I recently attended a wake for an 89 year old woman from my neighborhood. I did not really know her but once I happened to be on hand when she had a blackout in the street and I had accompanied her to hospital. She spoke no English and my very poor Mandarin meant our communication was very limited.
She was often seen walking around the neighborhood, going to the shops for her meals. She had no children, her husband passed on quite some time ago and she had long outlived the rest of her immediate family. Some of her distant family had taken care of her out of family obligation but it was an uneasy arrangement and something of a burden to them. It is said that she was difficult, cranky and hard to like but I wouldn’t really know.
Then her health failed and she spent her last two years at a facility for the elderly where she had few visitors.
At her wake, there was no one who had a memory or a story to share. No one wanted to give an eulogy. Those that attended seem to be just going through the motions. The minister leading the service had a real difficult time.
On the coffin was a picture of her in her youth. She was a beauty. I reflected on how it must have seen to her when her picture was taken that the adventure of life still lay before her. What dreams she must have had, what hopes. I sat there at the wake feeling really sad at how at the end, she was being sent off, not by loved ones but by those who hardly knew her or those that did not particularly care. But the worse was yet to come.
The wake service was being held in a building adjacent to the crematorium. Actually it was more like a shelter with a roof but open on three sides. As the minister led us to sing a final hymn, a stray dog came in and before our unbelieving eyes, peed on the pedestal on which the coffin lay.
We were all stunned. It was like the world gave a final insult.
Like the minister shared, our hope is that she is in a better place now where she is enjoying the love and care of her Creator.
I found the whole thing quite unsettling. I realise that the reality is that for many, the final years may be ones stripped of dignity. It is sobering to know that “there but the grace of God go I”. But it also reminds us to be thankful for every loved one and friend that we have and to treasure them like jewels.