What can we learn about being mortal?

Few days before our father’s death, which we didn’t anticipate [1], I was browsing the New York Bestselling list. Similar to my father who writes a book about his passion, I aspire to be an author whose books are widely read and benefit many people.

Then, I encountered a book entitled “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” authored by Atul Gawande.

It seems like a God’s message because I sometimes wonder why we listened to our father’s wish to pursue Chinese medicine and his refusal for a biopsy in Summer 2017, in spite of the strong recommendation of a senior lung physician whom he also respected. According to the Chinese medicine physician, the biopsy will cause the spreading of the malignant cells and Papa believes in him.

Perhaps, instead of self-blaming ourselves (I heard from others that Papa blamed himself for the worst financial disaster that he experienced), we can remind ourselves that, according to a 2008 coping with cancer study, “terminally ill patients who were put on a mechanical ventilator, given electrical defibrillation, or admitted to the ICU had a much worse quality of life than those whose had no interventions” [2].

Sometimes, I wonder if Little Prince and I inherit the worrywart tendency from Papa. However, we could use knowledge and wisdom to overcome this challenge.

My sister appears to be relaxed, carefree and sometimes insensitive [3]. While we are of different personalities, I only have a biological sister and the experience of losing my first brother has constantly reminded me to cherish her.

Being mortal gives us a lot of valuable life lessons:

  1. We need meanings in life and devotion to something greater than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.
    1. Many people find the meaning of life through seeing themselves as part of part of something greater: a family, a community, a society.
    2. In his life, Papa has participated and contributed to at least 3 major organizations related to his race, passion in kungfu and ancestral hometown. They came to his funeral, sent flowers, and chatted about his sudden death.
  2. We can choose to face mortality with humility, grace and courage.
    1. Substitute fear with faith
  3. We must plan for our loved ones shall we pass away.
    1. While I pray and hope to live beyond 100 years, so that I could bring my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren to see the letter that I wrote at age 25 to be read for a century later; I think it’s fine to inform our immediate family members what we wish shall we pass away [4].
  4. While we aspire to be independent, for many people, sooner or later, living independently will become impossible.
    1. In the last year of Papa’s life, Mama has taken a very good care of Papa. She wakes up early to prepare special diets for Papa and consumes Papa’s diet of relatively bland taste to support him. While Papa was worried about Mama as he aspired to care for Mama and he was disappointed that he couldn’t do so, his love for Mama will stay forever in our memory.
    2. Papa’s plan, if Mama cannot take care of him, was to self-admit himself to an old folk home. He also jokingly shared that he wanted to be a leader of the elderly, teaching them how to exercise to reduce pain and to increase mental alertness. In contrast, Mama once mentioned that she would feel sad if she ends at the nursing home.
  5. Safety is what we want for those we love and autonomy is what we want for ourselves.


[1] Later, after I saw Papa’s lifeless body in a suit with tie covered with a red cross up to his chest for the last time, Mama told me that his situation deteriorated in the last 10 days of his life. Since I was working in a foreign land and recently discharged from the hospital on my birthday, Mama did not want to make me worried.

When Mama and my brother brought Papa for a treatment at the first overseas city I went to, not for holiday but for surviving a riot, Papa had swollen legs but was still alert with sharp pairs of listening ears that were curious of doctor’s diagnosis.

[2] How do we define the quality of life?

[3] On 20180521, while her second son’s little fingers were trapped in the door, my biological sister just made a small smile, perhaps she is tired of taking care of two little boys. During the past few days, I observed that my nephews had bumps and cried often, but she would just carry on.

[4] I am thankful that Papa found kind Christian friends who can connect with Papa, they are migrants, prefers Chinese Mandarin, and businessmen (Papa was an entrepreneur who started from zero and ended up as our hero). On 20180414, Mama informed me via whatsapp that Papa decided in that meaningful morning that he wanted to be a Christian and before he passed away, Papa gave a message that he wanted a Christian funeral.

What kind of funerals do you wish?

  • white coffin like Papa’s white casket at the peaceful funeral parlour beneath the White Cloud Mountain. I found that the funeral parlour at Jakarta noisy with many cigarette smokes and burning incense that was tough for respiratory sensitive people, Little Prince.
  • On 20181023, I ponder on the exotic idea of an outer space burial.
    • Only ~1 to 7 grams of cremated remains, sealed inside the spacecraft so that the ashes do not contribute to space debris, have been sent to outer space hitherto, but not the intact body.
    • Since there is no oxgyen, hence no oxidation at the outer space, “decomposition cannot occur before the body  before the body either freezes (if you are not near a source of heat) or mummifies (all the moisture will be sucked out of your body). If your body was mummified, all biological processes would stop rather quickly, so there would be no further breakdown of your body. Both processes happen rapidly, but that frozen/mummified corpse could potentially sail through the cosmos for millions of years before encountering another object or force that acted on it.”


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