In many ways, this is not the kind of December I’m used to – my wife and I just returned from a funeral, our second in this ‘festive’ month. To make matters worse, it was a child’s funeral – 14 month-old baby girl, who died suddenly in her sleep, leaving behind two very distraught parents.
The first funeral which we attended was quite the contrast – one of an ailing but well-loved senior, beloved Dad to a friend we know.
Whatever the circumstances, death has a way to stop us in our tracks. Poignantly so, in this month of festivities to pause and reflect on what truly matters in our lives; not so much on how to lose those pounds from all the feasting or what gift to get that colleague for the office party.
The first funeral which was held in honour of our dear friend’s father touched us. His Dad suffered a stroke from a medical complication and within a week, passed on. The funeral, though sombre, had a mood quite akin to that of an alumni gathering where friends across the years, from all walks of life gathered and chatted on a common topic. In this case, it was not about past school life, but the life stories of the dearly departed. In addition to reminiscing about his father, my friend and his family were blessed with so many personal anecdotes of his father from all who came – each testifying how he was a committed employee, a hardworking man, a trustworthy person of character and virtue. For the grieving family, listening to these meaningful recounts concretized the great legacy he has left behind.
I turn 44 next year and if all goes well, I hope to outlive my own father who passed away at 44 due to cancer. The time for us all will come to return to dust, for death is respecter of no men. As a young teenager who lost my Dad prematurely, I am acutely aware of that. Because of that, I strive daily to be the best husband, the best Daddy and the best employee – very tall order indeed for just a regular bloke. Even tougher as my wife and are standing at some major crossroads in our lives as a couple – having just adopted a newborn son in June this year; our daughter entering mainstream Primary One education in Jan 2015 and both of us have been tasked with increased responsibilities at work. These stressors add to the tipping point and they do not augment well for our health.
The second funeral – the death of the baby girl was more tragic. Children and caskets should never be in the same frame, ever. Having been through child bereavement (a path less travelled), we knew how important it is to have someone there to offer condolence and support. And we did. We meet up twice with this well-mannered young Christian couple who had to bear the tragic loss of their beautiful 14 month old daughter. The cause of death at time of writing is still being ascertained.
Children are a blessing; they are precious and entrusted by God for us to love, for a season. Children are not a ‘status symbol’ nor should they be part of our ‘marriage life’ that can be conveniently ‘taken out’ and put back in when it suits our convenience.
In Singapore, it is so easy to confuse being a busy parent vs an engaged, effective parent. Enrichment classes, holiday camps, parties, performances, playgrounds are all legitimate pursuits but while we fill up our children’s schedules with these, we are sometimes fooled into thinking that we are engaging our children. I’m very much guilty of that.
In this regard, there were moments, too frequent to even recall that I have failed as a Dad. Too busy, too tired from work to answer the curious questions posed by my 6 year-old and getting easily impatient with the crying newborn. It is tempting to let my daughter do her own thing – bring her to an event and let her bounce around with the rest of her friends, after all, she is now more independent. It is tempting to just let someone else do the caring for the newborn especially after a hectic work day but each moment that I don’t engage my children is a moment lost forever. We only have so much time to make precious connections with the precious children God has entrusted to us. Regardless of how trivial her observations of things may seem, how incessant her queries, or how easy it is to push the crying baby to the wife to soothe, each of these moments are opportunities to forge memories that matter. There is this quote from the movie, ‘Interstellar’ which says, ‘we are here…to be the memories for our kids’. But first, to be in their memories, we need to be present.
I hope to engage my children and my wife more. To just sit and talk or play a sport together, or fix more Legos and tell imaginative stories. Anything….to just enjoy their presence and engage them intentionally. For without engagement, there can’t be a relationship. And without strong relationships, it would be tough to be a good parent (and spouse) in this modern, messed-up world.
We’re all traveling through time, together, everyday of our lives… All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable life – from the movie ‘About Time’
One of the movies my wife and I enjoyed immensely is ‘About Time’ which stars the award-winning British actor Bill Nighy. The fictitious story revolves around a father and son who have the ability to travel through time. However, the father warned the son that all these should be curtailed the moment a newborn comes into the family. Due to the biological randomness of conception, to go back in time and return again would mean to get a different baby each time they return. The challenge came when the father is dying of cancer and the son is about to welcome his newborn: Once the child is born, he can’t go back in time to visit the many moments he has had with his Dad. So they had to choose a moment where they would relish it for one last time. They both picked the moment when he was much younger, playing by the beach with his Dad – a simple moment where a powerful connection was made – no fancy performances, no fancy toys or loud distractions, just a tender moment between father and son.
I wondered what moments my children and my wife would pick to remember me by. I hope for those to be positive moments – simple, meaningful and yet powerful enough to make that all-so-important connection which stand the tests of time. One that leaves many good stories for them to tell and sums up a good legacy I’ve hopefully left behind.
This is my hope as I continue my journey into 2015 and beyond.
P.S. This post is written by David in dedication to baby Kyra and the late Mr. Michael Tay, who have joined the ranks of angels in Heaven and are watching over us from above. May peace be with their families and hope rise again in their hearts.