It’s funny how death can bring people together in a way that life never could. Could it be that tragedy is that much more interesting than comedy? Maybe tragedy – and mortality – reminds people how they need others, for it is mostly in times of difficulty do we ever really have others in mind.
I remember the time when my grandfather passed away. I was eight then, still a considerably innocent boy with no greater ambition than getting good grades and receiving ample attention. I had to leave school for about a month or so when it happened, though I never really understood why. All my understanding could accommodate was that something tragic had happened and that tears were not only expected but compulsory. So I cried.
I didn’t understand death then and I suppose I still don’t. Or maybe it would be more appropriate to say that I fail to see death as others see it. Personally, I’ve always believed that death is not an absolute ending. Yes, it is the end of a physical existence but also the beginning of a spiritual one. Why should tears be shed for a mere physical conclusion? Have we not realized that anything physical has a shelf-life and is bound to expire sooner or later? Based largely on this purely subjective opinion, I began to think that people cry at the time of someone else’s death for selfish reasons: they can’t bear the separation and are worried about their future without the presence of the dearly departed. Even worse, I came to be aware of the fact that some people cry for show: it is the proper thing to do. Then again, some people do sincerely cry from sympathy: feeling sorry for the family or close relatives. Some cry regretting and wishing for the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.
So I don’t see death as a tragic occasion and therefore refrain from crying at funerals. I simply don’t see the point.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. As far as I can remember, death seems to be the only thing that brings my whole family (well, from my father’s side) together. In the face of a greater misfortune, differences are slightly overlooked and squabbles temporarily forgotten. And believe me, they are many. My family is a loud, temperamental, and dramatic bunch; traits which are most possibly passed on by their Batakese genes. Secrets are worn on sleeves and feelings expressed at the top of the lungs. In such a lively group, frictions among members are inevitable – especially when the individuals are highly strong-headed and belligerent. Yet in dealing with death, which is deemed as the greatest of all adversities, there is a certain sense of unity.
Still, it never lasted for very long. After a period of time unity would eventually wear out its welcome and my family would snap back to their same-old routine: domestic politics and warfare. Meetings would be held concerning the distribution of inheritance and such. Motions are carried, seconded, and passed, all by my father who, as the oldest of eleven, is considered wisest. Tears are dried and replaced by expressions of self-righteousness and indignation. Past strife would resume its rightful place, nastily bubbling up to the surface. Then after the battle, each would return to their own daily toils, licking their wounds or touting their spoils, and the once so solid unity would become nothing more than a distant memory. Well, until the next time somebody bites the dust.