Keep death in mind as we live our lives

IN HIS commentary ("Rage, rage against the (prolonged) dying of the light"; last Saturday), Dr Chong Siow Ann noted that "we need to face up to the obvious fact that we are mortal".

He also quoted Dr Sherwin B. Nuland, who wrote that "the dignity we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives".

Many of us seem to live our lives without considering the fact that we are mortal.

We tend to think that we will be here on earth forever, and thus, do not wish to

address end-of-life issues or look at life from the perspective that death will

one day knock on our door, and it may come rather unexpectedly.

A patient with terminal illness once told me: "I have only a few months to live; why should I continue to be angry with those who have wronged me or why should I expend my energy in bearing grudges and anguish?"

Many issues seem so insignificant when our days are numbered.

It will not concern us so much that the stock market is falling or our investments are doing badly.

And that brings us to the dignity with which we live our lives.

It puzzles me as to why so many pursue wealth and status relentlessly at the expense of relationships and more valuable issues of life.

It always has to do with the next better car, the next better house or the next big break to convince ourselves and others that we have arrived.

This does not mean that we do not plan wisely or be irresponsible in our living.

Nonetheless, if we realise that we are mortal, and that the dignity with which we live out our lives does matter, then nurturing positive values and relationships would make a tremendous difference, not just for our lives but for those around us and for our community and society.

Those who live their lives venting their anger and angst against many quarters, priding themselves on their intellect and status, need to remember that they are mortal.

True freedom entails responsibility and humility.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2015, with the headline 'Keep death in mind as we live our lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe