I think a lot about death ever since having children. Sound morbid? Let me explain.
Before I had kids, I loved disaster movies like The Day after Tomorrow and 2012 with epic scenes of giant waves and earthquakes swallowing up buildings and cities. I was also a huge fan of horror movies that scared the bejesus out of you like The Ring and Drag Me to Hell.
But after having children, I watch such films with trepidation. Much as most disaster and horror movies aren’t meant to be thought-provoking, I can’t help mulling the “what-ifs” and various doomsday scenarios. If an asteroid headed for earth is set to doom us all, how would I prepare my children for the end of the world? How would we live our last moments together? And heaven forbid a zombie apocalypse! How would we survive when our neighbourhood is overrun by the dead, food runs scarce, and there is no train to take us to safety? (Train to Busan, anyone?)
The early scenes of Aftershock – a Chinese disaster-drama film based on the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China – spooked me to no end. The hardest to watch in the acclaimed movie was when a mother was forced to choose between saving only one of her two children trapped in rubble. I wish no parent would ever have to make such a heart-wrenching decision.
I know it sounds silly contemplating things out of our control and situations that may never happen in real life. What are the chances of aliens annihilating life on earth?
But my point is these scary shows spark questions I’d never given much thought to before I had kids. That’s why news of mothers who died always hit me hard, especially those with young children. They make me think, what of their husbands and children? And what if it was me?
Since hitting the big 4-0 and seeing more relatives and family friends pass away with old age or sickness, I find myself questioning my own mortality a lot. I probably wouldn’t be there to deliberate all these ‘what ifs’ when I’m dead, but now, I can imagine what my death would mean for my family.
I know my children would be well taken care of by my husband, and he would have help from our parents and siblings, but children need their mothers. Mine already bawl their eyes out when I leave for business trips. I’m always the first my kiddos run to when they get scared or upset, and between my husband and I, I’m the one who has the better grasp of their daily needs like school schedules, food likes and dislikes, whereabouts of particular school items/toys/clothing/medications, and dental and medical appointments.
My heart breaks when I think of how my husband would cope without me and how he would have to grieve alone while handling our children’s grief. I know they would eventually learn to manage without me, but I crumble at the thought of the hurt and sorrow they’d have to deal with from losing their mother and wife.
Becoming a mum gave me a new perspective about life and death. I knew my life was precious before I had children, but it feels even more precious now in motherhood when you have so much joy, yet so much more to lose. I want to be there for my children’s every milestone. I want to see them graduate from school, get their first jobs, marry, become parents themselves and give me grandchildren. I’m not ready to go before all these events happen.
While I don’t obsess about it, this fear of dying influences my decisions in life now. When I drive or cross the road, I do so more carefully. I weigh the risk of decisions. I wouldn’t attempt risky activities like skydiving – something I had considered when I was much younger. I eat healthier, cut down on alcohol and go for health screenings diligently – little decisions that hopefully prolong my time with my family.
My youngest, aged 6, is becoming more aware of life and death as she develops a maturity way beyond her age. Just the other day, she suddenly told me, in tears, that she wished there was no such thing as dying and that we could all stay our current age forever. I told her, I too wish for that but it is going to be a very long time before I go away. And I certainly hope that’s true.
Whenever my little one has such moments, I use them as opportunities to teach her about managing her worries, and tell her the importance of living in the now and living our lives with gratitude – lessons that have also served me well. As I wipe the tears off my little one’s cherubic cheeks and she settles into my arms, I’m reminded once again, how lucky I am to be alive.