Saturday, August 18, 2012


My grandmother passed away around midday yesterday, and I guess most of the family is still kind of getting to grips with it.

Unlike when my grandfather passed away four years ago, she went really fast. Grandpa had been slipping further and further into dementia in his final years, and his health deteriorated and he was hospitalized for a week or so before he finally stopped breathing. But grandma, she was still pretty healthy. She had been complaining of pain in her hips for the past couple of weeks, but we thought it was a case of rheumatism like she had had before (we later found out it was a hairline fracture in her pelvis), and so she just stayed in bed while we brought her food and tried to get her to move about.

She was complaining quite a lot these past two weeks, refusing to move out to the living room, or even to go use the toilet, and she would constantly bemoan the fact that she had no appetite and did not want to eat, no matter how hard we tried to get her to do it; not surprising since she was quite a stubborn old lady. Still, yesterday morning, it seemed like she was getting better, and although she did not touch her breakfast, she seemed relatively cheery and upbeat. But then she lost consciousness once just before noon, regained it for a while, then slipped off really fast.

There are quite a lot of things going on through my mind right now, but one thing I do not want to forget is stuff I do remember about her. There are so many things that I can kind of pick up from memory, like how she would make fried rice with charsiew (mom hardly ever uses it), or how she would buy chee cheong fun or make samsokdan for Andrew because those were the only things he would eat for breakfast, or her special curry that we would have (bright yellow, lots of cabbage and taupok, and rather watery in texture, but spicy), but I don't want to just think about her in relation to food, so here are five things in my memory that kind of stick out.

1. My brother and I pretty much grew up in my grandparents' place. Both our parents worked, so during the day, we would be at their place until dinner, when our parents and aunt would join us for dinner, and then my family would head back. When we were there, and we were still kinda young, we would always take our afternoon naps, and grandma was the one to get us to sleep. And she would always hum this song to us. Only a single fragment of the song still resides in my memory, and I do not even know if I remember the tune right, but she would always go something like "hm-hmm-Hm", with a slight emphasis on the last syllable.     

2. Around the same time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became really popular in Singapore. Apart from watching the half-hour cartoons at 6.30 every evening, my brother and I really wanted to get the action figures. We were really happy once when we found a discarded Donatello toy once, and got to keep it. But we also wanted to be able to get our favourite ones (Andrew liked Leonardo, and I for some inexplicable reason, liked Raphael then), and we would beg our parents to buy it. But they would not, mainly because my father did not believe in needlessly spending money on toys (he sings a different tune nowadays, but most of his toys are electronic, and they are for him). When my grandma heard we wanted those toys one day, she suddenly said to me, "Ok, let's go and buy it," then brought me out with my aunt (I think she was there, she was not working or off on that day or something). I kind of assumed it would be at the nearby market (which had a few provision shops that had toys), but was stunned when she flagged down a cab and we went to Metro. I admit, I was kind of shocked, and somewhat horrified at the thought of what my dad would do to me if he found out I convinced grandma to bring me out shopping, but we got two toys and went back. Dad didn't do anything much to me, and Andrew was quite pleased with his new toy (he was in the afternoon session then, so he was in school while we were at Metro).

3. Much much later, grandma was living with us. She had moved in a few years earlier with grandpa, having sold her place at Henderson Crescent (#03-24), but now grandpa was gone. She was starting to get out of her sadness by the time I left for Japan in May '09, and it seemed she was ok (though she was still really worried about me being out of Singapore - it's one of her foibles). In November that year, I tried to sneak back into Singapore without telling anyone except my brother. I was returning for a friend's wedding, and my parents knew I was supposed to be back, but I really wanted to prank them by not saying anything and then suddenly appearing in my bed the next morning. My plan failed, mainly because some doofus kept calling the house phone in the middle of the night just after I had slipped into the house, and so my dad found me out. I went to take a shower after that, and as is my wont, I kicked the floor mat closer to the shower area so that I wouldn't get too much water on the floor. The next morning, I popped out of my room, and surprised my mom, but grandma was not surprised at all to see me. I asked her why she knew I was around, and she calmly said, "You're the only one in the family who kicks the floor mat in the toilet near the shower stall, so I knew you had to be back."

4. While I was working in Japan, I came back to Singapore three times during my two years and three months there. The first time was the above-mentioned sneaky time. The second was in between my first and second years, for about three months. The third was near the end of my term. And those times, as well as after I returned for good and remained unemployed for 10 months, I would usually eat lunch at home (to get free food). Usually it would only be grandma and me at the table, since everyone else was working or at school. Sometimes, we would eat in silence, but other times, she would tell me all these stories and things about her life, and I really enjoyed it, partially because I'm a history kind of person, and partially because some of the things she told me painted my dad in a somewhat less-than-flattering light (mostly to do with mushrooms or his pride). And I really enjoyed those times just listening to her. I would usually finish eating much faster than her, and she would try to chase me off, but I think she really appreciated the fact that I would always wait for her to finish eating before leaving the table. And when she was done, she would sort of shrug and lift her hands palms up to show that lunch was over and we could both leave.

5. I also remember when Marie first came to Singapore. She was horribly nervous about meeting my family, even though my dad and mom had been really nice when they spoke to her over Skype. She got in really late at night, and so mom and dad welcomed her and showed her to her room. The next day was a normal work day, so by the time she woke up, everyone (except me, being unemployed of course) had left for work/school. Grandma had of course heard that Marie was around, so when she saw her in the morning, she tried to get her to eat breakfast. They couldn't really communicate, since Marie doesn't speak Chinese or Cantonese, and grandma could not really speak English or Japanese. But she did remember a few Japanese words she picked up as a girl during the Occupation, and the one she was very proud of being able to say was arigato (thank you), which she told Marie, partly to show off, and partly, I think, in relief that there was some girl willing to get attached to her eldest grandson. Marie wrote to me after she heard about grandma passing away, and she said she felt less nervous because my grandma was so welcoming, and she remembered how happy grandma was when she was showing Marie pictures of grandpa.

