Death visited our family last Monday.
My uncle, my father’s brother, passed away from a sudden heart attack while at work. Peacefully. As the meeting wrapped up, he apparently leaned on his colleague’s shoulder and quietly passed on. No heart clutching, no sweat pouring down. Nothing. The medical personnel tried to resuscitate him immediately, and multiple times at that, but to no avail.
Although my uncle and his family lived in the opposite flat to our family while I was growing up, I was never close to my uncle. All I knew of him is that he was a sullen, very private man with a temper. But I haven’t seen him or interacted with him for more than 20 years. The last time I saw him was at his older son’s wedding some 2 years ago and before that, at my own wedding more than 20 years ago.
A man can change. Although, from the comments of those who lived with him, one could easily infer that nothing much has changed.
Who was he?!
I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know him. Apparently, neither did his family.
The assumption of the family was that since he was such a sullen person, the wake would be a short and simple affair. Simple it was since he was an atheist. No rites or rituals were performed. But it could not be kept short because droves of colleagues turned up at his wake. And even at the funeral.
Apparently, he was a rather important and well-loved man at his work place. The CEO and directors of the organisation turned up. His colleagues gave impromptu and moving eulogies at the funeral service.
His family was shocked – to put it mildly. Someone commented that it was a huge surprise to see how much he was loved when he was not a nice person at home.
Who am I? Who are you?
It made me think.
What would make a person live a totally different life at home and in the public? How can the disconnect be so great? It was as if they were talking about a totally different person. And more puzzling was why did he live the way he did?
Was it deliberate? Or was it incidental?
It made me introspective. People wear masks, to hide pain, to hide shame. We only want to show our best side to the world. But our family knows us best – or do they? Sometimes, it is because the family is so negative and oppressive that one is forced to wear a mask to hide, to protect. It is really hard to make an accurate judgement about anyone’s inner life.
But it made me question – Do I live a life like that? Where people in the outside world see and know me as a nice, helpful, cheerful person. But the people at home know me as a selfish, lazy and angry person.
I pray not.
Public is public, private is private – right?
But we all have a public and private persona. And nowadays, an online and an in-real-life persona.
But surely we shouldn’t be 2 totally different persons, right? Or am I being naive?
I know a person who is aggressive, pushy and dogmatic even, online but in real life, she is meek and non-confrontational. And another, who presents herself as wise and fun, but in real life struggles as much as the next person.
Do we know who we are?
Do we even know ourselves?
This high possibility of the public and private persona disconnect is why I am skeptical whenever I read news reports of praises being sung about a deceased person. Or even a mother insisting that her son would never commit such a crime. We only know what is presented to us.
As I mentioned before in my post What is Your Legacy?, author Orson Scott Card wrote in the introduction of his book, Speaker for the Dead that he was the polite and respectful son at home. But in the crowd he ran with, he was a totally different person, in speech patterns and behaviour. He said he didn’t even have to try to be different. He simply was. Maybe that was my uncle too. He just was a different person when he was at work and when he was home.
As a parent, I am well aware that my children may be one way with me and another way with their crowd of friends. And again, one way with Church friends and another way with non-Church friends.
In a way, it is a survival instinct. Our need to fit in will cause us to behave in different ways. But when one persona is so different that one becomes a totally different person, then how?
Isn’t that being a hypocrite?
To bring it closer home, I wonder how my uncle’s sons felt when they heard the accolades of their father.
Proud? That they had such a caring and wonderful leader in their father?
Cheated? That he showed little (none?) of that to them?
Confused. Because, who was he?
I don’t know how they feel since I am not close to my cousins. And I am not altogether sure how I feel about my uncle’s choice to live 2 totally different lives on earth.
But I do know that I don’t want my children to be confused about who I am. Yes, I know that I do behave somewhat differently with different people but I do try not to be hypocritical or disingenuous. I really do not want to present myself out there as someone I am not.
Who are you?
I want to remain true to who God made me. Not to be someone society expects me to be. Or put the better version of me out there. Because, if there is a better version of me, shouldn’t I be that all the time?
What about you? Who are you? How differently do you behave with the different groups of people you interact with? Will your children or husband be shocked when they see you in different environments?
Food for thought, isn’t it? What will people say of us when we are gone? Nice things that make our family members roll their eyes in disbelief? Or make them feel bitter that all our energy was spent on others instead of them? Think about it.