Dealing with death

Death is not a favourite topic in anything – be it in conversations, blogs, columns or commentaries. I for one, am only willing to talk about it if one is staring right in front of my face, and I have to deal with it with as much acceptance and dignity as I can. That has happened several times in my life, but only 3 of the deaths were impactful to me and manage to drown me in an emotional abyss so deep, that my psyche automatically reaches out to leap – maybe just because by nature I am a bubbly person – not wanting to sink into sadness or unacceptance of what God has ordained.

The 3 deaths were that of my father, my cousin and a classmate. I lost Abah to a bout of stroke when I was 10. I had fond memories of him, one of my favourites being the one when he carried me over his shoulder just so I would not wet my newly-white canvas shoes over a puddle of water when sending me to kindergarten class. I remember how he would chide my sister and my elder cousins for scolding me when I was naughty, because I was his golden girl. I used to sleep with Abah and Mak on their bed, right up till I was 9. I recall how I would I wake up in the middle of the night, feeling humid and hot, and Abah would lovingly reach out for a file of old newspapers and fan me with it. We didn’t have a fan then. I really appreciate what little memories I have of him, and so when he passed on – I was sad and thought I would be lonely. I vividly remember the day of his funeral, when my 10-year old mind wandered off as I stared out of the window – thinking how I would miss my Abah so much that I would go to his grave and dig it up. Well, I didn’t. I was blessed with so many people around me I hardly feel alone. I grew up very loved by everyone, and until today – I thank God for all that.

The second death that I had to face head on was that of my cousin.I was 22 then – young, adventourous and finding love. I was in the midst of a heartbreak and decided to run away from it all, during the 2nd-year semester break in September 1994.I had told a campus mate that I wanted to have some peace and fun in New Zealand, which I love for its scenic beauty, and my favourite elder cousin Kak Wati would be my partner in crime.

On that fateful day, Kak Wati, myself and an old friend drove along Burkes Pass in NZ in a rented car, and it was a beautiful, gorgeous day. There were rolling mountains and deep valleys and we were soaking in the mood with music, chatter and jokes in the car. The crash was not forthcoming.

The car tumbled and was overturned. I lost Kak Wati at that very instant, and even as I write it now, I am still shaken by the memory of that incident. I could not understand then why my life was spared, how I only had a scratch and a small rib fracture, while Kak Wati’s 30 yeard old life then was taken away, in a flash. I dealt with her death well, but I cannot allow myself to remember the incident without knowing there will be a flood of anxiety creeping in me, like it does now. On a recent trip to LA, my nieces and nephew asked me about how ‘Cik Wati’ died, and I could not even finish my story with them. Ayad, my 16 year-old nephew, thanked me for what little information I shared about it, even though I was choking with anxiety half way. I appreciated that, and was secretly proud of his sensitivity.

The third, which was one of the most painful – was that of LL, a classmate whom I remember to be one of the funniest, happy-go-lucky girl in TKGS then. She was in NCC, and was popular, and when we all parted ways after our O levels in 1988, I lost contact with her .

Ten years later, I was in the car on the causeway heading back to Singapore. A g/f called me and said there is an obituary in the papers and it was that of LL’s. I could not believe that she has died, until I reached home and saw the picture on the obituary myself. Then we were all only 27. The next day, I had planned to go to her wake with the other girls after work, and we started coordinating car pools.

Just as I was packing up to go, I had this strange curiosity to ask a colleague, Chin Hon, who was covering crime stories in the newsroom then, to check with the police on the cause of her death. I dont know what I was doing, it was as if some strange energy just pushed me to do it. As a crime reporter, he would have access to information from the police not often allowed to be published in the papers, what we would call as off-the-record. I had an inkling that I am heading for an off-the-record piece of information.

As I waited patiently at my desk, an internal message flashed on my computer screen from Chin Hon. ‘Zuzan, you may want to come over’. That one line was enough to make me feel as if the world has stopped spinning. I knew it was not positive. Chin Hon didnt have the heart to tell me what I was about to know over the internal message. LL had jumped to her death, 7 mths pregnant.

I was very confused dealing with her death. I did not know how to position the LL I knew – a bubbly, church-going person, to the one who decided to take her own life away. I chickened out from the funeral, as my anxiety was escalating. I did not want to deal with the reality that someone I know personally and has slept in my house for a sleepover has committed suicide. Until today, I dont talk much about her or her death. This was the beginning of how I know I do not deal with sudden deaths well.This blog entry is also one of the few times I choose to talk about her death.

Yesterday, a friend told me over MSN that a former colleague in ST died in a car crash in Sydney, 2 mths ago. I don’t know him as well as the person who informed me, but I remember he had jammed with us once or twice. Thomas Lee was a very decent guy, mild mannerred and was sort of a pioneer for some of us who decided to leave news and go to tech business journalism, which I did for 2 years.

I was thinking of Thomas a lot last night. This morning, on my long drive back from downtown I thought of him again. Thomas was 36, and apparently was very happy with his new life in Sydney and doing very well. I felt sad, shocked and confused in the same tumbling way I felt about Abah’s, Kak Wati and LL’s. The puzzle is – I don’t even know Thomas that well.

Here in Canada, there is a culture of putting up crosses and flowers where accidents occur – those that have taken lives away. The crosses and flowers are usually put up by the victims’ loved ones as a remembrance for the victim/s. Along the highways where we drive on daily, there are at least 5 that I noticed. Each time I look at them, that same creepy anxiety filled me. I am indeed reminded of the fragility of life.

I understand now that I do not deal with sudden deaths well. I am blessed that I am even thinking about it,planning how to deal with it better and be more accepting, because I know of many, who do not even want to think of death as a reality. I am not sure what would be better, thinking about it or deal with it when it comes.

The latter, obviously, did not work well with me.


  1. thanks for sharing this uja. very sad….

    over here in the US, they lay crosses and floweres at the sights of accidents too BUT most times, thats where a person got shot by a gangster. more scarey than sad.

  2. In: I hope now you guys have gotten the full story, sorry I could not finish it properly tt day. (:

    Ely: Most welcome. I am glad I wrote abt it, it has made me stronger reading it again and again.
    Shot by gangsters? That is indeeed scary. They are little reminders too, but the kind who will give chills down our spine. Jangan lupa baca Ayat Kursi bila keluar rumah ok?

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