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Anxiety of Imminent Death...

By Jonathan Lee

Anxiety of Imminent Death...

By Jonathan Lee



I was Ahkong (grandpa)’s oldest grandson. 

As the oldest grandson, I remember being doted on and adored. I got the warmest of hugs and the sweetest of kisses. I got the chicken drumsticks, the freshest parts of the biggest fishes, and piles of leafy greens on my plate. I had the biggest angpows (red packets), the largest toys, and the highest praise.

I could do no wrong. All I had to do to make Ahkong proud was to breathe.

You could imagine the pain when Ahkong, once strong, sharp, and vigorous, started losing his mental faculties to dementia and his body to a host of illnesses.  Eventually, we decided to admit him to a nursing home.

His final days were painful to watch.

It was suffocating. Staring at him from the outside of his ward was heartbreaking. 

He would stare into space just waiting for time to pass. A once chatty man spent hours in silence and only relied on short “yes” and “no” answers to converse. His body rejected solid food and was soon placed on a liquid diet. He started to get frail and weak; skin and bones. It was torture to see the shell of the man he once was.

Nothing comes close to the anxiety of imminent death.

Sometimes, death comes like lightning, but for Ahkong, it felt like a band aid being ripped off slowly as the scab glued to it reopens another new wound.

You know how boxers never quite see a knockout punch coming their way? They may catch glimpses of it here and there, see a flash or a flicker in motion, but they only feel its full weight when it lands square on the jaw. 

This is what anticipatory grief feels like – a punch just waiting to bury your face in the canvas of life when your knees finally buckle under the pressure.

It feels like a million butterflies, not the good kind, fluttering and clawing away at the insides of your stomach; it feels like a lump in your throat that never seems to subside no matter how many times you swallow your saliva; it feels like a cold sweat pandemic waiting to break out.

Sometimes, it feels like a sedative of denial that grabs you far away from the vices of reality, a high that never goes away, or smoke that escapes your fingertips that leaves you grasping at nothing. 

Anticipatory grief is awful. There is no security of an in-between, and there is little certainty. Worst of all? Living in a state of suspension where your options are few and far between.

The realisation that I will never see him fat again, or go for long walks  hand-in-hand at the park, or destroy a buffet together brought me to tears. Living each moment day-to-day was painful because I never knew when it would all come to an end.

However, it taught me to be fully present in each and every moment we have in this very short life. 

I promise you that living in the now is the best thing you could do if you are awaiting the imminent death of a loved one.

Our past surfaces hidden regrets while the future holds uncertainty, but the present is a gift to be enjoyed now.

It is never easy to live in that reality, but I encourage you to allow yourself to experience the fullness of the present in its entirety – the good, bad, and ugly. Don’t run away from the pain, or sweep it under the carpet because it will come back to haunt us one way or another. Say what you need to say to the person you love, and do what you need to do.

Every breath till Ahkong’s last was made sweeter when I learned to roll with the punches that life threw at me.

I never got that walk in the park with him, but we surely walked through memory lane for hours on end when I visited him at his bedside.

We might not have destroyed that buffet, but we definitely destroyed a six-pack of Milo tetra paks together. 

Live every moment you have with your loved ones to the fullest, and fix your focus on every moment in the now. One day when the time on the clock runs out, and all that remains are pictures and memories of a time that once was, I hope that the tears you shed will be as sweet as the smile on your face.

Love, Jonathan 


Published on 20/10/2020

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