Celebrating departures: How to say goodbye

Celebrating departures: How to say goodbye

TLDR: We have all said goodbyes at some point in our lives. Does it always have to be a sad occasion? How can we better deal with goodbyes? Wilson reflects on his departure from loved ones and friends.

Departure (4 Oct, 08:00am)

Knowing that I only had one month left, it felt like there were so many people to meet and so many things to do. The outpouring of love and kindness from the people in my life gave me an indication of the quality of relationships that I have forged in my time here.

However, I could not help but wonder about the intentions behind these gestures. 

I felt a tinge of guilt for thinking that all these were more for them than for me, that these helped them to make peace with my eventual departure.

I struggled with myself, “My friends and family seemed to assume that they have a right to ask for whatever time I have remaining. Yet, it also feels wrong to tell people that I want more time for myself and to reject their kindness. Also, how can I make assumptions about their intentions? That reflects more about how I view the loved ones in my life.”

As the end drew near, I thought I would feel sad, nervous or even excited. Interestingly, it just felt like the end of every other day that I have lived so far. I guess maybe I have prepared enough and that the end just feels like it would come sooner or later anyway.

Or maybe it is because I’m still on the way to the other side and that it will all start to sink in once I arrive.

At this point, I want to take the chance to thank the people in my life for loving me, helping me to learn and grow and eventually, letting me go with your heartfelt well-wishes. I think that is one of the greatest gifts I have received. Thank you all.

~The End~

Oh, you are still here? After reading the previous few paragraphs, you may be thinking, “This Wilson has gone crazy already. Say until like he’s dying like that.” 

Or maybe you are texting me now to scold me for scaring you. Hehe, please forgive me for deciding on such a dramatic and possibly triggering way to start the article. 😅

To set the record straight, I left Singapore for Japan to study and do research for the next 1.5 years. I do hope that the opening captured how I felt about the similarities between going overseas for a long period and dying.

However, if you are still cross with me (and understandably so 😛), I hope the rest of the article explains well the thought process of this weirdo here.

There are many ways in which we may leave this world. It could be sudden, leaving you shocked like a deer in headlights. Or you would have an idea of the end drawing near, giving you some time to make preparations. 

I was reminded of a quote by Paul Kalanithi in his book, “When Breath Becomes Air”, which described his journey of facing his mortality as a surgeon himself: “I began to realise that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I know knew it acutely.”

I feel blessed to be given the chance to say my goodbyes and to feel the love and care of my loved ones. It made me think about how I would ideally like to leave this world and how I could live my life so that when my time is up, it would reduce the suffering for myself and the people around me.

Celebrating Departures

While I mentioned the similarities between going overseas and dying, I noticed a major difference. 

When it comes to going overseas, it is usually celebrated. However, when it comes to dying, it is mostly grieved. You may retort, “Of course lah! Dying is a permanent goodbye leh. You go overseas we can still visit each other what.”

Also, people also tend to celebrate deaths if the deceased had lived till a “ripe” old age. Even the choice of words betrays our value judgments on the importance of living a long life.

To me, this often-quoted phrase captures my attitude succinctly: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” I think it may be also because I believe that I would not be able to live a long life due to my extreme levels of carelessness. 

With all these said, I am not proposing that we ignore the fact that others may be grieving over departures in their lives and therefore, trivialise the suffering that they are experiencing.

It is perfectly normal to experience sadness and grief as a response to loss in our lives, be it due to death or otherwise. However, we can also choose to respond to those by celebrating the life of the deceased.

For me, I had the idea that at my funeral, guests would be invited to note down a favourite memory that they shared with me. They can then probably laugh together at the silly things that happened in my life, including falling into the swan lake at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and getting into a tussle with monkeys at the Penang Botanic Gardens.

Preparing for Departures

How should we then prepare for departures, be it our own or others’, going overseas or dying? Instead of considering the plethora of things that one can prepare to make the departure easier, I think it would be good to focus on something manageable that we can do regularly.

The Buddha encouraged his disciples to use separation and death as part of 5 themes to reflect upon to support them in their spiritual practice. 

“Bhikkhus, there are these five themes that should often be reflected upon

… by a householder or one gone forth.

1. ‘I am subject to old age; I am not exempt from old age.’

2. ‘I am subject to illness; I am not exempt from illness.’

3. ‘I am subject to death; I am not exempt from death.’

4. ‘I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me.’

5. ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do.’”

AN 5.57: Upajjhatthana Sutta

Initially, you may find it weird or even uncomfortable when conducting this set of reflections and that is perfectly normal since we do not usually consider our mortality as we go about our everyday lives. However, I do hope this practice can support you in living a good life, so that when the time comes to leave, for whatever reasons and in whatever ways, you are ready for it.

Summary

We often go through life without thinking about departures of different natures, possibly even avoiding the idea of departures.

The grief that we associate with departures arises easily in our minds and while that is perfectly natural, we can approach departures in a different light.

We can choose to celebrate the moments we shared with the person who is leaving while taking the chance to reflect upon separation and death to support us in our spiritual practice.


Wise Steps:

  • Reminding ourselves of the 5 themes that Buddha taught us help us not to take life for granted
  • Grief is perfectly natural; what matters is our response to it. finding the right community to support you through it is most crucial!
#WW: 💀Jan is dead, where is our Real Home anyway?

#WW: 💀Jan is dead, where is our Real Home anyway?

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

2 stories for you today!

January has “passed away”, how has the first month been? January was also a month that marked the passing of Ajahn Chah, a famous Thai Forest Monk. We share a story of his teaching and a simple picture on spring cleaning!

