Thursday, October 15, 2009

An eulogy for Kon Yoke Lian, aged 65 – my grandmother.

My memory of her probably goes back to when I was only 5 or 6 years old, the first time she had a relapse and bit her tongue in front of me, the whites of her eyes so obvious, and foaming around the mouth. That happened when she accidentally tripped and rolled down the stairs and was sent to the hospital that night.

My po po was tough, unselfish and was always content with what she has – I have never seen her throw a tantrum, nor have I witnessed any complaints. As someone who was not from a well-off family, I have often wondered how she has managed to support her 3 daughters and 2 sons – she, who lived off selling noodles, and who was not very well educated. I suppose this is a mystery only mothers can solve.

Her next hospital trip was for an operation to remove the 3 malicious tumors in her brain. With her body conditions, there was not even a 50% chance that she will live through the surgery. But she did.

On 9th sept, when she revisited the hospital once more, we came to realize that there was yet another cancerous growth in her breast, which was already at its terminal stage, and any further treatments would only cause her more pain and prolong her suffering. She was still cheery and nonchalant, assuring us that there was nothing we could do, and that death was only another phase humans have to go through. The news was surreal and sudden, the situation unmatched to the circumstances. We can wave it off with laughter if we had wanted, just to reassure her it was all joke, but I couldn’t. It became that she was the one reassuring us instead. We hugged her goodbye when we left. My po po was subsequently moved back to my aunt’s house to spend her remaining days, and we tried to visit as much as we could thereafter.

2 weeks before, she could still sit up and talk to us, but one of her legs were already numb. She refused to take medicine, and her temper was alike to that of a kid, who refused to eat the vegetables placed on a dinner plate. She didn’t like the plain congees, she wanted fried fish balls and roasted meat. She didn’t want to stop at just one sesame ball. And of course, no matter how much we told her that these oily food would only cause her more harm, and she should have her daily dose of pills, she wouldn’t listen. That day, she laid helpless on her bed while my aunt massaged her growing tummy. Food that was swallowed cannot be digested properly, for her liver was already failing.

We visited her again the next day, but she was already bedridden. Her right arm flipped up and down constantly, and she turned her head from side to side once in a while, as if trying to move the remaining muscles she has left. She would sometimes roll to the left, in an attempt to climb off bed, as if wanting to go to a certain place, or to just get out of this sickness-filled room. Her eyes would half-open to recognize her visitors. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t breathe properly, couldn’t speak. The cells were probably damaging her lungs and her heart as well. Her excretions were uncontrollable, as her organs came to a complete failure. She had purple bruises all over her arms, legs and tummy, a results of internal bleeding. Her face was yellow and sallow, as liquids drained from her body. She would never taste the bird’s nest we brought too late, nor water, nor any oily food we claimed were bad for her health. Only morphine could stop her pain, and only one more person could put an end – her eldest son, who refused to see her, who put the blame on his sisters for causing things to take a tide this way (he, who i will not sully this post with words of loathing). When we bade her goodbye, she could only turn her head in acknowledgement.

We went home that day, which we shouldn’t have. Mom dreamt about a flock of black crows, which she couldn’t chase away as soon as she opened her windows, and of a faded figure of po po beneath it the next morning. I went to work as usual. Her last breath was drawn at 12.45pm, after a final look at her youngest son, and knowing that the person she was waiting for would never come.

The funeral was held that very day, a continuous chanting from her children and grandchildren to send her on the right path, followed by a cleansing of her body. All the females present helped wipe her body clean and spread powder, so she would smell nice and feel clean. She looked the prettiest that night, decked in new clothes, jewelry and a freshly powdered complexion. She even had pink lip gloss on, probably the only make up she has ever had in her life.

My po po was carried down and placed into a beautiful brown casket with gold trimmings on the edges, and placed behind her own altar in the morning. While the first round of chant starts and the monks sealed her casket’s cover, the wind blew strongly and thunder was heard at the same time the hammering started, as if mourning for her loss, for her last regret.

My 5yr boy and 7yr girl cousins asked, when I was alone with po po later in the day – ‘Where is she going? Why is she in a box? What is the yellow drape over her? Why are there flowers around her box? Is the place she’s going good? Will I ever be like this? Why is your mom and my mom crying? Is po po dead?’ So innocent and pure, and not even knowing the concept of death, they asked, and I couldn’t return any proper answers. I am not even sure of them myself. They say you shouldn’t cry in the presence of the person who has gone, so I made my exit while I still could. My cousins could dance around, and showed envy at my po po who could go to a heavenly place with aircon, while being carried around relaxed within the box. Additionally, not knowing whether it was the truth or not since he refused to tell afterwards, my little boy cousin told me ‘Popo told me she wants to wake up…’

The wind was strong occasionally, accompanied by the sound of bells chiming. It blew off the candles placed on the side of the joss coil jar. My mom says heavens felt her pain and regret and has reacted to it. I would have usually waved that off as just a coincidence, but I would need the same reason for everything else that happened (later on, when she was placed in the same no. as the block the funeral was held at, her association with the number 9 – ward room & level, cremation room, etc). The warm meals we served on the altar turned cold due to the wind – did she eat them, really? Those weren’t even po po’s favourite dishes. She was never a vegetarian (then again, she was never a Buddhist either). She loved fried food and everything that spoils your health. Yet towards the end, she never got to taste them.

The cremation happened the next day. The rite was fast, the chanting was a slur of rapid syllabi. The machine lifted the casket automatically and tilted it in the incinerator, to be turned to ashes, basked in flames. This was how fast a person could disappear – in a minute, leaving pieces of bones behind to be placed in a little ceramic jar, relocated to a crowded cupboard space, and never to see light again.

My po po was the richest at her funeral – she raised more than what was needed to pay off the ceremony, contributions by our beloved relatives, friends and colleagues. The remaining was donated to Metta, to go to the volunteer group who came to chant for her on the first day for 5 hours straight, the doctors who came of their free will, the priest who helped cleanse her body.

I dedicate this to her today, the 7th day since she left this world. We love you.

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