The Business of Living and Dying

No one lives forever, and that’s the rule. Thank God, I have lived well past my 6th Chinese Zodiac Cycle and am still kicking like a horse, according to my husband. But I sometimes worry about my approaching “expiration date”: How does death approach? Will it take long to die? Where will I go afterwards? Heaven? Purgatory?

I don’t believe I’m a candidate for hell because that’s where murderers, rapists, drug-dealers end up, and the space might be full by now. And I’m sure the communist leaders like Joseph Stalin, Mao Tze-tung, and North Korea’s Great Leader Kim-ilsung and his son Dear Leader Kim Jong-il had taken up a great deal of room there for murdering millions of innocent people.

I believe I have lived a pretty clean life: I have never broken any laws, either in Korea where I was born and lived until I was 23, nor in the U.S., my home for 50 years, except getting a few speeding tickets. To be honest, I didn’t deserve those yellow tickets but the cops insisted in giving them to me, so I took them out of politeness–one of the virtues my mother taught me. And you never win by arguing with a policeman.

As far as the business of dying, it’s still a distant reality for me, because I’ve been too busy living–playing my cello, writing, sewing, and drawing, only to mention a few. And I don’t even look close to my age, believe it or not.

Yet my husband and I have an adjoining burial plot in a Methodist Cemetery in south Kansas City, which we purchased a few years ago when it was on sale. I’ve been Catholic all my life but since we now live in a multi-cultural society, I’m not particular about where I lay after life–among Catholics or Buddhists or Muslims or Jews. I’m an original thinker, compared to my mom.

Influenced by the Buddhist theory of life-after-death, many Asians from earlier times fantasized about their final resting places, including the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty of China (221 BC – 206 BC), Emperor Qin Shi Huang. As a warmonger, he took 7,000 terra cotta soldiers, 400 horses, and chariots with him to his grave in an area of 22 square miles in a remote area in Shangxi Province known as Xian.

My parents were no exception as far as their romantic notion about their final home. In the early 1960’s, my parents learned of a new Catholic Cemetery just opened some 20 miles from where our family lived and were elated. That Saturday, Mother packed a box lunch for Father and told him to go investigate it. “If you like the location put the down payment on it. With ten million people living in Seoul, Catholic cemeteries are in short supply.”

Father did just that. He came home in a good mood that afternoon and told Mom that they now have a burial plot. “I really like the scenery surrounding the cemetery that sits on a hillside. I think you’ll like it, too.”

As a young adult itching to leave the country to study music abroad at the time, I didn’t share their enthusiasm about “after-life” and having a place to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. Why did it matter whether they lay among Catholics or Buddhists or Hindus or Muslim after they were gone? Why worry about the scenery when their tombs wouldn’t have a window?

Regardless, Mother happily prepared for her dying and being buried: she bought herself a white silk dress, chose a marble tombstone and what should be written on, and appointed her first-born, my eldest brother, Father John, to be the celebrant of her funeral service. She was still in her mid 50’s then.

Being much older than Mom had been at the time, I often find myself in negotiation with the Father Almighty in solitude. I humbly ask Him an advance notice for my impending end so that I can be prepared for it. But there is no need for Him to send me that notice anytime soon because I have so much to do yet.

“I’ll tell You ‘when.'”

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