Dec 9, 2015

Settling the dust

It seems more difficult to write about Pa's demise than to write when he was still around. 21 days have passed since he went to the Lord. 

The day before he passed away, that was on the 16th November, a Monday. I took leave from work and spent a whole day by his bedside. By late morning, I said a prayer to God to take Pa home as he is suffering. I wrote this on Facebook, and many read it. A dear cousin who lived in New Zealand messaged me through the day to help me to cope. She said it was the bravest thing one can do for a loved one. To ask God to take them home to end their suffering. It was with a heavy heart I knelt down to pray, putting my hand on Pa's chest and asking God to take Pa home.

Pa passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of 17th November 2015. And just as he has intended, we fulfilled all his wishes right down to the last detail. That he was to be cremated within the 3rd day and his ashes to be cast into the sea. The ritual was completed and done within 30 minutes, my sister held on to his ashes, Pa's 3 grand daughters braved the rocky tide on a bum boat and set out to sea with me.

The Cantonese congregation from our Church of Singapore came alongside with us. Said prayers and sang Pa's favourite hymn "Amazing Grace" before we placed his ashes into the sea. 

Ma was too weak to go anywhere so we had to contend her with photos, mini videos of the whole episode. From the day of his funeral wake, right down to the day of the sea burial, God protected us, wipe every tear from our eyes. We didn't weep because we are sad, we wept because we are happy. That Pa has gone to a better place. And God kept His promise to us that Pa was to go in his sleep. That Pa wouldn't suffer so much.

As a family, we are forever and eternally grateful that God gave us 18 months prior to Pa's death, time to cope, time to grieve and time to bond with Pa. Every wakeful moment in these 18 months, we care for his needs, tip toed around him, rallied around him.

Today (9 December 2015) marks the 21st day since Pa left us. Sure we missed him. But our thoughts of him are happy thoughts, wonderful memories and peace within. We slept better at night, we could laugh and joked like always. We spoke of Pa in our work, our meals as if he was still around. 

With this much said, I also want to tell everyone who reads my blog, to take stock of time with your parents. Loved them, care for them now. Don't wait. If you have a gut feeling to take time off from work to spend time with your mom or dad, just trust your instincts and do it. Because Tomorrow may never come. 

Love isn't Love till you give it away. 

God Bless you..!

Nov 13, 2015

Growing up with Pa, Part Two

I was a different kid from young. Different in so many ways. Maybe because I was sick, I wasn't allowed to go out and play with my friends. So I stayed home all the time. My sister, Winnie also stayed away from me. If I hurt myself, she gets blamed. Thus we never had sibling rilvary. She gave in to me all the time. I was weak child. I couldn't run or play hopscotch. No ball games either. I could just walk and no one is pushing me, and I can just go weak and fell. 

When I was 4 years old, I had a near fatal accident at home. I slipped and fell and hit against the corner of a kitchen cabinet. I bled profusely. Pa fetched me to the hospital. I vaguely remembered wearing a white dress of a PJ which Ma sewn for me. The white dress was soaked in blood. Ma held me in her arms, seated at the back of Pa's car. The doctors back then told Pa and Ma that I have lost a lot of blood..and I may have memory loss. I couldn't remember things. Short term or long term stuff. Pa was devastated. Ma cried in the shadows.

It was then Pa self taught himself of many literacy skills, of which Phonics was one of them. He taught me phonics from a very young age. He would often repeat himself when he wants to tell me an important fact. And everyday, he prayed for me. *

*I never knew Pa prayed for me. Its a secret between him and God. I only found out last May 2014, when he discovered he has bone cancer. He told me he prayed for my memory everyday, without fail..*

For everything else, Pa taught me to apply logic, knowledge and understanding so I don't have to rely on my memory at all. Thus I learnt since young to try to understand how things work and if I could, I should break something up in many pieces and understand how each part is and thus form the big picture. 

I was ahead of everyone at school. Not because I was smarter. But I studied differently. I saw everything in different light. If Pa wasn't there to guide me, I would have been very different now.

From that, I became an introvert, not by choice but by circumstances. Pa filled my days with literature, Music, Arts and movies. From a young age, he exposed me to all forms of literacy works. From pictorial books(Comics) to Illustrated books(stories with nice drawings) to books with larger print. As I grew up each year, he would introduced books he felt I should be reading. In many ways, he dictated what I should see, feel, touch and sense. Through these, he taught me to see things in a bigger perspective, cast a wider net so to speak. He taught me to understand simple truths, and to read a book not by its cover but to know how an author lives and how that affects his/her writings.

From as early as I can remember, Pa started telling me about Dracula and about Frankenstein. He would correct me if I say "Frankenstein" and quipped quickly saying "Its Frankenstein's Monster". When I started having friends in school, I found no one understands a single word I say. I was often quoting from books I read. In that void of friendship, I resign to my books again. Pa introduced me to poetry and prose ahead of time, ahead of my peers.

