In the past few months we kept reading about tragic express bus crashes that killed innocent people. People with friends and family. People with hopes and dreams. People with a future. Somehow, we always think of them as “other” people. I no longer have that luxury.
At about 1.45pm Saturday, I received an SMS saying that Nian Ning has passed away due to a highway accident. I was absolutely dumbstruck. I hadn’t seen her in years – she was a friend back in Sunday School. Nevertheless I still have a vivid memory of her of our days being in the same class every Sunday morning. We weren’t terribly close but I maintained a good impression of her.
When a group of us arrived at her house to pay our final respects, the monk was just finishing up some prayers before we were allowed to enter. We stood outside waiting silently, trying hard to pass the time by talking but always trailing off into ellipses. Finally the monk exited the house and we felt it was appropriate to enter. Barely a step inside, I noticed a small crowd huddled to the left facing away. From the anguished words in between sobs I could tell it was the mother they were consoling. I braved on – pulled a joss-stick off the table, lighted it, and muttered a silent prayer for Nian Ning.
Stepping out of the increasingly crowded house I came face to face with her brother, whom I knew him almost as long as Nian Ning. With tears welled up, he instinctively shook my hand and thanked me for coming. And instinctively, I said sorry for their loss. Though I knew, I could never understand what he was going through.
It was even more heartbreaking to see her mother oscillate between anger at the bus driver and regret for the things she didn’t do for NN. All the emotions just flowed freely from her eyes. Close relatives failed to get her to sit and calm down. I wouldn’t, if I were her.
We left almost as quickly as we came. Life stops but for a brief moment when someone you care dies. And then you have no choice but to say your goodbyes and move on. I don’t know how they’ll ever recover from this. My guess is that they won’t. The wound will hurt less over time, but the scar will always remain. For myself, though, I can only pray that I have the fortitude and strength to weather this when my turn eventually comes.
When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I've done
Help me leave behind some
Reasons to be missed
And don't resent me
And when you're feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest
- Linkin Park, “Leave Out All the Rest”