Saturday, February 14, 2015

Of death and dying, closed caskets and butterflies

(This article originally appeared in Buhay Pinoy of the Philippine Online Chronicles on October 31, 2014 with the title Of death and dying, closed caskets and butterflies.)




With neighbors and friends passing away one by one, I cannot help but feel sad. I know we will all go the same way as they did. A recent death of a neighbor who was bubbling with exuberance just a couple of months ago reminded me that I've written this post just recently. It also reminded me what Stephen Covey had written in his "7 Habits": "Begin with the end in mind." I believe it is only when we are capable of accepting the reality of death that we begin to live our lives meaningfully.
"I cannot believe I am actually writing about death and dying. As of this writing, I have not lost any member of my immediate family. My husband and children are healthy and full of life. My parents may be old – Dad’s 83 and Mom’s 74 – but they’re still alive. All of us, seven siblings with our respective families, are also very much alive and kicking, thank heavens.

My daughter said I have this fetish about death and dying because I am never afraid to talk about it when other people find it a morbid topic. I realized facing the reality of death makes one cherish life even more and thus make the most out of it. Death, for me, is never the end. Once in a while, I would tell my children what I want done if ever I go ahead of them.

Planning for one’s death? I don’t think that is weird or morbid. It’s quite practical to think of what to do in one’s “pre-departure” stage. I just hope we have ample time to do this. Or perhaps I can do this now even if I just turned 51?

And so I ask, “Dear death, how do we prepare for thee?” Let’s take a look at some tips.

1. Keep a file of important papers and let a member of the family know where that is. This includes Time Deposit Certificates, Passbooks, Land Titles, Passports, Visas, Car Registration, and Insurance Policies, among other important papers. This file may be kept in a safe place at home or in a safety deposit box of a bank. No one wants to turn a closet upside down looking for these when the time comes. I am assuming there are no family troubles related to these.

2. Write a will. This may sound like this is for rich people only but even if one has only a parcel of land as property, it will avoid confusion for the beneficiaries or heirs one day. At least, each one will have a clear idea where a piece of jewelry goes to or who gets the collection of books or artwork or an heirloom dinnerware or even an old desk that has been handed down through generations.

3. Draw up a list of things to do for those who will be left behind. This could include what to do with your photo albums, journals, computer files, clothes, shoes, bags and other personal belongings and whether these will be kept, donated to charity or burned.

4. This part is what a lot of people don’t want to discuss. List down what you want done during your wake, church and funeral services. I know of a neighbor who wrote this kind of list and even assigned who will do the readings during the mass and who will speak during the necrological services for her. She also planned what she wanted to wear in the coffin thus she was able to wear her bandana of purple and fuchsia, her favorite colors.

Talking of what to wear, this brings to mind a former teacher who was bubbly and vibrant when she was alive. She asked to be dressed up in a bright red dress (or was it a gown?), thus those who visited her wake would momentarily forget their grief upon seeing her and would instead smile at her whimsical outfit. She was remembered with joy.

As for me, how do I prepare for thee, dear death?

I do believe we are more than a body, that we are composed of a soul and a spirit and we should prepare accordingly when we shed off that shell and free up our spirit. It’s not just a short dying stint of preparation that is needed but a lifetime of cleansing one’s soul and spirit in ways guided by the Divine. I say, feed the spirit, nourish the soul, nurture the body through proper diet and exercise, cultivate healthy family ties and friendships, render valuable service and charity and spread love, the agape kind. It’s a tall order for one lifetime to do.

So much for the spiritual part. Here’s the practical part of what I want to do.

I told my family over and over, I prefer a closed casket. I got this idea from a friend who passed away a few years ago. Somehow, not seeing her face in death made memories of her less painful and more joyful because all I could remember is her beautiful face in that framed photograph on top of her pearly white casket. I want my family and friends to remember me that way, too. I want them to remember my smile instead of me looking like “natutulog lang” even with make-up done in Christian Dior.

I have always been fond of butterflies. I even use “Blue Butterfly” as signature for the photos I shoot. Butterflies are symbols of transformation and new life. I told my kids I want them to let butterflies fly free instead of releasing balloons like a lot of people do. One child quipped, “Nanay, pahihirapan mo pa kaming maghanap ng butterflies!” Haha. Still, I want butterflies during my funeral and it doesn’t matter if they’re not blue.

I don’t want music in the church or at the cemetery. Music more often coax the tears to fall and I don’t want people to cry for me when I pass on. I want everyone to celebrate my life instead, the way each life should be celebrated and not mourned.

Ah yes, I want to be cremated, too, and have my ashes spread in any ocean. I was toying with the idea of giving each of the surviving members of my family by that time a vial of ashes but nah…they might not be able to sleep soundly with my ashes watching them nearby.

At the end of my life, I just want to be remembered as someone who has laughed, loved and lived… like a beautiful blue butterfly."

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