My friend's father passed away today. We sorta knew it was coming because he'd been sick for a while and my friend was abruptly called to the hospital yesterday afternoon, but it's never real till it's, well, real. I found out via SMS on my mobile phone: first a message from a mutual friend about the death and the wake, then a couple more making plans to go to the wake on Monday afternoon. Maybe that's why it seems so real on the one hand yet not. Did it really happen when all you have is a text message on your mobile phone about it?

What's more surreal for me is that this guy is my age, my generation. The funerals I've been to in the past few years have always been for older people. This bereavement hits home, even though I don't know my friend that well, because it brings death one step closer to me. I've always wondered what it feels like for my parents, who've been to friends' funerals countless times: what's it like to go from attending your parents' friends' funeral wakes, to your friends' parents' wakes, and finally to your friends'? And to acknowledge the passing of intimate family members in the interim as well. How does it feel to know that your time is running out, your generation is next? What can you do besides hope and pray that you and your loved ones get a few more years?

I don't know what I'll say to my friend on Monday, besides the usual. He came in to work today, just for an hour or two to finish up some stuff, and I already was at a loss for words after he reported that his father was still in critical condition and not expected to live beyond Saturday. I hate being trite, especially when it's someone that I care about, but what do I say or do to make him feel better? People always assure me that being present and showing support is enough, but that always makes me feel inadequate. Possibly, my sense of helplessness stems from the fact that the closest death has come to me is when my grandmother passed away seven years ago, and that was even more surreal than this because I stepped off a flight from Chicago to see my family wearing black patches on their shirt sleeves (a Chinese practice, indicating bereavement) and found out that my grandmother had passed away a couple of days ago, but they hadn't even told me she was ill because they didn't want to distract me from my examinations. (How quintessentially Asian of them.) All I could do was peer into her coffin at her peacefully embalmed expression and try dimly to recall what I'd said to her at Christmas. Hopelessly inadequate.

I hope my friend's doing all right. He's ordinarily a private person, too, so it'll be hard to tell. But I hope he's okay.


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