My dear Uncle

If the news of my Uncle’s cancer was a rude awakening then his recent passing at the age of 62 is equally as sudden and painful.

I remember asking my uncle from a young age why he smokes so much? He would tell me it’s part of his job as a salesman.

“You need to socialize, you need to drink, eat and smoke with your clients. In China, business deals and information comes from the dinner table,” he said. Indeed. “But don’t worry, Uncle won’t go over the limit.”

Only after 6 months of retirement, my Uncle was hospitalized. We were told the terrible news: ” Late stage lung cancer. He might live ’til next year.”

In China, healthcare costs money and although the costs are reimbursed and covered by the government, my Uncle’s situation meant that we were not covered simply because to prolong his final days and to ease his pain, we had to use imported medicine. Anything imported will not be covered. This is a blow to the family since such medicine costs around 25,000 RMB or 4166 USD. So, to continue with the treatment and to ease his pain, we did our best. I emptied my bank account and hoped for the best. Money will not buy you back health but I clung onto that hope that I could see him again.

Every treatment and hospitalization was an ordeal – financially and mentally. In this uphill battle, we felt helpless.

Nothing is as sad as being forced to say goodbye to someone who I care and love.  If we die then what is the point of living? Why must we face such brutal reality? Why must I say goodbye now? My Uncle’s death left me in a state of self-questioning and reflectiveness- mostly about existence, life and my most feared topic: death.

As I stood by the side of my Aunty and cousin, I paid one last farewell to my Uncle. He slept peacefully dressed in his favorite suit. I made sure that flowers, paper money, coins and his favorite possessions will go along with him. It was a tough day – very hard for me to say goodbye.

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As I sat in the van on the way back to work, a film played out in my head – my earliest memories of playing hide and seek with him to our countless chats about life to the most recent dinner – time is ruthless. Life and death/ joy and sorrow : all in a matter of seconds.

Thinking of you my dear Uncle.

The funeral prompted me to write a research blog entry on the business of death in China. As I tried to stare at the sky to hold back my tears, I felt very uncomfortable when people around me were talking about the rising costs of funerals and the lucrative business of death in China.