Sometimes I seemed to be in a world of my own, quoting famous lines from books or poetry. I never grew up with Barbie Dolls, but I grew up on books like the "Little Women", "The Time Machine", "The Pearl". Pa told me the best way to understand a book was to understand how an author thinks. And how an author thinks is affected by his environment, the place he grew up, the places he has been and the people he has met.

My first horror book Pa introduced to me was Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Soon after, I became immensely intrigued by Poe. I looked and read all his poetry too. Just for kicks, although Pa didn't allow me to.

Subsequently, Pa gave me Dracula by Bram Stroker, Frankenstein's Monster by Mary Shelley to read up. But I loved only Poe's works. And I would challenged myself to read Poe's Black Cat at night, with the head lights off and only a table lamp by my side. 

And the next day I would jump and tell Pa the experience I had reading the Black Cat at midnight. He thought that I was brave..very brave for a kid of only 10 years old. 

When my friends were reading Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Pa got me into Sherlock Holmes. Pa has read all of the stories on Sherlock Holmes. His best loved story was "The Hounds of the Baskervilles". He made sure I read it and he ask me of my thoughts. And he would shared his.  I could always see a spark in his eyes as he spoke of how witty he thought Sherlock Holmes was in solving this mystery.

When the first black and white Sherlock Holmes series went on TV, Pa would watch it with me. Then he would tell me that the book always tell the full story, a movie made out of it, just highlights certain portions of the book. So he says its best to always read the book first, followed by the movie, then go back and read the book again. 

When the season ended with the black and white TV, Pa saved enough and we got our first colour TV. Pa and I would spend time watching "Colombo" at night. From a young age, Pa taught me to be selective in movies, in books. I don't have many books. 

When I became a teenager, all my friends are reading Mills & Boon Romance collection. Pa said its poor taste in literature and instead he got me into "Rebecca" and "Wuthering Heights". He allowed me to read The Great Gatsby. Of course, when the movie came out, I went to watch it with Pa at the theatre. The Great Gatsby character was played by Robert Redford. And I think I was in love..not with the movie, but with Robert Redford of course..!

Pa thinks I have good taste in good Actors because he loved a certain group of actors/actresses. He alone introduces me to Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen(late), Julie Andrews. 

You know, I can just write a whole chapter just talking about movies, books with Pa. When Omar Sharif passed away in July 10 2015(recently), Pa was in the hospital. I visited him and told him Omar Sharif has passed away. Pa paused to think, and he said this

"Remember, Ting? Remember the Lawrence of Arabia?"

"Yes, Pa, I remembered." I paused my heart, I cried. I missed all the days I have spent with Pa, over books, over poetry and prose, over movies and talking about the actors, the plot and everything else.


Nov 12, 2015

Growing Up with Pa, part One

My memories  I will pen down before it fades with age and time.

Pa as an English Teacher

I was born in 1963, a sickly child. My sister was healthy and fit as a fiddle. So Pa took it upon himself to care for me since then. We became extremely closed due to that. Pa was an English school teacher in a Chinese secondary school. Where he taught English as a 2nd language. Everyday after school, he would come home and I will greet him at the door. And he would put his files down on the table and instead of going to change his clothes, he would sit with me, with his arms around me and he would read a book with me. Its an old Chinese pictorial book, I remembered it had only 10 to 12 pages. There were words in it, but I couldn't read, not just as yet. I haven't been to school. Then after that, Pa would say "ok, I need to take a bath, and mark the papers". I would be contented as Pa has spent that precious 10 minutes with me. 

Pa would take short naps in the afternoon and he expected me to do likewise. Because of this, its been an afternoon nap I have to take every day without fail, from 3pm to 5pm. I would sit by Pa at his reading table. And I watch him write and he does referencing on books and stuff. Pa would give me a pencil and a paper to draw stuff, and he would tell me how his day went. Half the time I couldn't figure out what he was saying. But something in me knew I just had to sit there and listen. I was never the child who poke and probe or ask too much questions. But I was the child who was quiet, attentive and obedient. So Pa doted on me alot.

When we got our first black and white TV set, Pa would allow me to watch certain shows with him. But he watches all the cartoon shows with me, he  would laugh at all the jokes. When I was old enough for the movies, he would take me to watch all the Disney's animated cartoon movies. I was the happiest child back then. I grew up in the time where most families could not even afford a radio at home, much less a TV or a day at the movies in the cinema. We weren't rich but Pa came from a wealthy family in Taiping, Malaysia. He never had to support his family, and whatever he earns, he gave everything to Ma who help to keep the finances at home. Pa saved his pennies for me, so once its school holidays, he would take me to the movies.

At home, he would watch movies with me. And he would explain who did what, why they did what they did. Its with this, I grew up loving the movies. Pa told me to watch all genres. From romance to crime fighting, to horror and drama. Back then, there isn't much gore on TV or Movies. 