1.Our real home: Ajahn Chah’s encouragement for a dying disciple

2. Spring cleaning our social media

Our Real Home: Encouragements for a dying disciple

Unsplash

What’s going on here

Ajahn Chah, a renowned Thai forest monk, gives encouragement to a lay disciple that was passing away. He beautifully encourages the person to be fearless as life ebbs away. It is worth a listen and read especially for those of us who are with someone facing death.

Why we like it

Ajahn Chah uses the nature of things to skillfully cast out fear for his disciple. He makes you ponder deeper about where our true home is. We can spend this year chasing the external material stuff or this year developing ourselves. We are often paralysed when loved ones are diagnosed with a terminal illness or facing their end. Hence, this provides a balm to the questions we might have about dying.

“The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body has become old and now it’s meandering towards its death. Don’t go wishing it was otherwise, it’s not something you have the power to remedy. “

Wise Steps

Where is our real home? Are we developing it daily or are we putting energy into things that eventually fall apart? By reflecting deeper, may you find the energy to develop your mind for the rest of the year!

Read it here

Listen to it here

Spring cleaning our social media

neon signage
Unsplash

What’s going on here

@peopleiveloved draws a simple image of housecleaning our lives.

Why we like it

A short simple image to remind us to let go of things that no longer uplift our mind. The acquaintances or influencers whom we follow and feel jealous about.

“Housecleaning. I used to want to know… now I am not so sure.”

Wise Steps

Check your social media feed! Are there people you follow that makes you feel inadequate and demotivated? It might be time to unfollow!

See what she posted here or down below!


Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

TLDR: Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. Here is my story and why closure is not always a necessity.

Once upon a time,

Birth and Death were lovers.

They have always been in love and

had never been separated.

But one day,

Life separated them.

Like all great love stories,

They will find each other again someday,

because they always belong together.

Birth & Death are inseparable.

Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. It started with my grandparents, my good friends, and then my father. 

I have not seen my father for over a year after my cancer treatments because he was suffering from Pneumonia, an infectious disease. Due to my low immune system, I had to move out and keep a distance away from him. How do you say goodbye to the person when you are not right by their side? Grief only becomes harder. It hurts a lot and it took me some time to go through the grieving. 

Death is a selfish B*tch. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no warning or a good ending. Death never left anyone behind. The lucky ones will get to depart first. The one that stays on will linger on a bit longer facing grief.

Death will eat you up, mess up your mind and when someone we truly love dies, it can feel like the end of the world.  

I remembered the story of Kisa Gotami vividly from the Buddha’s chronicle. After losing her only child, she went crazy, holding her dead son desperately seeking someone that could bring her son back to life. Her grief was paralysing so an old man advised her to look for the Buddha, a man well known for his wisdom. 

The Buddha asked her to find mustard seeds from a household where no one had died so he could bring the child back to life. After hearing this wonderful news, she eagerly went from house to house, but to her despair, every household had suffered from a loved ones’ death. Eventually, the realization struck that there is no house free from death. She buried her son and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. 

I always wonder why would the Buddha agree to save her son although it is not possible? 

The first stage of grief is self-denial, refusing to believe that the person had gone. There is this strong attachment that keeps holding on to the person. Buddha is a wise teacher, had he not assigned Kisa Gotami an impossible task she would not have understood the inevitability of death by herself. 

We don’t have to find “closure.” Seeking closure is akin to someone trying to ask a question with no answer.  Closure personally for me seems harsh, like trying to shut the door and end it with a bang. How can you shut down the love you had for someone?

The ability to face the truth is better than closure, it allows us to come to terms with what’s happening. It can help us to process the overwhelming reality of death.

Grief is like a stream running through our life, and it’s important to understand that it doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime, but our relationship to it changes. Moving on is the period in which the knot of your grief is untied. It’s the time of renewal.

— Martha Beck, “Elegy for Everything”

Dhamma is the best Psychiatrist

Dhamma helps to clarify. There is no right or wrong way to grief. Everyone has their way of coping with it. 

Don’t let anyone judge how your grieving should be. Some people travel, some people take a break from their job and some people just need to get help from a professional by seeing a psychiatrist. The truth is it will get better as time goes by. 

However, it takes effort to understand the Dhamma, read what Dhamma has spoken about death. The purpose of Dhamma is to help our mind to expand and grow, to clarify. It should uphold us and create an inner sense of peace, joy and clarity.

No one can tell you how long this grief will last or how to make it right. 

What is important is that we should stop concentrating on what we have lost and instead acknowledge what our loved ones have achieved in this life. Doesn’t it make sense that life is not subjected or defined by how long we live, but by how we make an impact on our surroundings, family and friends?

Metamorphosis

When a caterpillar metamorphoses, it doesn’t want the other caterpillars to feel sad for him. Instead, every caterpillar knows it will get through this process naturally. There is no pain, no sorrow, and no guilt. It is merely how nature works. No one can stop the metamorphosis. Death is just a temporary end to a temporary phenomenon.

Also, part of me selfishly focused on my grieving and on what I’ve lost, failed to understand that this person doesn’t belong to me and his presence is not existential. Our loved ones are not born for us to grieve. I realised that everyone, not just me, had experienced grief before and we have to understand that everyone was born to die.

We all will become someone’s ancestors someday.

After the preaching from the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arhat (An enlightened being that goes beyond birth and death). We too can work towards enlightenment by realising these small truths of grief along the way.


Wise Steps:

  • Don’t let the grief destroy love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress precious memories that you have for the departed.
  • Closure is not necessary. Don’t beat yourself hard by asking questions that don’t come with an answer.

Help us spread more goodness to the world

X