An Observation Of Pain As An Everyday Occurrence
I didn’t cry at my father’s funeral.
In fact, when one of my friends came, I asked her about the burger she recently uploaded to her Instagram feed.
“Where was that?”
“Oh,” she said, “at that new diner place in the city center.”
“The one at the mall or the one at the business district area?”
“The one at the business district area. But this is a totally inappropriate place to ask about it,” she said. “Totally inappropriate.”
Of course she was right, though I couldn’t remember how I expressed my embarrassment after getting caught acting insensitive. I suspect by being even more inappropriate, such as brushing it off with a half-laugh.
Another inappropriate thing, I was anxiously waiting for my then-new boyfriend to come. He paid his condolences through a phone call, promised to come, but has not showed up. At least, not yet.
I remember some years ago reading Albert Camus’ The Stranger and one part stuck with me.
That Meursault, the main character, was incriminated even more when a witness said that he didn’t cry even once at his mother’s funeral, not even when he waited all night by the side of his mother’s coffin.
I remembered reading it on a bus in Jakarta and thought: this is something that would happen to me, this is exactly how I would react in such a situation.
And then, that day actually happened.
The only instance where I remembered crying was the night before. After I signed the letter stating my father’s time of death, I said thank you to the nurses in the ICU for taking care of my father by looking at each one of their eyes and faces.
One of them said, “You’re welcome. It’s no bother. He was a good man”.
For 21 days, my father was wholly dependent on their care. He no longer could talk, he was only half-conscious, his hands and legs bloated. Twice a day, the nurses bathed him and tended to the wound on his back after laying down for so long.
The only sign that lets us know my father was still listening and aware of our presence was when he tried to lift his eyelids or gave a slight half-nod. Other than that, we didn’t know for sure whether he saw us or even saw the photo of his first grandchild, a baby boy sleeping in an incubator, that I showed him through my phone.
He never did get the chance to meet him.
Even from the first diagnosis, my father’s cancer was terminal.
It was already at stage four, the doctor told him there was to be six rounds of chemotherapy and another six for radiation. The radiation therapy would blast away his cancerous cells, but doing so blasts away his good cells as well.
It’s as if a nuclear bomb went off inside his larynx and chest, where the centre of the cancer is.
A Hiroshima-like crater inside his body that burned and decimated the sensitive skin around his neck and chest.
My mother, my sister, and I, would take turns putting on salves, dipping cloth in wound dressing neutralising liquid and using them to cover my father’s neck — tender, pinkish, crumbly — and changed them once they had dried off.
Some bits of skin would be attached to it, causing a bit more pain for my father, but at least when the wet cloth was put on his neck, he was given a momentary salvation from the fire on his neck.
The wound then made it difficult, even impossible, for my father to eat solid food and, later on, to talk. When he eventually regained his speech some long months later, he talked in a croaky voice I have not heard before, and he was still unable to swallow his phlegm. Everything he ate was in liquid form.
He still has two more sessions of radiation to go, but the doctor ended it because his burn wounds was so bad and it destroyed his body. He became emaciated and lost half of his 75kg body weight.
I saw all of these first hand. I understood it, but I was unable to empathise with it.
I couldn’t understand why every other weekend, when we had time off and wanted to stay at home after a week of working and long hours of commuting, my father requested to stay at a hospital because he was in pain.
“There goes our off weekends to recharge,” I thought, fully realising how selfish it had sounded then and how egotistic it sounded now.
My mother, my sister, and I took turns sleeping in floor covered with thick blankets as a makeshift bed as we were not allowed by the hospital to bring or use a thin rolled mattress.
My father’s pain and his diagnosis still scared me. If it was me, knowing what would happen, I wouldn’t want to go through it. I wouldn’t even wish it on my worst enemy.
Though, watching a body slowly eroding beyond its limit made me wonder, why do people wish death upon themselves?
Would they still want it if the way to it was through this progression of escalating pain? Or do they only want the feeling of being missed by the people around them because of their sudden, tragic death?
In terms of mood and atmosphere, the day of the funeral is at the opposite spectrum of a wedding party, but in essence, it was more for the people who came instead of for the family where the happiness/tragedy occurred.
On both occasions, there was little time of actual grieving or celebrating. It became a matter of logistics: renting tents and chairs, buying food and flowers, and accommodating nonstop guests.
And of course, you have to search for the main location of the venue, either a wedding hall or a plot of land. But in funeral, a formal invitation was not required.
And then there was a matter of getting to the location, who will be in which car and what is the fastest way to go there, followed by the formal ceremony, the stream of faces paying either congratulatory or condolences, and then, the ride home.
My then-boyfriend never did showed up.
Yet, despite the experience of a lifetime of being stood up at my father’s funeral, I stayed with him for several months, until he ghosted me.
This time for good.
Maybe some pains takes longer to face, to grieve and to unpack.
For me, it came 10 months later, just as I was walking home from the office to a rent room I’ve lived in for over a year.
A wave of sadness that caught me overflowed from my chest to my head, to my eyes and to my stomach that it shivered.
The floodgate brought with it memories and realisation. The cliché saying “as if something had clicked” couldn’t be truer. In that moment, you realise that clichés are what they are because it was a reality that happened too often, it had lost all its meaning and significance. At least until you’ve experienced it yourself.
I remembered and understood everything; my father’s pain and suffering until the end, the full scale of the sadness of the experience that I was not able to feel then, shame toward my impatience, and what I hope to be my compassion and love and his forgiveness.
This sadness made me realise the extent of my father’s struggle — how in enduring all the pain he has gone through, he was fighting for us.
And in his pain, he was brave. Until his bravery is no longer needed and the disease engulfed his body in full.