Two dates we have absolutely no control over: our birthday and our dying day. Those two dates test our belief in God. We have no choice but to surrender, to just wait for it to come, and hope it surprises us. At least that’s what I hope: that my death will surprise me.
I have prepared my children for my death with apologies. Let me apologize early, I’ve said. I live alone and will probably die alone. You will probably find me after a few days, maybe after my driver rings my doorbell and I don’t answer for many hours. Then he will call you. You will probably find me smelly and maggoty. I apologize. Just call somebody to pick me up and have me cremated immediately. Then stick me into the crypt. On the ninth day have a huge party. Play my songs. Serve my drinks. Celebrate my life. Drink a toast to its end. It had gotten boring for me. I paid two months’ lease on my apartment, meaning you have two months to get rid of the stuff you don’t like. After that, it’s all over. Go back to the rest of your lives and forget about me. In fact, you can do that the very next day after you find my corpse. Don’t mourn me. I’m sure I’ll be happy elsewhere.
But sometimes I have questions about death and wish I could talk to someone who has died. I have been at the deathbeds of two grandmothers. The first one when I was 22. When she passed on I saw her face and I thought she looked blissful. The second one was her younger sister, who was also one of my surrogate mothers when I was growing up. She took a longer time and she was moaning. Was she having a difficult time breathing? I wondered. Or were they little moans of pleasure? But I could not ask because both of them died and did not return.
The French have a phrase to describe the climax of sexual pleasure or “the big O.” They call it le petit mort or “a small death” in English. I have always wondered why. Could it have a relationship to the grand mort or “death” in English? These thoughts passed through my mind quietly as I sat by my grandaunt’s deathbed. By then I was already over 35. These thoughts or questions remained unanswered.
When I was 59, I had a stroke. I wished I had died but instead I lived staring blankly at walls and recovering very slowly. Fortunately for me, I had no discernable physical handicaps, but I was isolated from my emotions, my imagination, and my memories. Every morning when I woke up I knew it wasn’t time for me to die yet. I was done with taking care of my children. Now I had my mother and her Alzheimer’s. I had to be alive for that. I was an only child. Who else would take care of her?
Now, I am going on 67 and feeling terrific, but I also sense the closeness to death. At the hospital after my stroke, I slept most of the time. One noon I woke up and heard a male voice. It said, “Tweetums (my nickname so I knew he was talking to me), you will live to be 69.” I felt peaceful, the only word I could use then. Now, when I replay that moment, I want to correct that figure. I felt grateful. You see, my mother’s Alzheimer’s first manifested when she turned 70. I don’t want to live to be 70. I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s disease, which can be genetic. I don’t want my children to experience the grief and the difficulty that taking care of her brought me.
Then recently I walked into a class I was attending and ran into Dolly Perez, a lady I met many, many years ago when I was in my 20s, but I can’t remember from where. They were talking and somebody mentioned that Dolly had had a heart attack and momentarily died. Here was the opportunity I had waited for a long time — to talk to someone who had died and find out, face to face, what that had felt like.
“May I ask?” I said. “What did it feel like to die?”
“It was wonderful,” she replied, looking straight at me. “Like a thousand orgasms. I saw the white light. I had this wonderful feeling of peace.”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
“They revived me with that electric thing. Now I’m alive and sometimes I regret it.”
After that conversation, what can I say? I want to die. Really and truly. Why are most people so afraid to die? If that’s the way it feels then I will have to say it must be a wondrous experience, a gorgeous, knockout, really breathless passage from this boring life into a world elsewhere full of light and mystery. I am ready for that exquisite experience. Anytime, dear God, I am at your beck and call. I am waiting, smiling, giggling, laughing, ready. Come and take me or send for me any time at Your convenience.
(Ms. Barbara C. Gonzales wrote this article from her column “Second Wind” at the Philippine Star newspaper. She remains a highly-respected media personality, being the president of a major advertising company. Illustration is courtesy by Igan D’Bayan)