Sunday, September 25, 2011

Slipping through our fingers...

Dad sent me a photo of the extended family at Nilai Memorial Park this morning. They were there for a special ceremony for Grandma.

Everyone looked cheery in the photo. Yet, the longer I looked at it, the more I could not help feel sadness seeping through.

It reminded me of all the other goodbyes that I have bade in my life. The first was back in 2003, one week before Valentine's Day. Just three hours before Dad relayed the news of great-grandma's demise, Josh broke up with me. My swollen eyes did not raise any curiosity with family members at the wake. The first goodbye I have ever had.

My second goodbye was to Grandpa, who suffered a stroke for ten years.
It was 5:30am. The phone rang. I was wondering if I should get up to answer. It rang thrice. My mum answered the call. Or was it dad? Not sure. Mum opened my door and stormed in, saying, 'Your gong gong passed away'. I literally jumped out of bed. I asked, 'Are we going back now?' I came out of my room to see dad still standing at the phone. 'Sigh, he's such a naughty man, isn't he?' I smiled.
It will be the first day of the new lunar year on Sunday and he couldn't make it. Oh, how true the old Chinese saying is - they will not make it to see the next celebration.

I will be going back with dad (if he wants me to, that is). Bro is still sleeping, oblivious to what has happened. Mum is rushing to pick Jeffrey and Angel.

Hence, there will not be updates until I return from Temerloh. Until then, take care and Happy Chinese New Year.
Unlike my younger cousins, my brother and I had the privilege of spending holidays with Grandpa when he was still fit, healthy and strong. He took us to Singapore, Penang and Langkawi. I used to watch him as he watered his prized orchids and crafted his bougainvillea plants. He used to explain what he was doing while he carved the ornaments that went onto the cages for his singing birds. I looked forward to his warm smiles and big hugs. I especially miss how he would carry me very often throughout the day because I was his first grandchild. I still have the gold anklet he gave me as a toddler, which I now wear as a bracelet.

Within the year, another teary parting.
Grandma was admitted into hospital at 1:30am. I was suspecting something as dad's mobile rang a few times throughout the night, which is unusual. He was speaking very softly and did not want me to know what was happening.

The doctors would not operate and told us to let her go. All the 5 siblings (my dad, uncle and 3 aunts) all also agreed to let her go. She is 72 and who's to say she did not lead a good life? Well, it depends on what good actually means to you guys.

Grandma is expected to leave today. She was given 24 hours. She's still sleeping peacefully and according to Dad, she's breathing smoothly and has a steady heartbeat.

Why must I have my IELTS speaking test today?!?! I'll be heading over to the hospital as soon as I finish and I honestly hope I will make it to say my goodbyes.

Grandma left to join Grandpa and Great-grandma for an early Christmas this morning at 3:10am. All her 5 children were at her bedside, along with Mum, Bro and myself. I am glad that I managed to make it to see her breathe her last breath. It was a peaceful passing. Thank you for all your well wishes and concern.

I will be back in KL late Sunday night. See you guys then.
I remember how I was unable to control my crying as I walked out of church into Dad's arms. In my head, I was thinking, "Oh no, very soon I will be like my other friends with all grandparents gone."
I was also trying to imagine what Dad was feeling. Both parents gone within the year. He took it extremely well. Made me tell myself that I should have the same attitude when the time comes.

Similar to 2006, Mum bade goodbye to both her parents this year.
I was shopping in IKEA when my mobile phone vibrated in the right pocket of my black Giordano hoodie. It was an SMS from Dad:
Yesterday, mum went to... On the way, she dropped in two see Grandparents. Both alert, she said. I'm in Tawau today. She just called to say that Grandpa has passed away.
I went blank for a bit and because I was in IKEA, I tried to contain myself. I did well until Mum returned my call and said this at the end of the conversation:
No need to fly back, okay? Gong-gong can't see or hear you anymore. When you come home next time, we will bring you to pay your respects to him, okay?
I replied with a mono-syllabled nod. I had to turn away to wipe the tears that were bulging at the edge of my eyelids.

Grandpa,

I will always remember the added festive atmosphere of Chinese New Year that you never fail to create by coming home for reunion dinner half drunk from drinking beer at your mahjong sessions down at the kopitiam singing at the top of your endearing tenor voice.

I will always remember my first and only ride on your pink Mini Bus (yes, those that used to conquer the roads before RapidKL and Metrobus).

I will always remember the combination pork porridge you packed from that porridge stall at the Pasar Besar Serdang to let me have as comfort food when I had fever.