I know someday we will all be able to meet up again (I was so joyful when mom messaged me one day that grandma had finally decided to believe in Christ - she was the last of my grandparents to do so), and I'm really glad that she had a great community in church, with friends that would always bring her laughter and joy, and who would regularly come round to visit or pick her up. And I'm thankful to God too, that He was with all of us in this time, and that He decided to take grandma back into His arms, to give her peace and rest.

So sayonara, mama (yes, she remembered that too). I'll be seeing you some time around.

Friday, August 17, 2012


"Well, you certainly took your time coming here."

Her eyelids fluttered upon hearing the voice. She had been sleeping quite comfortably, for the first time in quite a long while, but she had been woken out of her slumber. It wasn't that the voice was loud, or particularly harsh, but there was something about it that she knew was not quite right, yet sounded strangely familiar...

Finally, her eyes opened and managed to focus on the sky high above her. That was another thing that was odd. She had fallen asleep in her bedroom, and she did not think she had been sleeping long enough for the sun to have started setting anyway. She reached out to her side for her glasses, then stopped in surprise. Her vision was completely fine, and she was able to see everything clearly, down to the finest detail, as the sun's rays gave an orange hue to everything.

She breathed deep, and the air, Such pure air, she thought, filled her with joy. It carried within it, the strong smell of the grass and the fields, and just a touch of fragrance from the wildflowers growing in the lee of some rocks behind her. She turned her head, and lifted her hands to touch a blade of grass, and felt its smooth surface, its fine edge, the way it connected to the stalk, and realized that she actually knew it.

She sat up straight, and her body responded easily like how it was like when she was still young and not weighed down by age or concerns. She marvelled at her arms; the skin was no longer wrinkled and sagging, but was as tight and smooth as when she was a schoolgirl, before the Occupation. She felt the strength in her limbs, the warmth on her face, and wanted to jump up and run about...

"It's also been too long since I've seen you with black hair," the voice said again from her other side.

She gave a short jump and twisted around. Lying on the ground next to her was a young man, arms behind his head, legs crossed, glancing at her from the corner of his eye. He cocked an eyebrow when he saw that she was finally acknowledging him, then grinned. She stared at him. He definitely looked and sounded familiar, and the way he looked at her, those dark eyes... and in a burst of alacrity, she knew why she was no longer an old woman bed-ridden by pain, but someone much younger, much..better...

The man looked back up at the sky, which was filled with brilliant streaks of pink and orange and the white wisps of clouds, and said, "You should have been here earlier to set up the place, and arrange the meals and do the washing..."

She gaped at him incredulously as he closed his eyes to relax. She suddenly knew who he was, and her heart almost burst with joy at seeing him again, but she also wanted to reach out and smack him for his impudence and wipe that smug look of his face.

Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times as she tried to think of ways to riposte, then finally said, "Well, if you were here so much earlier, why couldn't you have done it yourself?"

"It's a woman's job to do that," he replied without opening his eyes, but the growing smile on his face told her he was not being serious.

She rolled her eyes and groaned. "What did I do to have to endure this from you? I finally get here to be with you and that's the first thing you say to me. All you do is complain and demand things from me and waste our money on food that is too expensive and make me do all the housework..."

She stopped when he reached out for her hand. It had been too long since she felt him, and she fell silent as she soaked in the moment, and feeling happy and complete once again.

They sat in silence for a while, then a thought that had been nagging her at the back of her mind finally came to the forefront.

"How about the others? Will I be able to go back down to see them for a bit?"

He sat up and shrugged. "That's not up to me to decide. When I came up, they were willing to let me go down one last time to see the rest, but I don't have that sort of authority."

"Who does then?"

The man jerked his head at the rocks with the wildflowers. "He does."

She turned around, and realized for the first time, that the two of them were not alone.

"Hello grandmother," the boy started, then added, "Though I do not think you look very much like a grandmother anymore."

She looked closely at the boy. Like the man, she sensed she knew the boy, but in a different way. She peered into this clear, black eyes, and saw ancient wisdom and youthful enthusiasm, eternity and impermanence, past, present and future, and she instantly knew Him.

She bowed her head, and respectfully said, "Lord."

The boy giggled, his laugh a clear and pleasant sound, and he spoke again. "Welcome! It's been a long journey for you, always working and thinking of the needs of those around you, but now you can finally rest. No more worries or cares, just peace and joy with us."

She smiled at that. It was something her children, and her grandchildren had been saying to her. The though of them reminded her of her request, and she raised it up.

"Will I be allowed to go back down to see them again, Lord?"

The boy looked thoughtful for a minute, then looked at her with more sadness than she thought anyone that youthful-looking should be allowed to bear.

"They love you, you know. And naturally, they asked.  And I know how they are feeling too, much more than they could ever know themselves. But while I could do it for him last time, I cannot do it for you this time."

She looked downcast for a moment, but then knew that the decision had been made with thorough consideration, and she bowed to the infinite wisdom of the choice.

She looked around a bit, then heard a bell tolling in the distance. The boy jumped off the rocks, and reached out for her hand, then pulled both her and the man to their feet.

"Time for us to go back," he said, then started walking, hand still in hers.

She looked back wistfully for a minute, remembering all those she was leaving behind. But the boy continued to pull her along, and the man smiled at her reassuringly, and she knew that it was time to leave it all behind.

"Let's go," the boy urged again, and this time, she did not hesitate, as they walked towards the eternal city.

*   *   *

Good bye, grandma.
Rest in peace.
1926 - 17/08/2012