I attended an inter-faith memorial today. I went because I feel duty bound, hoping to meet the relatives of some of the deceased patients and also out of curiosity because I have never attended anything rojak like an inter-faith gathering.

Inter-faith means putting all the main faiths and their followers together. This morning, we have the Catholic priest, Hindu priest, Buddist nun and an ustaz.

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It was a beautiful memorial. Father Simon Labrooy said the prayers for the deceased. The Buddhist nun chanted some Buddhist chants. The Hindu priest made the pooja for the deceased. The Ustaz offered the Al-Fatihah.

Someone once told me that if I meet Father Simon, I am going to think he is the coolest priest around. At first, I disbelieved the person who told me because I told him he is the coolest priest around. This morning, I know why. The moment Father Simon opened his mouth, he was like turning on the tap. Everybody cried. Male, female, family members, non-family members and just about everyone, whatever their faith.

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He didn’t make it like a Christian prayer. (you know lah , the usual heaven rejoices yadda yadda yadda, return to God bla bla bla) Instead, he led us to recall the living persons who were once our loved ones. He made it so personal like he is talking to each us. He gave assurances that it is alright that sometimes we may not have done enough for the deceased loved ones. We may or may not be able to be there at the time they died. We may or may not have the chance to tell the person what we wanted.

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He asked us to visualise the person is with us at that moment and asked us to tell them what we had wanted to say but didn’t. Then, he ended that it is not a farewell. The memory of the person lives in us though the death of him/her has left a gap in our lives that cannot be filled by anyone again.

I noticed Father Simon has carefully worded all that he wanted to say to suit the beliefs of all. It is very thoughtful of him. Death leads to different ‘ending’ for the different faiths. It is still one of the most difficult subject to talk with people of different faiths. Some will just brushed death as ‘the end’. Some aren’t sure what will become of them. Some are assured of God waiting at the other side. Though I never impose my belief on others, still it is something that one has to deal with when faced with a terminal disease and this subject will be brought up when they are comfortable with me.

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After the memorial service, I made a quick dash to the wards. It will be last time I am meeting one of the patient because she cannot come to the hospital for treatment anymore as the insurance is no longer covering the expenses. I gave her my phone number and told her to invite me to her house to eat dishes cooked by her when she is well. But in my heart, I know it may never materialise. Then, another one has just been warded again. I met the wife and I get her aside for a heart-to-heart women’s chat while the husband was with ‘the guys’ from College-General. The husband has told me things he is most worried about when he is no longer around. She is a very strong woman and I feel relieved that she is handling the situation with such bravery.

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I told her that we women have such marvelous strength that we do not know we possess until we are put in situations like her. I shared with her why it is important to try to bring her very young children to the hospital to spend time with the father as much as she can. I shared with her how I used to bring my kids to the hospital to visit Vincent and my #3 son took the high dependency unit as his kindergarten. It is not easy to manage boisterous boys in a place like a hospital but it is important for kids to remember the good and the bad times with their father. When they grow up, they will have memories of him still. Otherwise, the child will grow up with a huge, empty space in their childhood with a lot of unanswerable questions and not being able to remember the father.

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This thing call death. None of us can escape it. None of us know when death will come upon us. But when some of us know it will be soon, I guess the best is to face it, spend all the time we can together, say all we want, capture them in photos and letters and take that as a temporary farewell. If you want to find how to explain death to children, do check out my faith blog on The Fall of Freddie the leaf.