Before writing the epitaph...

I wonder how it is to face death as a looming reality, as definite as darkness past the sunset. How it must be for a healthy person to pass every day doing the daily chores, eat, sleep, read, watch, talk, feel happy, get angry and be disappointed, knowing well that the end is not far away.

How does it feel to receive news of contemporaries leave this world one after the other? What kind of thoughts cross one's mind on hearing comments like 'good he did not suffer; after all he had a full life' when a close buddy dies. What if the person who died was a few years younger?

Death strikes ruthlessly without any concern for age. However, our reactions do depend on the age of the deceased. Bereavement in a tender age is devastating news for everyone in the society.

Death in the thirties and forties is termed cruel, unacceptable and shocking. In the age of fifties, it is lamented as premature and unfortunate. In the sixties, depending on which part of the world one lives in, it evokes silent acceptance to guarded disappointments. However, it is still news. Death in the seventies is considered understandable. It is not considered out of turn; surprise is unceremoniously replaced by sympathy. All you get is a general feeling of 'wish there were a few more years'.

But, beyond the eighties, death turns logical banishing any element of surprise. This ultimate truth starts digging deep. One sees tell-tale signs of changes in behaviours of the people. We see people turn sombre, affectionate, reflective and spiritual. Now, spare a thought for the people past their nineties, when the world waits for their final moments. How does it feel to know that one's death will not surprise anyone?

I knew of a highly respected old man in his late nineties. His children, relatives, as well as the neighbours prayed for him to live for a hundred years. They planned to celebrate the centenary in a grand way. The old man knew it. The plans were later revised to celebrate his ninety ninth birthday with grandeur. A public function was held to felicitate him. What would have been on the old man's mind when he knew that the world did not expect him to live for even one more year?

Death is the only guarantee birth brings with it. But, we live our lives, just the way we must, as if we shall go on forever. We feed on hopes; hopes for a better tomorrow. We thrive on dreams; dreams for happier days ahead. We juggle with priorities, wrestle with crises in health to profession to family, convinced that there are years ahead to live, enjoy, contribute and share. Where do people get the strength to do so with not much of tomorrow left? If one falls sick, everyone prays for a speedy recovery. But, in the nineties, everyone prays for a peaceful end. How depressing would it be to know this?

We cannot reverse the clock. But, we must do what we can. We need to spend quality time with our old folks; need to find ways to be with them as often as we can. We should make them feel wanted.

Encourage them to take pride in their past, to relish every moment of their present. They are lonely in this wide, big world. 

Do it before it gets too late. Writing a poignant epitaph is just not good enough!

The author is a freelance writer based in Muscat. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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