I will always remember your jovial character and how you laid on the cool tiled floors with one leg crossed on the other while reading the papers.

I will always remember how you would jump up and ask, "Have you eaten? Want something to eat?" every time I come to visit you and called out, "Gong-gong!"

I am proud to have had the chance to be your granddaughter. May I have this honour again next life, please?

Love you, Grandpa.
Unfortunately, I was not there for Grandpa's because his leave was sudden. And just as I was gaining momentum in studies, another bit the dust.
Exactly ten weeks ago, while I was shopping in IKEA for things to move into where I am living at now, I received a call from home telling me about the passing of Grandpa. Ten weeks later now, I am back home.

I have been home for ten days. The last ten days of her life.

***

In the afternoon on the day after the evening I arrived, I drove Mum and 小阿姨 to University Malaya Specialist Centre (UMSC). The hospital was crisp clean and adequately decorated. I prepared myself as best as possible with Mum prepping me,
"Tell you first ar, 婆婆 looks very different to the last time you saw her."
Gulp.

***

I turned the knob to push the door open.
"婆婆!"
"Oi..."
She did not realise that it was me. I called out again.
"婆婆..."

"唉, 你回来了?"
A big smile flashed across her face. Her tired eyes sparkled in the light.

It was heart-breaking to see how much effort it took her to breathe. And when she coughed, it felt like every ounce of energy left in her would be drained away.

A young doctor, Dr. Tan, came in to talk to everyone for a good half hour. Nice chap from Penang, he made sure she received everything she requested. He managed to get her approval to have her stay until the latest Friday, so that he could ascertain the morphine dosage that was required.

She laughed at jokes. She ate the slices of watermelon she asked for. She tried to sleep.

On the way home, 小阿姨 noted that it has been some time since anyone saw her in such a happy mood.
"她看到竫竫很开心."
Who would not be happy to see someone they have not seen in a long time?

***

The next day, she suddenly requested to return home. No, demanded. And that was just 15 minutes after she told Dr. Tan that she would continue her stay at UMSC. We all knew, her time is near.

I rushed over with Dad as soon as I locked up the centre. The ambulance was still there. Two of my aunts were red in the face from their crying. 小阿姨 told me to say some nice things to her, to let her know what a wonderful person she has been.
"婆婆很好的。婆婆从小看着我大的。我很喜欢婆婆煮的汤。。。"
My voice quivered. Tears welled up in my eyes. I had to quickly exit the room before my tears rolled down my cheeks.

***

Thursday and Friday were days that passed by slowly for us. She drifted in and out of consciousness and her breathing was heavier than before. It was obvious that it was getting harder and harder for her to breathe.

She was in her best condition that weekend. With Cousin Meng Cheng bringing her baby Kevin to visit his great-grandmother, as well as Cousin Pei Qi with her baby Yang Yang, the atmosphere lightened up significantly. She finally got to see the fourth generation of her family. I remember telling Mum on the way back to the centre to be prepared even more.

***

Mum rang to ask where I was. I told her that I was working at home and asked if she needed me to be at the centre. She said that I should stay home to get some work done and would ring me only if she would not be able to make it back to the centre in time to lock up.

6:25pm. I felt something amiss. Mum has not rang me. Why did she not require my help? I rang her and heard her all groggy from the powerful effect of the medication she consumed.
"Stay there. I am coming down right now. 10 minutes."
I have never seen Mum in such state. She did not even have strength to walk and talk properly. I felt absolutely helpless.

***

Bro came home to tell Dad that he just visited and things do not seem very good over that side.

***
"I think we had better dapau some food to bring to your Mum first then only deposit the money."

"Okay."

"Wah, so many cars today? Everyone must be here tonight!"

"Hm, something's not right."
***
"Mummy didn't call you?"

"No..."
I rushed into the room. I quickly kneeled down and joined in the chanting.
"南无啊弥陀佛... 南无啊弥陀佛... 南无啊弥陀佛... "
45 minutes later, there was no movement.

***
10:00pm, August 3, 2011, Grandma ended her painful battle with lung cancer with many us in the room with her.
As I receive more and more invitations to marriage registration ceremonies, weddings and wedding dinners, it hit me even harder that regardless of how prepared we are for anything, everyone and everything has to move on. Like it or not, there is no way to stop time.

Slowly but surely, there will be more goodbyes to loved ones.

As I look again at the photo that Dad sent, there is no denying that time is slipping through our fingers. My time with Mum and Dad is slipping through...

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