The other day, I saw the news about the JT610 plane crash. This wasn’t the first time a plane crash had happened, of course, but as I scrolled the feed on my Twitter and Instagram, I had come to realize that more and more people were posting news about the incident.
I found it fascinating, that instead of the cold, monotonous, professional tone of a newscaster voice that dictates how many people died, how the engine failure happened, and what the airline company promised to compensate, there were more and more people commenting about the victims’ lives.
Inside that airplane, there were more than 100 people aboard. Some of them were newlyweds. Some of them were expecting to be married. Some of them were going to see their family and friends—only to end up in an unfortunate accident.
I shuddered when I thought about being inside that very airplane. What if I were in there? Who would be the last person I contacted before I took off? What would I have said? During the time when the plane fell, would I even stop to think about something—anything?
Even dismissing the too-hypothetical aspect of the questions above, I could easily imagine the answers.
Most probably, I would be sending a message to my mother right before the flight attendants asked us to turn off our phones. She would be sending long-winded messages on WhatsApp about the flight safety measure she had memorized. (Yes she really is that paranoid). And she would never forget to send me a “have a safe flight” message, too.
I wonder how it would break her heart if I were inside the plane.
I wonder who else would be heartbroken by my passing.
I wonder who would even remember me, and if they do, would they remember me fondly? Or would they remember me as someone they’d rather not have met in their lives?
I find it funny that the smallest things could prompt me to start thinking about the concept of life and death.
Several years ago, after my grandmother passed away, my mother brought home some of the bouquets home to decorate the house with it. She told me that it was a waste to throw away the beautiful flowers, but I knew that deep down, she just wanted to bring something from the funeral with her.
Curiously, it wasn’t the passing of my grandmother that made me contemplate about life. It was, in fact, several days later, when I saw the once beautiful bouquet on the countertop having wilted away. The once white carnation petals were already brown and dry; the whole crown was parched.
At that point, I immediately remembered all about my grandmother in a swift moment. From how she used to dote me when I was little, to her failing eyesight as she grew older, the signature dishes that she used to cook, and even the days I had spent telling her stories about my life.
I thought to myself, is a human life comparable to that of a flower’s? We all started out as tiny seedlings, and slowly grew with time. One day, we would bloom to our fullest, only to wilt away eventually. Just like my grandmother—a strong-willed woman who loved to listen to my stories, but wilted away on a hospital bed in 2009.
I think, for the first time in my life, that had been the moment of epiphany that signaled me: this is it. You are grown up enough to start thinking about life and death.
For most people, death is a sudden occurrence. For some others, death is like an imminent disaster, peeking through the window as it scratches the door handle. You know that it’s right there, and it’s looking for a way to get in. It’s constantly looking for a way to claim you.
One of my closest friends, whose father passed away from a stage IV lung cancer, told me that she felt conflicted with her father’s passing. On one hand, she felt grateful because they had known about the cancer for a long time. It gave them time to reorganize their lives—for her father to sort out his worldly matters before he died. It gave their family enough time to mourn, and most importantly, to prepare.
Regardless, when her father finally passed away in February 2018, I saw that something changed in her. She managed to smile through the funeral, and she even joked around as her friends came to give her a visit. But everybody knew she was deeply affected by her father’s death. We couldn’t understand what she was feeling, because it had never happened to us, but we knew there was a turbulent storm inside her heart.
A storm that raged on because she felt powerless; a storm that was born out of grief.
I wonder if, just like my mother, her family also brought some of the flowers home. I wonder if any of them would notice how the flowers slowly wilt away.
The grief of losing someone close to you is never going to fade away, I suppose. Time certainly will take the sting away, but there is no replacing that hollow feeling you get inside your heart whenever someone you love leave you.
Sure, you might not cry over their passing every day like you used to do, but there would be a time when you were doing something—anything—and think, “Ah, I used to do this with them.”
My mother, for example, was cooking ragout for the family, and she would remember how my grandmother used to ask her to finely chop the vegetables. She told me that the vegetables had to be cut really finely, otherwise, the end result will not turn well. And even though she just told me nonchalantly, I caught her shedding tears from the corner of my eyes.
She didn’t cry a river or wail in despair anymore. But I was certain that doing that menial chore of chopping vegetables reminded her of my grandmother. Especially of the memory they shared together. Because that’s where the hollowness originates from, isn’t it? The realization that we can never relive those memories anymore.
The same thing applies to the families and relatives of JT610 plane crash victims. Right now, they might be too shaken; too vulnerable. The very thought of how the victims died could easily bring them back to tears, I’d imagine. And it’s alright; nobody will tell them not to cry, because most people know how painful it is to lose someone close to them.
But give it some time, and I’m sure the grief will somehow… shift.
When my mother cried that day, it wasn’t because she remembered how my grandmother died; it was because she remembered how my grandmother lived.
And although it will never truly go away, I do hope that the people who are left behind would be at peace with their grief. Because wouldn’t that be what the victims wanted as well? To be remembered not by how they died; but by how they lived.
That is probably why all over the world, people would offer flowers when somebody dies. I’ve always found it ironic how people would always offer fresh-cut flowers during funerals. Very, very pretty flowers, of course, but very much dead flowers, because they were trimmed away from the trees.
Maybe it’s because pretty flowers were thought to have the power to ease the sorrow.
Maybe it’s because flowers brighten up moods.
Maybe it’s because flowers teach us that even in death, it could still bloom so beautifully.
I am extending my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and relatives of the JT610 plane crash victims. May the victims be remembered for their good deeds, and not their faults. May they forever live in the minds of those who hold them dear.
I may not be able to offer flowers for the victims, but here’s my humble prayer.
I will not ask them to be strong, because it is okay to be sad and vulnerable.
It is okay to feel that it’s unfair.
It is okay to be angry.
It is okay to cry.
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