Death of Aloysius Pang and Everything In Between
Now that the dust has settled, I will blog a little about the death of Aloysius Pang and everything in between. I am sure most Singaporeans already knew what happened to him. But in summary, actor Aloysius Pang died after sustaining serious injuries in SAF training accident on 23 Jan 2019. This had sparked off intense grief and anger from the public, as this is SAF 4th training related death since September 2017. Endless stream of people turned up at his funeral wake. Although every training death is highly regrettable and should can be avoided, the death of Aloysius Pang is possibly the catalysis that shifted some tectonic plate.
After his death, SAF enforced an order to lower training tempo across all services. There is also a formation of a new Inspector-General’s Office that will have full authority to scrutinise and enforce safety practices at all levels. This is unprecedented.
Some people might find it puzzling; how come the intensity of public grief pertaining to his death was so profound? Paradoxically, there are many grievers who may not have watched his shows or have personal encounters with him, but made their way for his memorial. As the events leading to his demise have already been thoroughly discussed, my writing will focus on why there was such intense public grief.
A Sudden and Preventable Accident
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“Sudden” entails elements of being swift and unexpected. “Preventable” gives an impression that things could be avoided or stopped. Obviously accidents have qualities of both definitions. In fact, all accidents on hindsight can be avoided if the right care was taken prior to the event.
In any form of accident, the feeling of being caught off guard is probably the effect that people might experience. MINDEF reported that Aloysius Pang was the first soldier to be injured operating Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer. That merely reinforced the idea that this was not just preventable, but highly preventable.
Every accidental death loss will naturally stir deep emotions. People become aware of a disturbed revelation that someone else’s negligence or carelessness has unintentionally rob the life of another. Beyond that, death loss also has deep impact for living survivors who had key stake in the deceased’s life. Simply because their wellbeing and meaning of life are intertwined with his/her living existence.
The Effect of Mere Presence
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Even for people with no direct vested relationship or interest with the deceased, mere acquaintance or random encounter with their presence in the past will also trigger a moment of reflection.
I remembered there was an old man (let’s called him Uncle R) living in my block, who often took a morning walk around the community with a urine bag and its attached catheter. I have brushed passed him so many times that I have internally marked Uncle R as one of the ‘somebody’ I would probably see whenever I leave my house.
Then came a causal day when my mum told me that Uncle R had passed away a few months ago. She knew about it from another neighbour whom she chatted in the lift.
‘Ah, no wonder I don’t see him around anymore,’ I said, quietly followed by a moment of reflection. I recalled sharing a word of prayer and hoped that he is in a better place already.
I don’t know Uncle R personally. Never spoken. Never interacted. The ‘walking pass’ encounter is all I had with this man. But strangely, when death happens, a part of us would naturally project some kind of unexplained grief or empathy, possibly due to our shared humanity of life and death. The realisation that others in the grand scheme of things are no difference from ourselves. The needs we yearn for, the fear we hold and the hope we desire for the future.
So when a celebrity passed on, the reach of his/her presence would naturally be much wider and far-reaching. One is likely to encounter his presence on newspaper, TV trailers, social media or personal encounters.
Our General Belief in Promise
Photos Credit from Aloysius Pang’s Instagram
Aloysius Pang left the following message on his Instagram on 5 January 2019.
Off to serve our country. Back at the end of the month! May not be able to post much when I’m there so 等我回来 yeah =)
Paradoxically, those became his last words for the public. It was a ‘see you later!’, but later never did come. Fans never had the chance to say goodbye. The outcome was completely unexpected because he was expected to return. He promised.
And he made another distant promise in the past. He was quoted by Hayley Woo:
“You told me you were working hard to earn money … and when you got to about 31 years old, you would marry my sister. I did not get this blessing to have you as my brother-in-law in this life.”
He wanted to marry her. He promised.
There is always something sacred about promises that humans find it hard to accept any outcome other than what was promised. Hence, it is especially poignant when the outcome of breaking a promise is due to helpless circumstance one does not has control over. Death is probably the top culprit responsible for this. In other words, if one has a choice, one would surely choose otherwise.
But one may not always have the ability to choose. Especially those made prior by destiny.
Our Belief in a Just World
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An overwhelming majority of us would probably hold this underlying belief – that the world we live is somewhat a just world. Even if things don’t appear to be good all the time, the concept of good people will be rewarded while bad ones will await for some kind of karmic retribution in time to come is a reasonably well accepted spiritual concept.
After Aloysius’s death, numerous accounts of him being a kind, genuine, mature and compassionate were surfaced by people who knew him. As quoted in TODAYonline by Hong Huifang:
“Many parents would love to have a son like you. If reincarnation were real, I’d fight with your mum over you.”
Our belief in a somewhat just world often remains unchallenged until our experience of death violently seeks to overthrow this status quo. Sure… death happens to all, but at this age? Under this sort of circumstances?
How could such a good person suffer such a fate?
We start to experience spiritual discomfort because this may question our fundamental belief of what we reckon as somewhat a just World. We are thrown into an unfamiliar aspect of the world whom we thought we knew. Then we quietly accept (not without resistance) that sometimes in life, Good People Dies and Bad People Lives On.
He shouldn’t die.
But he did.
Death and dying are probably one of the most avoided topics in our society.
Grief and bereavement are probably one of the least understood emotions in life.
Perhaps, I will end my post with a comic illustration by Peanut.
Featured photo by Dan Musat on Unsplash