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What grief can give.

“Somewhere along the way, I began hoping for salvation and mercy instead – for a fulfilling end, rather than a miraculous recovery.”  

Losing a loved one is a near universal human experience, yet grief remains a topic rarely broached in our society. To that end, I would like to share my experience on how journeying with my grandfather in his final year changed me as a person. It taught me as much about love, as it did about loss. 

Gong Gong told me about his cancer diagnosis on a balmy weekday afternoon in May; he peered at me through his glasses and said: “Mei Mei, you know Gong Gong got the cancer? But don’t worry – Gong Gong strong”. His love for me meant that his impetus upon receiving less than favourable news - news that he himself could not quite comprehend, news that threatened his very existence- was comforting his scared grandchild. 

In the months following this – feelings of hope and uncertainty became that of grief, despair, and acceptance of the inevitable. Before his first operation, my family headed to a temple to pray and in that moment, I began to understand the need for religion: driven by a burning, desperate need to believe that somehow against all odds, this was all happening for a reason – someone out there has a plan and we would see this through. 

For the first time in my life, I held joss sticks, clumsily copying the movements of prayer by devotees around me. I prayed for his health and a speedy recovery. It would be with this same mixture of confusion and respect for traditions which I did not quite grasp, that I would bow my head in prayer at Gong Gong’s wake a mere eight months later.

The last year of my life seemed to be splintered into two: before Gong Gong fell sick and after. Family life as I knew it began to change. I watched my sprightly grandfather slowly weaken, his plump and rosy face slowly turning gaunt. Our weekly family dinners quietly turned into daily hospital visits. Somewhere along the way, I began hoping for salvation and mercy instead – for a fulfilling end, rather than a miraculous recovery. 

Love, Good and Evil

Nietzsche famously proclaimed that love transcends good and evil; with love as the driving intention, the outcome ceases to matter. We simply cannot classify the consequences of acts of love into the binary categories of good and evil. I truly began to understand what this phrase meant when throughout Gong Gong’s illness, I fought to transcend the binaries of good and evil. This was made most salient when he bargained with me - begging me for just one sip of water when the doctors forbade him from having any, pleading for just one peanut which he simply could not physically digest. To give in was to trade his present joy for future suffering. Yet, to refuse him was to constantly be the bearer of bad news, cajoling him to suffer temporarily, holding out for a better tomorrow which we both knew may not arrive. For all my good intentions in denying him his present desires, it ripped me to shreds to watch him suffer, even if I tried to convince myself it was for his own good. Here was the man who gave me everything I ever wanted, who cried and apologized when I fell and scraped my knees; here I stood helpless, unmoving in the face of his suffering. 

My beloved grandfather passed away on Boxing Day, after putting up a valiant fight. 

It is easy, in hindsight, to agonize over every minute decision we made, point out the obvious risks we chose to take; doing so condemns us to a purgatory of our own making, a lifetime of ‘what ifs’, holding ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection. Yet, I learnt that we can’t bargain with fate – at the end of the day, the only truth that matters, the only path that exists is the one we walked; it now falls upon us, the living, to make our peace with it.

I learnt that grief is a final act of love, that there is beauty in loss if only you choose to see it. Even at the wake, every grim moment was overshadowed by fierce laughter and fond recollection; in every chirp of the sparrows that flew overhead, I could almost hear Gong Gong laughing wholeheartedly, freed from his worldly suffering. Through loss, I learnt that grief is the price of loving. To have the privilege of knowing love, my grief is a price I would pay willingly, unequivocally, in each and every life.


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