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Opinion: Lincoln Lim ‘What Death Taught Me About Life’

I was 9 when my family dog passed away.

His name was Junior and to be honest, I was pretty afraid of him after an unfortunate biting incident when I was 5, so much so I didn’t approach him pretty much all my life after that point. He lived in my backyard surrounded by discarded roof tiles, old barbecue grills and rusty gardening equipment, a place I never ventured into for fear of the furry Cerberus that stood guard over the wonders that the rusted heap held.

The day he passed away, I felt a sense of relief as my mother told me the news in the car ride home, anticipating the world of exploration waiting now that the monster was gone. But somehow that all went away when I got home and saw my usually stoic older brother kneeling in the garden with tears flowing down his face, holding Junior’s lifeless body with his bare hands.

I realised then that maybe he was the way he was because of the circumstances he was in, that maybe being trapped in a place with a chain round your neck might make you a little wary of the world around you. That day, I decided never to let myself be trapped in a place where I don’t recognise myself anymore, and to never judge another person when I don’t know what they’ve been through.

I was 15 when my grandfather passed away.

He was the man who introduced me to music, who taught me to appreciate the simple things like nature and working with your hands and who never failed to celebrate my birthday or any one of the many pointless adolescent accomplishments with a whole roasted duck from his favourite stall in Chinatown. He was my first fan, clapping while I practiced singing and playing the guitar way before it was worth any kind of support, and he was my confidant, my first port of call when I was upset.

I would sit by his side while he drank his daily can of off-brand stout and smoked his camels, and I would tell him about whatever banal school drama occurred that day while he chuckled mysteriously, egging me to go on while correcting my grammar.

When he passed away suddenly, it only really sunk in that he was gone when I saw my father, who usually didn’t show any emotion at all even when he disciplined my siblings and I, crying at his funeral.

I realised then that I knew very little about the man I confided in, that his life and loves, troubles and experiences were a mystery to me while my minor complications of a teenage life laid bare for him. I learnt then to always appreciate the giving trees in our lives, and to always listen more than I speak, lest I never actually get know the most important people in my life.

I miss you, granddad.

I was 18 when my girlfriend passed away.

She had one of those personalities that just set the room alight when she walked in, which as an awkward kid learning to be himself was mind-shatteringly cool to me, and it was a truly special experience to share a life with someone like that, even for a little while. She had dreams bigger than I ever did, dreams that were bigger than the circumstances she dealt with at home, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that someday, she was going to be somebody important. She was my first in many ways, and I learnt so much about myself being with her, more than I could have bumbling about on my own back then. She showed me what true strength was, shaking off her problems and braving the day when she had far, far too much for any one person to deal with back home, all while being an incredible source of support for me as well.

When she passed away, we were on a break. I still remember the call, her brother’s voice breaking through my 6AM stupor yelling what had happened while I could hear her mother crying in the background. What followed was the most challenging period in my life: dealing with the fallout from her family and friends, working through the trauma and finding peace among the overwhelming guilt that flooded my mind and still does at times.
I learnt then to never forget that no matter how strong someone is, everybody needs somebody to just listen sometimes. Life isn’t easy, so we should never make it harder than it already is on somebody. Mental health is an issue that needs serious attention, and to always, always remind someone that there’s always a better day on the horizon.

Death has taught me so much, both as a cautionary tale and in the regrets that followed, and I think more than anything it taught me to appreciate, really appreciate what I have in the moment, that it only takes a second for all of it to go away. While I hope I don’t see him again anytime soon, I acknowledge the importance of death, and his role in reminding us to live fully, unrestrained and completely, because honestly, what’s the point in doing anything else?

Written by John Zebra