Memento Mori

[After knowing Chef Hasset Go last night and learning of his sudden passing because of Liver Cancer, I have been thinking about death until this morning when I woke up, until this very moment while writing this. Maybe All Soul’s Day is approaching? Or maybe the majestic Creator of the universe just goes around reminding? Nonetheless, I think it’s about time to share this piece on my blog. This is a speech I delivered during a Division Contest of Toastmasters International earlier this year. And I would like to share it with you.]

Two kids share a table in an old woman’s wake. The first kid, the grand child of the deceased is munching Oreo while the second kid stares.

“Can I have some of your Oreos?”

“No, I’m sorry but I’m too hungry to share,”

Feeling defeated and indignant, the second kid said, “When my Grandma dies, I will not give you Oreos too!”

The truth from the mouth of the babes: we are all going to die. Can you tell the person beside you: memento mori.  Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning, remember that you must die.


Oblivious of this truth, I get to live my life in the most ordinary and routinely way – get up from bed at 5:30 am, take a bath, eat my breakfast, dress for work, ride the bus, work in the office, take a bus ride home, eat dinner and another day has gone.

One day, something broke the routine. I got a missed call from my mother and an SMS asking me if I was okay with my ride home. It was unusual of her and so I called her back. In between sobs she told me that my cousin passed away. My cousin who is living his dream as a policeman was shot in the head, he was only 28.

Something kicked me hard in the stomach and slapped me on the face – the inalienable truth that people can die anytime, anywhere. I realized that death is like a school exam, finish or not finish you have to submit your paper. That even when you still have many unanswered items, you have to pass it when the time is up. My cousin is about to get promoted to Police Officer 3 on June, he just got his car, and still has a lot of dreams to pursue. How can he die?

They say that when you die, some memories with your loved ones will flash before you. I think that is also true with the departed’s loved ones. Like a lightning in the night sky, the few memories I have with my cousin flashed before me. Then I asked, is this all the memories I have?

Just as I was about to rise from that hard kick in the stomach, something hard hit me again. I was not there when my cousin finished his training, when he celebrated his birthday last September or when he got promoted. There were times I was in the town of his assignment, but never dared to drop by to the police station. Then I was crushed again.

From then on, I never looked at life the same way again. Life is like morning dew on a leaf, it fades quickly just as the sun shines. Life which is bounded by birth and death is like a book that is also bounded by a beginning and an end. But like a book, life can embrace different characters, horizons and adventures. Life is short, thus I have to make the most ordinary day an extraordinary one.

Memento mori. With this truth now in my mind, I started to become present – I made sure I have my relatives’ mobile numbers, I took notes of their birthdays and make sure I send a greeting, I made my presence in the family felt. I hug my cousins, and share stories with my sister at night even when I am tired. I send all the gesture of love I can muster.

And for all the special occasions my family will celebrate soon – may it be another wedding, a birthday with the same tasting spaghetti we are having for the last ten years or just a lazy afternoon with the babies, (PHONE RINGS, Kriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggg) I will be there.

This is my sister calling; we’re supposed to meet today to buy her graduation dress. Will you excuse me? I have to take this call. (END)

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