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.


Unknown said...

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Dean said...

hey man, this is a nice kinda tribute to ur grandma...u state it so matter-of-factly but it is so touching at the same time!