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Life & Death

2nd June 2014

Life & death

I just want to share a few thoughts with the bloggers here. Recently my mother passed away a week before the Easter. So I went back to Hong Kong to attend her funeral. After the Easter holiday when I went back to school, I had to work with a few students who had either their mother or father passed away. That was a bit overwhelmed for me as I just went through the grief and loss. However, I could share this grief and loss feeling with them, and it also gave me a chance to reflect on life and death.

Once upon a time a mother took her son to Disneyland and stayed there for a few days. The boy really enjoyed most of the activities there. On the last day his mother reminded him that it was about time for him to go home. When the child heard this he was very distressed and felt angry with his mother. He requested his mother to extend his holiday there and stay there for a couple of days. Instead his mother replied to him, “Son! Our home does not belong to here. We just stay here temporarily for fun. At the end of the day we have to go home. “ As a Christian it is a reminder for me that our life is in transition and our destination is eternal life. At one point I was a bit short-sighted and totally forgot my Christian belief. The following was an illustration of what mistake I made in the past.

A few years ago we had our family “reunion”. Three of my brothers and myself went to Hong Kong to meet my mother and two sisters. We had not seen each other for a long period of time. I had been longing for this occasion and was thrilled when I saw them. Of course we spent most of the time together and talked about our children. But at the end of the two weeks’, I felt a bit sad as we had to depart and to go back to our own country. At that point in time I had no idea that when we could meet together again. As I looked at the age of my brothers and sisters, I was a bit pessimistic at that time thinking that when we meet next time, some of the family members might be not be able to make it.

After a series of repetitive thinking on this topic, finally I worked it out with dismay. But I had to accept it. I understood that we have different stages in our life and we cannot avoid skipping these stages or going back to a particular stage that we like. I cannot reverse the life sequence. It also reminds me that I should not be so short-sighted in my Christian faith, and should embrace my Christian values with confidence.

I would like to share a story with you here where I find it very insightful. Don’t think uploading our ideas on the blog only happens in this digital world. It had already happened long time ago in Hong Kong in a village. In this village, the villagers had put up a notice board to inform their community about what the happening in the village. One day the villagers decided to let people share their ideas and feelings on the board in addition to the news in the village. They divided the blog into two columns, entitling LONG and SHORT.

One day when this little boy came back from school, he stopped at the notice board and felt curious about writing something on the blog. (see the table)

After a while a housewife came back from shopping. She went to the blog and expressed her frustrations there. (see the table)

In the afternoon when she went out to pick up her child from school, she wrote something on the blog again when she walked past (see the table)

Meanwhile an elderly woman whose husband just passed away recently walked past and read the blog. Then she wrote something on the blog.

LONG                                                                           SHORT
Boy: The time spend on the class is too long.                                        Recess is too short.
Housewife: The queue to buy her hot dog is so long.        However, the hot dog is too short.
Housewife: The time to spend on doing house chores is too long. The time for her playing majong (a kind of gambling game to play amongst four people) is too short.
Elderly woman: The time for death is too long.                                     Whereas life is too short.

Since after she wrote this message on the blog, no one ever wrote any more messages on the blog again. This metaphor tells us that we need to treasure every single second we live on earth especially with our loved ones as the time to stay with them is very precious. When we miss them, it would be too late to feel regret that I should have spent more time with him/her. Nowadays we have so many distractions to prevent us from spending time with our son/daughter, husband/wide, mother/father, grandparents, etc.

Often we only focus on how long we are going to live on earth. The death of a loved one reminds us that life is finite. At this point in time, we usually have to grieve for the loss. But if we could reframe this in another perspective about how meaningful we live our lives, then how long we live in this world won’t bother us too much as we can use these sources of meaning to help us endure the pain of grief when our loved ones no longer stay with us.

No one guarantees our life is free from suffering. We have encountered various sufferings in our life such as illnesses, uncountable disappointments, sometimes grieving the loss of our family members or friends, job loss, failing in examinations, fighting with our children, parents or partners, etc. I remember Viktor Frankl mentioned in his book Man Search for Meaning, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in suffering” tells us that suffering is inevitable and so we have to accept it. We cannot avoid the suffering, but we have the choice of how we can respond to the pain that accompanies the suffering. Using Mindfulness help us see things as they are, without trying to change them. It helps us dissolve our reactions to these emotions, being careful not to reject the emotion itself but to validate the presence of such emotion. Mindfulness can change how we relate to, and perceive, our emotional states; it does not necessarily eliminate them as we know that particular emotional state will not stay there forever.

I once saw this from the internet and find this very interesting. A man said to the Buddha, “I want Happiness.”
Buddha said, first remove “I”, that’s ego,
then remove “want”, that’s desire.
See now you are left with only Happiness. Whether this is true or not, from the mindfulness point of view, if we do not try to cling on anything or react with our emotions, peace is there.

May the peace and happiness stay with every one!

Written by Gabriel Wong
Clinical Psychologist

Frankl, V.E. (1959/1992). Man’s search for meaning. (revised ed.). Boston: Beacon.

Gabriel Wong
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