He was family, but I didn’t know him. In actuality, I can’t remember the last time I saw him — was it really two years ago, during Chinese New Year? But he wasn’t exactly family, was he… He was my grandaunt’s husband, and the only thing I can remember of him is that he used to say how my features made me look Japanese when I was still a child.
And now he’s gone.
The worst part was, I didn’t even feel anything when I heard the news. His face kept flashing in my mind, but that was it. It was almost as if a stranger had passed on — like his life didn’t matter to me as much because I didn’t know him, because I didn’t love him, or even because he was “family” with inverted commas.
I went to the wake out of obligation. There, I saw a shell of what my grandaunt used to be. They said she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. She was quiet — calm, even — when we first arrived, but at sporadic moments she would lapse into cries… and I didn’t know whether she knew her husband was gone, or if it hit her at specific moments when she realised she was sitting at his wake. I felt a tinge of sympathy for her, but somehow I couldn’t get myself to feel more or to say more. I couldn’t touch her, let her know that we were there — she seemed too fragile.
To be clear, she wasn’t one of those from my large extended family to visit every Sunday, and by extension, her family never came either. I only saw her — and her late husband — once every year. And after my great grandmother passed, I have not seen them at all. We were never close to her, her husband, or the family she built with him… but I still felt like I should have felt something simply because he had a connection, however small that connection is, to me.
Instead, my mind revolved around my unfinished school work, or some boy, or my friend who recently went through a break up. I didn’t understand — while those things might be important to me, shouldn’t they be less important than a death in the family? Shouldn’t the deceased, and those that he has left behind, take precedence?
The thing is, no matter what I do, I cannot force myself to feel. As a friend told me, “You feel what you feel,” but sometimes I beat myself up over not feeling anything when there’s nothing else I can really do about my feelings. The last time a death happened in my family, I felt anguish and grief because of the love I had — and still have — for my great grandmother. This time, being twice removed from the situation allowed me to have a different viewpoint.
Death helps to put things into perspective. It reminds you that you don’t have forever, even though at my age, you tend to think that forever is a very strong probability. Every little thing that seemed to take precedence before seems small in comparison, unimportant, even. But those small, seemingly unimportant things are what build up your life. Small, “unimportant” things like your friend who needs you to be there at a difficult time, or spending dinner time with your family, or yes, even obsessing over a reply from someone. Life is lived best when you’re living it — and nothing is too inconsequential.
To Fridays is a weekly column that hopes to be able to give you all the encouragement and love in the world. #tofridaysvp