But my most favoured memory with Pa at that young age was when the Circus came to Singapore. Pa brought me to the travelling circus. It was the first time I went to one. It was everything I imagined it would be, possibly more. As Pa used to read to me, of stories and tales about the Circus. After visiting one with Pa, he would ask me how I felt and he told me of the famous Ringling Brothers , Barnum and Bailey Circus. None of my peers nor even Benny knew what in the world is Barnum and Bailey circus. Only me..and of course PA.

And everything I have gone through in my young life, Pa was there always to explain the complexity to me.

When Natasha was 5 or 6, a travelling circus group came to Singapore. My eyes and heart lit up like the lights on a Christmas tree. I bought tickets to go but instead of going there with Natasha, I gave Pa the tickets to go with Natasha. PA was delighted. Because I knew he wanted to relive that old with his grand daughter, he would tell her of the things he used to tell me. 

This is my Pa, that is one of the reasons when I married Benny, I asked God to make him like Pa, the one who spend time with his kids, the one who would tell them stories and be their friend. The one who held their little hands in his, and the one who adores them to bits.

Nov 2, 2015

This Life

Sigh...How do I begin to write this? Having a writer's block can be a serious thing if your livelihood depends on it. Some years ago, before Dad became ill, life was good. Or at least everything seems to hold at its best. No major dramas.

Fast forward, now..I can't say the same. I believe God prep us into this. He is preparing us for times ahead. He blesses us with good things, happy things and we are contended with life and all that surrounds it. When we found out about Dad and his cancer, our lives turn upside down. Feelings aside, we struggled to keep everything afloat.

A year before the discovery, my sister quits her high flyer job. She stayed at home to catch up on her hobbies which are knitting and crocheting. She needed to rest after working in the corporate world for over 30 years. In that time, she and Dad bonded. Something she never did since young. Dad was never close to her but more with me. My sister was a survival in all things, she was street-smart you might say. But I was the sick child, the weak one. So Dad took care of me since young. And the one he had to protect and save me from everything.

Despite been born of the same parents and living in the same household, my sister and I have different characters, trains of thoughts and attitude of life. I guess its because of our lives, we are made to think differently.

The doctors told us that Dad will not last 2 years. A year and 8 months have past. Do we start counting now? Dad is now bedridden, and unable to get up from the bed for anything. In the recent weeks, he was reduced to drinking water via a spoon, the liquid/water/juices must be mixed with a thickener powder so it flows down his throat into his stomach. He is unable to eat anything solid. When we suggest to liquify cooked food, the doctors say not to give him as his body is conserving energy and will not need food. To date, 3 weeks now (since Oct 19), Dad has not eaten a single meal. However, the doctors allow him to eat ice cream. So now he lives on ice cream 2 times a day or more if he ask of it.

Last week I visited him and he tries to raise his hand to ask me to come nearer. He struggles to speak, so I had to put my head as close as I can to him..he said softly "You don't have to cook for me, ..I .... I"

I told him "Pa, I know you cannot eat anymore. But I have to cook for Ma to eat. If she doesn't eat, she will have fainting spells"

Pa nodded his head with agreement. Yet I saw the spark in his eyes have faded. As if life and hope is gone. So I put my hand on his chest, near his heart and reassured him and kept saying

"Pa, I know, I know"

My sister and I questioned God a 100 times. But its no longer "Why God, Why me?" We question God "Why don't you take him home with You?". We see him suffering daily. Dad lived to eat, not eat to live. Dad lived his life glorifying God, he took up Cantonese dialect on his own to learn to speak it effectively. So that he can preach the Gospel in Cantonese dialect to the illiterate old folks at our church. In Church of Singapore where we worship, Pa was a respectable Brother. For years, people sees me as "Brother Choong's daughter" and as if I have no name..!

I used to be resentful of that. Now, I see this as a great respect for Pa. I have written a eulogy for Pa ahead of time. My sister has already prep the things needed for a funeral. A Good black and white Photograph has been taken for Pa. So when the time comes, we will not panick and will hopefully get things done properly.

Pa wants his funeral to be done in a casket company and to last a day. And to be cremated the next day. He doesn't want us to cry and be sorrowful for too long. He wants his ashes to be cast into the sea. He wants us to remember him in our hearts.

I was tasked to handle all the funeral matters, to inform all of Pa's friends and church workers, of his ex-students. My sister will handle all the doctors and the medical part.

I talk like he's gone..but he is still around. And for how long, we have no idea. In the quietness in the household, in the void that we cannot do anything to ease his pain and suffering, we fuss over the funeral arrangements..a sign of coping?

Pa told us no big sobs and wailing. We can have tears but we should rejoice upon his death when it comes.

So this Life, now if you ask me, do I want to come back again?


Live it to the fullest, Be Happy with it. All the Good things it Gives along with all the BAD things. Don't hold back anything. Eat the fattest part of the pork, spread more kaya and butter on your toast. Live like there is no tomorrow. And when you are done with it, don't look back and wonder. Don't think about how best you could have lived it or the mistakes you made and how you can un-fault it. Don't, just Don't.

I am not coming back to This LIFE. I have the best. When its time, I'll go as happy as Pa says I should go. Rejoice!