Let’s Talk About Death (and Possible Inherited Diseases)
After eleven years of my grandpa’s passing, I finally get a chance to visit his grave. He passed away in a different city from my hometown. He was living in my uncle and aunt’s home back then. He was a nomad. He had a lot of homes. I sat down beside his grave. Took a deep breaths. Realising how real this is. He had leave us for years now and the family still functions. He was the glue of the family.
As expected, the tears fell down from my eyes. Old memories were replaying in my head. Those were all real, and so is this grave.
Death is never an easy topic to talk about. Some who may see it coming, don’t like to put the issue on the table. Afraid of offending other parties. Some who experienced deaths of their loved ones before have observed pattern which might likely occur again on another person. Death is scary. Not just about the afterlife, death is scary because the journey to death itself may ignite problems, may trigger miscommunications.
I watched The Farewell yesterday. It is so unfortunate for us — Asians, to have the not-telling culture. To be honest, I didn’t know whether my family told my grandpa about his condition back then. Again, we lived in different city. I was also still a child, I had no significant voice or opinion back then. Back to The Farewell, Billi Wang and her Nai Nai’s relationship was sort of mine and my grandpa. He was as kind, as generous, and as protective as Nai Nai. The other family member’s death I experience was my grandma from my mother’s side. She played tennis every Saturday. Every once a month, she’d visit my mother’s house and talk for an hour or two. Her cause of death was heart related disease. Knowing the doctor recommended to do a surgery on her, all of the daughters stop trying. They have seen how their mother’s body transform during the sickness. They don’t want to cause a lot more physical pain. It was the time they started to let go. I was in my early teenager years during her passing. It was sad too, but mostly I was very sad because I saw my mom’s struggle during that time. She went home early from work, went straight to my grandma’s house until she slept, went back home, eat, take a shower, work some more, sleep. Repeat. It was also in the holy month of Ramadan. Therefore, during sahur, my mother would visit my grandma before at 6 she went back home to sleep and wake up at 9 for work. That year, sahur was mostly just me and my dad.
Death is hard to understand. The signs may be obvious. People may have different experience but listing all the deaths close to me, most of them have similar pattern. But still, people are optimistic — or denial. They keep telling themselves maybe this is it, it is getting better. But Mark Sloane from Grey’s Anatomy teaches me one thing, don’t be too excited when someone’s condition is getting better. Yes, it is a fictional death, but I am pretty sure Shonda Rhimes had done her research and consult with medical practitioners whether that condition is possible.
My parents had talk to me about death scenarios. Mostly, about what are theirs that will become mine. But rarely the real thing. How they want to be treated — at home or hospital — before the day comes? Where do they want to be buried? Which family members I can lean on during my grieving process — I am an only child. My father repeatedly say “When we’re old, we’re going to go back to our childhood behaviours,”. I believe that.
Since my mother told me a lot about her mother’s death journey, I get a glimpse of possible scenarios that may happen to her and me. It is unfortunate for me and my father, since we were not there to experience my grandpa’s death journey. I have less than a clue about possible scenarios.
Besides all this, at least try to understand your genetic inherited diseases. My grandma passed from heart disease. My grandpa passed from stroke. My other grandma has diabetes and turns out dementia. The whole dementia thing is a surprise to the whole family, but I grow up watching Grey’s Anatomy. Although I don’t really read about dementia and alzheimer, I get to see Ellis and Meredith’s dynamic also Richard and Adele’s dynamic. Again, I do believe in Shonda Rhimes team. They must have research a lot and the actors too. I went to see my grandma last week and she was zoning out. This feels so familiar. I have seen it on screen, on Grey’s Anatomy, on This is Us, and on Still Alice. All the shows and movies both my parents don’t watch.
Seeing her zoning out, gives me precaution. It may be a shitty situation for my father and his siblings right now. But it is a blessing for me because I won’t be surprised.
On the other hand, there were some times my mother telling me stories about mental issues history in her family. She’d say the genius uncles and aunties of hers. This is also a precaution for me and my next one.
We are alive without precautions. The sperm cell of our father didn’t leave a secret message for us to read — that the world is screwed. The egg cell of our mother didn’t sing us lullabies about post-apocalyptic. Death is coming right after the birth. So does inherited diseases. Therefore, before all that happened, talk. Understand yourself through your parents childhood stories. Get to know yourself through your parents medical history. We are all made up of half of them: a mother and a father. Leave precautions for your next one, to make your passing easier for them.