Meeting Death in the Eyes
Father came home from the US last evening. I did not know how to face him, what question to ask. He sat down and began watching the World Cup on TV. He was made to give up the matches because of Grandfather’s business. My US relatives do not watch the World Cup. America is this one big isolated island, oblivious to the passions of the world. Father handed Mother and I a red packet each. Said it was the custom. They did not do it when Grandmother died because they were not sure of the customs themselves. I think I would never know what to do if one of my parents dies, albeit being the eldest child. This is not normally the kind of knowledge one pursues enthusiastically.
Before father left, we made him take a digital camera with him. I looked through the few photos he took, and was suddenly confronted with the image of my Grandfather inside his coffin. The shock took me by surprise. Grandfather looked unchanged at all. He did not have the waxy look of the over-made up corpse, nor had he the disshevelled look of someone who endured a long sickness. His hair was black and neatly combed, his skin clear. He facial expression was calm, like someone in a deep sleep. The body in the dark suit became robust again, and in his hands held a book – I could not read what that was. By his right side was the latest family photograph, four generations. I was not in there.
Suddenly the feelings I had when I first learnt about Grandfather’s death came back to me, and the urge to cry was only controlled with some ado. Still I knew not how to face death. To confront the image of death, the visible reality of death, so bleak and blunt, overwhelmed me and rendered me totally helpless. It was as incomprehensible as it was fearsome. Suddenly Antonio’s melancholic speech, my first Shakespearean speech, came back to me:
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.
Perhaps like Antonio who saw the invisible sadness, or like Hamlet holding the skull in his hands, I have also met Death in the eyes, and learnt the meaning of Melancholy.