’re all going to die. Me, you, our parents, our friends, everything that we know or care about. Know that I love you. I am here. Even if I’m gone, hopefully I would have left behind some words that might be of comfort or value to you. Vale.

2 thoughts on “0010 – cancer grief spirituality preparing for death

  1. kok ming (@gkokm21)

    Reading ur post is quite strange feeling to me. It sounded like its me blogging, the parts about mortality, because I rarely see Singaporean write about this issue. But I am freaking sleepy now. I was thinking Warren Buffet is a fairly good example for me to emulate because of his humbleness, humor despite his achievements in acquiring stocks. But death may be a different picture 1 or 2 decade down the road . So I guess we need to be open minded also. yawnz

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