“The white haired man is never supposed to bury his black haired son.” From time to time, my late grandpa would randomly say this with a blank, empty stare. I’d stare back and listen. I knew that these words came from his heart. He’s referring to how he outlived his son (my dad); and would go on about how life was never the same. He shared that when a parent loses their child, there really wasn’t anything else to fear in life. I’d often wonder if my grandparents lost their will to live. I’d wonder if they both felt guilty that they lived a longer life than him (both died in their nineties). When they died, these curiosities went away.
Last week, they resurfaced. The last few weeks have been heavy. My uncle is on his death bed. It’s cancer. Initially, we were told he has four months and things took a quick turn and now we are counting down his days. Fifty-four and much too young. Sadness, anger, guilt, resentment, regret, projection, all of the should haves, would haves and could haves have been very present. It’s been especially hard on his parents. In processing my own feelings and empathizing for them, my curiosities resurfaced.
I recently learned that in Chinese culture, an elder should never show respect to the younger deceased (even their own children). So, if the deceased is a young bachelor, for example, he does not have a proper funeral held at the temple and his body cannot be brought “home” and must remain at the funeral parlor. His parents cannot offer prayers to their son, either since he was unmarried, he did not have any children to whom he could perform these same rites.* It’s traditions like this, that lead me to believe that certain customs exist because such rituals teach us how we should respond to unexplained tragedies. In Chinese culture, it’s often viewed as shameful or “no face” when a man outlives his son because it deviates the law of nature or how life should be.
I used to think that the easiest conflict to accept is Man vs. Nature. After all, why stress out over things beyond us? Let nature do what it does. With age, I’ve learned it’s not as easy as I thought. I once read that Nature is selfish. How can one of the most selfless things be called selfish? I think it’s a matter of interpretation. It can be both, selfless and selfish. While nature selflessly gives without any expectation of receiving anything in return, it’s also relentless and does not stop. When unexpected tragedies take place, we ask quesations like, “Of all people, why did it happen to him?” or “How can he die at such a young age?” We question why things happened so unnaturally, but the reality is, things can and do happen and can change on a dime. The world continues on and that is nature at work.
It’s Think Out Loud Thursday today, and I really didn’t want to talk about death. Rather, I want to encourage you to think about how selfless and selfish life is. It’s easy to forget this, so please think about the life you want to live and live it. Life’s too short. Our time is now.
*While I have been told this many times, it was also validated by China Culture